Do you have four really good friends?

Laura standing at build site before slab 2014

The topic of the lead story on today’s CBS Sunday Morning, “Going It Alone”, is one of my favorite life-long lines of research: loneliness. There we meet a man who, at age 27, chose to not speak to a single human being for 17 years! He eventually concluded, at age 72, that if you have four really good friends, who understand and appreciate your authentic self, you are truly lucky.

According to a recent Cigna study, loneliness is at epidemic levels in our country.

Their 2018 survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults revealed some alarming findings:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
  • Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely (average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) – even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
  • Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
  • Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.

How much do YOU need quality connections?

This all brings back my own gradual transition in my 30s and 40s from a true loner, who didn’t trust anyone completely, to a happily married woman in my 60s. After a traumatic betrayal in my 20s I also gave up on people. I did allow a few acquaintances in after counseling in my early 30s, but trust was not my best quality.

My first marriage was a lonely tangle of struggle, criticism and disempowerment. I gradually realized that I would probably be spending the rest of my life alone unless something changed. What changed was a divorce in 2001 and then job/career loss in 2004. Living on severance with only two good friends I saw maybe once a month plus my dogs, I faced loneliness most of the time, providing ample opportunity to consider my options for my future.

At age 49 I decided loneliness was my worst problem and I did not want to live the rest of my life if it was going to be this lonely indefinitely.

Mike snuggling with Rasta 2013

My solution? Since I could not find another job in libraries, I started my own offline dating service where I interviewed local midlifers who were also looking for love after widowhood or divorce. In that way I studied our group problem and decided it wasn’t just me. Then when I found many more cool single women looking for partners, I joined Match.com to attract more cool men for my women. Yep, the first man I met this way was my future husband and partner in crime, Mike. We have been joyfully married fourteen years now.

How to Believe in Love Again! blog sizeMike supported me in a way I have never experienced before, with unconditional loyalty, affection and appreciation. He offered full support to my dream of becoming a professional writer at age 50, back in 2005. This I did with enthusiasm, first as a freelance writer, then as a blogger and finally as an author. In fact, his support led to my second book: How To Believe In Love Again: Opening to Forgiveness, Trust, and Your Own Inner Wisdom, the story of how I transitioned from a sad, miserable loner to a trusting, loving person who admits to a need for support from others. 

Since then I am rarely lonely, but moving to this rural area in 2014 has been a challenge in that department. I so rarely meet someone here I can truly relate to, partially because of differences in upbringing and education levels. In the past I made friends at work and in my exercise classes. I still miss a few good friends I made at the Senior Center in Fort Collins.

I’m now retired so I have tried to make friends in my La Veta yoga class, which I attended for a few years, but to no avail. I have also tried a few other groups like writing groups, support groups, etc. No friendships have emerged. Quality connections are hard for me to find in this environment, but I will continue my efforts. Afterall, I just need one or two more friends to have “four really good friends!”

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It’s time to say “Yes, we’re angry” and fix things!

I saw a fantastic “Brief but Spectacular” essay on the PBS News Hour last night. In case you missed it, go see it now!

cindi leiveHere, journalist and women’s advocate Cindi Leive, “Glamour” magazine’s editor in chief for 16 years, reflects on the well-known phenomenon of men interrupting women and engaging in other dismissive treatment, at everyday places of work all the way to the Supreme Court. 

To quote the beginning of her talk on Women and Power:

“We don’t really embrace female rage, which is why bestselling books for women about work are usually called things like “Lean In” and “Not Screw You, Kevin, for Taking Credit for My Work After You Interrupted Me 12 Times in That Meeting,” which is a book I would buy.

There’s a very well-known phenomenon that most women have experienced and social scientists have studied whereby men enjoy interrupting women, often without realizing they’re doing it. Even female Supreme Court justices are interrupted three times as often as their male peers.

I mean, that’s RBG. Women apologize more than men. Hillary Clinton, by the way, is the only presidential candidate ever to use the phrase “I’m sorry” in her concession speech.”

Does any of this ring true for you?

Sometimes I feel like I spent my entire life apologizing for my very existence! It became a natural part of my speech pattern. I only truly found my own rage at this situation during my midlife crisis when I realized how many cards were stacked against me as a young girl trying to make a difference in the world. It became perfectly clear when a sad and inadequate boss of mine fired me for being too certain of myself at age 49. Yes, he was canned soon after that, and yes, I have been embracing my rage ever since…

“If we tell women, don’t be enraged about the fact that you have been denied a promotion, don’t be enraged at the rates of sexual assault in this country, we’re never going to get anywhere.

We have to say, yes, we’re angry, and now we’re going to fix it.”

I had to spend a few years in counseling and at anger workshops in my 30s before I realized exactly how angry I was. I had spent a lifetime fearing the expression of anger towards anyone. When I finally started having anxiety attacks where I couldn’t breathe or speak when my full anger arose, I learned how to take charge of my rage, instead of it taking charge of me. I owned it and let it out finally!

