Watching a lonely friend

As the days grow longer, and enough of the sun’s warmth reaches us to know when it is out, we start to limp out of that pretty difficult time of year. Sometimes it is easier to feel great than others, and sometimes it is pretty useful to feel a bit flat, grind through tasks, and get a lot of restorative sleep. This time of year I do tend to go to ground a little, and this combined with all my running around with fieldwork means I am not a good friend (or even a good person) at the moment. I am especially not being a good friend to K.

K is carrying around that sort of sadness which you do not need to read in someone’s eyes. This is sadness which seeps across the room so you are aware of it without even looking up. It seems like the sadness grew as the uni holidays dissipated social gatherings and was eased slightly with the return of people, reading groups, dinners and drinks. However, K’s thesis deadline looms, potential legitimate extensions become fewer in number, and a close friend has jetted off overseas. It seems like K is not carrying sadness around so much as being left in loneliness.

The cure for loneliness would seem to be companionship and connection, but I do not provide the antidote. K is not completely isolated or anything, and clearly there are times he has been greatly revived, possibly by a fun evening with friends. That it seems to me he seems most buoyant when he has had a good time with others, not just found something amusing to do alone, is probably why I feel most guilty about not being able to dissipate any of his loneliness.

I could cancel something, give up plans of writing that paper before the end of the month, stay up later at night, or just step outside my self-absorbed reflections on my project and other life challenges for a couple of hours. However, I do not take it on myself to sooth K. It is not because I think it is completely K’s responsibility as an individual to go out and feel better, and I think his opportunities to do so are constrained with a thesis that needs to get finished. It is not really a time to be joining a club.

Clearly we need to provide the community and social connection so people can have the opportunities to connect with others. However, when K seems angry that people have not provided interesting enough conversation, frustrated that there are not social events to go to, or grunted in reply to attempts to include him in a social conversation, I feel like if he is not going to play the game there is not much I can do. K rejects the vision of agency I see for him in these situations.

It does not seem like K is on the search for just anything external to blame. K rejected my suggestion that it is rather common not to feel great in the grey winter weather, alongside a looming due date for a thesis that is probably seeming less exciting with each draft. It is other people he seems to get most frustrated by. In his sadness, grunting, and frustration he does not seem to be building those social connections he seems to yearn for.

Really, I do not know what is going on for K and I know that I do not have any right to suggest what he should or should not be feeling, doing or asking for. As somebody with an innate interest in observing and understanding the social world, and has hopefully developed that interest with some skills, it did amaze me when I tried to broach topics with him how oblivious he would be to what I saw as self evident in the actions of others around us.

K has a level of choice as to what balance he wants to seek between being embraced by community and how he will work to create those bonds. However, he probably does not have much choice in what balances will result in him being able to find joy to displace his sadness.

I think he is avoiding me and my not so understanding disposition at the moment. Or perhaps he is not avoiding me so much as we are both complicit in this dance of not challenging our differing expectations of and types of investment in friendship? Well, we will see what happens. I know I will not be able to go back in time and make up for deserting him at a difficult time, but nor am I able to give him the responses he seems to want. I suppose, even though I know I am not being a particularly good friend, we will both claim the moral high ground when we reflect on why we have so little to do with each other, and we will both get on with finishing our degrees in our own ways.


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