This is something I’ve struggled with writing for a while now. For years I was a typical shy, introverted loner. In my childhood I was shy, and being homeschooled in Montana that shy, introverted tendency was reinforced by the fact that I was not, or could not be, around many kids my age. In high school it continued. I was on the fringes of what social scene there was, and really had no true social network I could claim membership in. The few friends I did have in this time eventually moved away, and I lost touch with them. Even worse, I didn’t replace them with new friends. In college I became more of a loner. Going out socially demanded so much mental energy and caused so much anxiety that I rarely mustered the courage if I didn’t have to. Even small talk between friends seemed an insurmountable task at times. I had lots of acquaintances, and still do, but I had no deep or lasting friendships that I kept up with. When I finished college, my potential social network shrank accordingly, and for a time I was happy with that.
In 2010 fate conspired to start testing the boundaries of my introverted personality. I moved away from my comfort zone in Missoula to Ketchikan, Alaska. For the first time in my life I was away from the small comforts and familiar faces I had enjoyed. Of course I had travelled before, and had spent most of my summers and even a few winters away from Missoula: eastern Montana, north Idaho, southeastern Missouri. Those were all temporary in nature though, lasting perhaps four months at a time, and in no way prepared me for a more permanent move to an island in the Alexander Archipelago. While I lived there I discovered loneliness for the first time in my life. There were no pretty women in town, at least not single ones. I was on the road, busy with work, for the majority of the time in the summer, and wasn’t able to make lasting relationships with many people. The weather was dark and gloomy, and the town itself was depressing. I’ve written about my impressions of Ketchikan in other places, so I’ll avoid going into depth here.
My work was satisfying, and while I had frequent interactions with many people, I was often working by myself. The interactions at work were lacking in personal depth but were professional. The people I knew and interacted with at work were very often nowhere to be found in my social life. Not all of this was due to my reclusive nature. A large part of it was the result of living and working on a series of islands. Often I’d be working on one island in the morning and another island in the afternoon, and there was no way to bridge those distances outside of work. You simply don’t get to know people socially if you have to fly or take a ferry to see them.
There were one or perhaps even two positive benefits to all of this though. I was forced to hone my people skills to a degree I had not thought possible before. The constant interactions with new people enabled me to become great at establishing new working relationships and acquaintances. I’m still terrible at personal relationships, especially at creating deep friendships, but I’m great at rapid team building and being able to interact with almost anyone to create a temporary relationship. And perhaps most importantly, after much practice, my social anxiety finally began to subside as I became experienced in interacting with new people on an almost daily basis for the better part of two years.
As my 20s drew to a close I slowly began to realize that there was something missing in my life. The loneliness became sharper, more focused, more acute. My work kept me busy enough that I could ignore these newly surfaced emotions, but only for part of the year. As my loneliness increased in intensity, my bouts with depression grew stronger as well. After two years in Alaska, I had to leave in order to combat my depression. The gloomy weather and lack of social activities for a young, single man were more than I could handle. I wasn’t yet feeling the intense desire to meet a soulmate, but the idea was beginning to creep into a comfortable spot in the back of my subconscious.
I transitioned into my 30s in Boise, Idaho. For a while my mood was jubilant after leaving Alaska. There was sunshine, warm weather, and pretty women to admire in coffee shops and brewpubs. I was once again surrounded by people every day at work, and initially that was enough. I enjoyed being back around fire people, and enjoyed my alone time on the nights and weekends; my introvert soul was again happy for a time. Then it happened. I’m not sure exactly when or even really why, but I became truly lonely for a soulmate. I think it was largely to do with turning 30, although I have no idea how a number could change my state of mind so strongly. The summer I turned 30 my loneliness returned stronger than it had ever been before. I was struggling with living and working in a place that I really didn’t enjoy, in a job that for whatever reason wasn’t as fun as it used to be. I began to realize that my search for happiness had to take a drastic turn if I was to find what I wanted in life. In the spring of my 31st year I came to the point of no return. I wasn’t where I wanted to be in life, and it was time to stop bemoaning my situation and do something about it.
So I did. I tried to initiate a relationship with a friend from college. Despite my best intentions it turned out to be a friendship rather than a romance, but it got me thinking about what I want and how to get it. I finally gave in to family suggestions and went on an anti-depressant to help with the anxiety and depression. It’s too early to tell if it will work as intended, but I think admitting I needed help dealing with my problems is just as much a help as the drug itself. I started a profile on an online dating site and have committed to at least seeing who might be out there. I’ve taken steps to be happy where I am, to be content to live in Boise, even though my heart is in Missoula. Time will tell if I can maintain these positive steps, but I have every intention of doing so. It will be difficult I know, and perhaps in knowing comes the key to success. If I’ve learned anything in in my life, it’s that what must be endured, can be endured. I will endure this as I’ve endured other things, and I will come out into the light on the other side of the tunnel stronger, and hopefully happier, for having done so.
Until next time…