June 1, 2011 by Leah

I feel like I’ve been operating in a fog for the past week or so. No, this has nothing to do with my diet (although I did cheat and eat a whole-grain organic homemade sourdough hamburger bun on Monday, which, while delicious, definitely made my digestion a little weird for a couple of days). I think my brain is having trouble shifting from an indefinite sort of time horizon to one where we will be moving in August. Since we are going to be out of town for one weekend in June (well, two if you’re Aaron) and most of July, August is a lot closer than it seems. I’ve stopped freezing excess produce and am, instead, trying to figure out how to clear the freezer. I’m not ordering any more beef or produce from CSAs (the beef arrives all at once, and frozen, and the produce CSA is on hiatus until July). This means that our food bills will probably increase slightly in the short-term, since I’ll be buying more fish and bison at our local farmers’ market, sure, but it also makes me feel like I’m cutting ties to this community.

I didn’t think that this would be a big deal, considering most of the ties I have here are tenuous at best. Yet, there was one day in early spring, while I was driving to the urban farm to pick up veggies, that found me thinking, “Long Beach isn’t so bad.” Which is funny, because I’ve lived here for a year and have hardly any connections. I recognize one woman and her three daughters who pick up produce at the urban farm. I am on nodding terms with maybe two people in my yoga class. The people who work at the local health food store know me well enough to tease me and tell me they miss me when I don’t come in for a while. Same with the guy who owns West Coast Seafood and sells me fish every Sunday. I’ve made a few other friends, through mutual acquaintances or volunteering, but they and my one local relative all live about as far away as it’s possible to live and still be in L. A. county. Scheduling and spontaneity seem much more difficult when you need to factor in a possible two-to-three hour drive.

We’ve been really lucky in Aaron’s coworkers and our neighbors (and there’s some overlap if you were to put these two groups into a Venn diagram). They have been generous with their time, hospitality, and willingness to take care of our dog-boy; in fact, they have been an amazing support network for Aaron and me. (Who wouldn’t want to support such winning newlyweds, right?)  It’s a really transient group, though, so even though there’s a lot of liking and loyalty between families or coworkers (some people have worked together before on other jobs in different areas of the country), we are all from somewhere else and we all feel like strangers here.

I didn’t feel like a stranger in Anchorage, but I also wasn’t too terribly upset at leaving. I had just been through a really busy and stressful time (getting married and finishing an MBA while working full-time and occasionally gigging), I was thrilled to be getting out of my job situation, and I was kind of excited about the fact that Aaron and I were slated to spend our first year of marriage away from either of our immediate families. (I love you all, but being out on our own and relying on each other has allowed us to forge what I think is a pretty unique and strong relationship.) As soon as I got to Long Beach, though, I started struggling. Mostly it was the never ending job search (funnily enough, the rejections got easier to take as the year wore on, rather than harder). It was also trying to learn this community. And, now that I finally have a handle on how I might want to go about living my life in this place, we are moving again. Cue emotional turmoil.

We’ve started referring to my intermittent periods of malaise as sadandlonely. The funny thing is, though, most of my friends are also struggling with this sort of thing. It’s not just the ones who have moved, it’s also the ones who feel like they’ve been left behind. It’s not just the ones who are married, or single, or have kids, or don’t, or are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s. Absolutely all my friends with whom I’ve had real conversations over the past several months (all of those who aren’t in unhealthily codependent relationships, anyway) have talked about how freaking hard it is to get by without a close group of friends who are actually in your community (preferably down the street, which is ever so much more convenient for baking or emotional emergencies). Close meaning people you can talk to about anything without fear of being judged. Not like people who were your partner’s friends first, or people who used to be close but have drifted away with new partners or jobs or friend circles. Why is this so hard to find? Why does it seem like everyone I know feels sad and lonely, at least some of the time?

I used to think this kind of thing would happen to a core group of friends when people started drifting off to get married. Or have babies. Or both. And, to a certain extent, it does, but I’ve got close friends who were married with babies while I was still out on the town every night. I’ve got formerly close friends who drifted before I even met Aaron, thanks to other relationship pressures.  My mom always tells me your closest friends are the ones you grow up with and the ones you raise your children with, but what does that say about young adulthood? Are we all just doomed to have a bunch of half-assed friendships while we are waiting to have children? What about those of us who don’t want children? While I do think having a baby would be a useful way to meet people, I hate the idea of living vicariously through one’s kid. I also kind of dread having to make nice with people I actually can’t stand for, oh, 18 years just because our children happen to be in the same Kindergym class.

So, what do I need to do for our next move to make us feel more settled right off the bat? I’m not totally sure. I think we will have some natural advantages. Aaron has a lot of relatives within a few hours’ (if not 45 minutes’) drive. We should be allowed to take a house-hunting trip before we move, which might mean we would end up there with all our things in a house of our choice, instead of moping around in a hotel for a month (me) or two (Aaron). If someone would be willing to employ me, that would be a great way to meet people. There’s also a branch of Habitat for Humanity in Walla Walla, and I now have all kinds of useful skills when it comes to building houses. There’s apparently a large swathe of the populace that is interested in things like gardening, keeping chickens, real food, and living sustainably, so that’s nifty. Maybe people will be nicer at yoga classes. There’s even a symphony, so if I ever get over my current antipathy towards playing the cello, maybe I could sub for them and find some people who like playing chamber music. A girl can dream, right?


3 thoughts on “Strangers

  1. Alexandra says:

    Take a knitting or crochet class at your (new) local yarn store! I have loved the sense of community I get from the quilt classes I have taken.

  2. Marcia Stratman says:

    How neat you are going to Walla Walla. My grandmother lived there when I was a child along with tons of other relatives. We used to go to family reunions in the summer. Boy, it was HOT. I remember baskets of raspberries to eat, the smell of onions in the field (she lived next to the field which was planted in onions or beets), and the cows in the pasture across the street. Now I think the area is in wine vines.
    It’s a wine paradise now. Also good music things through the university. Small town feel I think, if it’s still close to the same. The rolling hills around used to make me car sick. Take pictures when you get there and post them. Consider your catering business when you get there. LOTS of local produce and food.

  3. Ronale says:

    In my case, I haven’t kept in touch with the people I grew up with (except one who I see every few years or so) and I didn’t have a lot of friends in connection with raising a child. Since I’ve moved to Anchorage, I have a group of close friends who I met while singing with the Concert Chorus. We don’t get together as often as we used to, but we still have a Christmas dinner and a summer party at Rocky Lake when we all get together. Also, when going to the symphony or other shows, I see a lot of people I know and enjoy. I think music is an excellent medium for making friends.

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