Interestingly, starting my own blog “Midlife Crisis Queen” in 2007 (now deleted) helped me to begin expressing my full range of emotions, but that wasn’t enough either. So I started the “Midlife Queen Blows Off Steam.” My byline was:

larger things left unsaid

These days I am certainly in charge of all of my emotions including my anger. My “ouch time” has shortened dramatically! Unfortunately Mike sometimes bears the brunt of this new discovery, but I always explain and apologize if I feel I am being unfair to him. I must learn to direct my rage towards those who actually cause it!

I like to think we are all making progress in this department, both men and women. Women historically have only been allowed their pain and depression, and not their anger. Men have been delegated only anger as an expression of frustration. I still find my unhappy moments begin as a deep sadness, but eventually may develop into outrage at the many unfair situations I face.

Observe yourself and you will discover how you deal with life’s frustrations!

Asking for help. How do we learn to let in positive support and encouragement?

Sometimes finding support can be so simple, you wonder afterwards why you waited so long to seek it…

why so hard to ask for helpI started attending the Walsenburg Women’s Growing Circle a couple weeks ago. This is a warm and friendly sharing group with emotional support and some guided meditation. That then opened up a great new opportunity in Helen’s tough but wonderful yoga class at the Washington Underground. I find the women in this group and my new class so much more warm and welcoming than those I have spent the past few years with in a La Veta class. I find that I often made some of my best friends in exercise classes, and it looks like this class will be no exception. So I feel so much more optimistic about solving my two main problems here: a great environment for balance and strengthening exercises, and making new friends.

This brought up again a problem I have always had, asking for help from others. This issue is magnified five hundred percent in the new memoir: Educated. She also suffered from an extreme fear of asking for help, to the point of not even asking for medical assistance with a broken ankle. I would say I spent the first few years of counseling in my thirties working on my fear of asking for assistance from anyone.

So, you might ask, what’s the big deal about just asking. When we ask for help we make ourselves vulnerable. When I was a young woman, there was no feeling I hated more than feeling vulnerable. The times I had made myself vulnerable had been so painful and disappointing. I certainly wasn’t willing to trust enough to ask again. Just the act of going to a counselor for help took me until my early thirties, even though I liked the idea of it and desperately needed it. Note the paragraph or so in Educated: A Memoir, where Tara finally tells her story to a woman at the university counseling center:

“I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now, but there was something nourishing in setting aside that time each week, in the act of admitting that I needed something I could not provide for myself.”  — pg. 316

I see now how lucky I was in my early thirties to find the best therapist for me, one who I could finally trust and in that way learn how trust works in human relationships. Re-parenting therapy is powerful stuff if you find the right therapist and then take the necessary time and energy to experience it fully.

asking for helpAnd now I know I would have never been able to trust enough to fall in love again at age 49 if I hadn’t worked so hard at accepting my need for the healthy help of others, and allowing some vulnerability into my life back then. Going it alone is always an option. Just make certain you are doing it as an empowering choice, and not out of anger and future fear of betrayal.

My main complaint about rural living

I really do try to stay positive. I have even been occasionally accused of being pathologically optimistic. Yes, me! I know complaining isn’t particularly useful, but after four and half years of trying hard to find a few good friends here, I need to talk about this issue.

friends help friends pandasFirst of all, I am a master at spending time alone. I have a healthy appreciation of  solitude. I love to let my mind wander wherever it wishes without any outside distractions. I have kept a journal since junior high and lived alone most of my adult life. I am fundamentally a loner who has spent years learning how to welcome special relationships into my life. I now have an amazing partner. We connect very well, and I love talking to him about just about anything for hours. But I also need a few like-minded friends….

making friendsFriends who write and appreciate good writing and art. Friends to talk about films with or gardening or what birds they’ve been seeing at their feeders lately. Friends to share my hopes and fears with, to talk about philosophy or psychology or history with. Friends I respect and who respect me. Friends who understand the solemn bonds of friendship. Friends like I still have up north in Fort Collins.

I cannot find friends like that here, and I have really tried! So many here come and go with the seasons, others work all the time and don’t have time for friends. Many are older with serious health problems, and most apparently already have their friends and don’t want anymore. Yes, there seem to be as many excuses as people I have met.

Please don’t respond to this post with, “I haven’t had any problem making friends here.” If that is your experience good for you! I need friends who are there for more than small talk. I don’t just want to talk about my husband, or the weather or finding services here. I seek a higher level of discussion exemplified by this blog. I seek those who think about deeper issues like meaning, life, death, philosophy and psychology. Please let me know if you can relate to this plea. Perhaps we could be friends.

Gratitude, Pure and Simple!

As I prepare to pen this final post of the year 2018, I would have to say my heart is filled with gratitude. My life has been blessed with a wonderful family who all still live. My Dad, at almost 90, is as healthy as I might hope for, and my Mom, although she struggles everyday for clarity, is as generous and loving as ever.

My brother who lives in the woods in a lean-to, loves his life at age 65. He knows exactly what it means to live “wild and free.” Talks with him always remind me of Henry David Thoreau. He shares his own version of genius with the rest of us.

My sister is an international star in the field of long-term care, who else to manage my parents’ many health concerns? Diane knows what she’s talking about when it comes to end-of-life issues. She teaches us all what she knows.

great Mike photo of snow and Spanish Peaks

And finally, as I look out over our majestic fields of snow, I love where I live with my favorite people and pets. The sun struggles to come out and warm our passive solar home today, reminding me everyday how dependent we are on its power and warmth.

every day is the best day of the year

I am forced to ask everyday: How did I ever get so lucky? 

An abundance of LOVE is felt…

Have you ever been wild and free?

Emma Thompson in The Children ActI watched an amazing film last night, and this question came from it. “The Children Act” is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. My gift to you this holiday season is to tell you that you must see it. There is nothing simple about this multi-layered plot, which investigates the complex emotions of human existence and relationships. Emma Thompson also delivers one of her best and most heart-felt performances in this film, which caused me to begin to ponder, when in my own life have I truly felt wild and free?

I have known only fleeting moments of “wild and free” most of my life. At the time I called these glimpses “zen moments” when everything seemed exactly as it should be. I loved that feeling of  finally being in the right place at the right time to experience this golden moment.

Then, in a shocking revelation last night, I realized that it is only now, in my sixties, that I regularly feel both wild and free. Now I can finally stop thinking about how others might judge me, and simply make my own choices. Everyday I again choose to be me, feeling safe and nurtured enough to reveal my authentic self, handing myself more freedom. What a refreshing way to live…

snowy Winter Solstice

I gave myself freedom in the past few years. That’s pretty wild, isn’t it?

A Photo Life Review: Adventures with Laura!

Dad Laura Diane and John small January 1961

Dad and the kids.  The junior world explorer is in red, 1961

Recently I have been on a protracted trip down memory lane. Last night I started looking at all of my photo books, that’s six thick albums! I’m slowly working up to possibly reading my many volumes of journals back to age 14.

original_photo_Thailand_1973cropped[1] (2)

Near the Bridge on the River Kwai, northern Thailand 1973

As I viewed many old photos, one thing struck me. I seem to have forgotten exactly how adventurous my life has been. From 18 on I traveled the world. I started out in Mexico, Bangkok and northern Thailand, then spent months in Taiwan and Hong Kong, traveled up through Malaysia from Singapore, and right before we moved here, the Andes and Cuenca in Ecuador.

Cuenca washing clothes in the Rio Tomba

Yes! Women still wash clothes in the Tomebamba River in Cuenca Ecuador!

Wuzhou

Once, before China was officially open to American tourism, I took a trip up the Pearl River in southern China on what I called “the People’s Ferry.” We arrived in Wuzhou, what appeared to be a town made of mud, and much to our surprise there were PRC government officials there to escort us onto a bus to Guilin, but not before the citizens of Wuhan surrounded us to point and exclaim, “What is that? A foreign ghost!” They had never seen a European or American before.

caribbean blueI visited the Caribbean a number of times, and did a couple island-hopping sails with my first husband, a windsurf instructor and sailboat captain from USVI St. John…

Canyonlands

Locally I started out at Colorado College on a backpacking trip to Canyonlands my freshman year. Half of us got lost and I did flyovers with the rangers until my friends were found. Unfortunately the rangers mixed up our names and called my parents saying I was lost, a fact NOT appreciated by my parents. I then spent years exploring Colorado and Utah. So many hikes, backpacking, ski and river trips.

My first professional library job was in Salt Lake City. Luckily I found the BEST group of friends there, including Roy Webb, who took us on a number of fantastic week-long river trips on the Dolores, the Green, the Colorado, Desolation Canyon, etc. He has been a famous river runner for decades now, and the author of many books about river history.

My first husband pretty much insisted that we go hiking, skiing or backpacking most weekends. Those trips included a number of trips to southern Utah like one memorable backpacking trip down into Escalante Canyon to enjoy “some of the most outstanding hiking opportunities to be found on earth.”

sking

I climbed a few fourteeners in my time, and skied from I-70 up to Shrine Pass (11,089 feet) and then into the tiny town of Minturn twice. I never forgot the glisten of fresh snow on that eleven mile trek.

Mtns and wildflowers

So many great memories, so many wild times…

Now I see how fortunate I was to tackle these physical challenges while I could still breathe well above 7,000 feet. I’ve had bronchitis regularly for decades and in some of the most exotic places! With a recent diagnosis of COPD, alas those days are gone. So happy I spent my youth exploring the world near and far when I could handle long flights, driving long distances and the general risk and chaos of getting off the beaten path.

Mike at home

Now I find myself  in this lovely “soft place to fall” with Mike and Rasta, where I can appreciate how profoundly fortunate I am to have done most of what I wanted to do for most of my life, and I even enjoyed most of it!