Lonely People

 

A few weeks ago, a friend started a blog/website “to encourage young people who are still waiting for their life partner, or people who are just content being single, and the difficulties that entails.” She asked if I’d like to contribute as a person who’s been there and knows what it’s like. Of course, I said yes! I love stuff like that.

I think loneliness is something we all struggle with at some point. Most people I know, whether married or single, feel a sense of loneliness at some time in their lives. You can read what I wrote here, but I think it’s also worth visiting her site because it’s pretty interesting and already full of stories and advice. Click here to go to her website (Letters to Lonely Humans) or keep reading for my letter to the lonely.

Dressed up

I heard someone once say that you can’t expect to find someone to take away your loneliness but may hope to find someone to be lonely with. Here’s my lonely companion 🙂

Lonely Hearts Club

April 17, 2017

Laura McKillip Wood

I got married in my 28th year, which is late for a girl who went to Bible college. I graduated, moved halfway across the world, and lived on my own for four years. When I moved overseas, I came to terms with the idea that I probably wouldn’t ever get married. I didn’t really want to marry someone from another culture. I thought relationships had enough challenges without adding cross-cultural ones to the list, so I thought I had pretty much eliminated my chances of marrying. I really was ok with that. I had a lot of friends and a lot of support, and I decided I didn’t need a husband.

During those years, I sometimes did get lonely. I taught elementary school, so my weeks were full of kids and lesson preparations. On the weekends, though, I had many hours alone. During school breaks, I had more than enough time to long for human companionship. I found ways to fill those needs with good friends and activities, but somewhere lurking in there I still felt a little lonely.

In my fourth year, all of a sudden, an old boyfriend moved to the same country where I lived. Before I knew it, we were engaged! I didn’t realize it then, but looking back I see a part of me believed that after I married him I wouldn’t be lonely anymore. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go? Find your soul mate! Your life will be full of companionship after you marry him. He will understand everything about you and love it all.

After our wedding, Andrew and I moved to a new city where neither of us knew anyone. Suddenly loneliness hit me like a ton of bricks. Andrew was quiet. Very quiet. Much quieter than I was. Too much interaction overloaded him. I needed other people, but I knew no one in my new place. I think most of the people I knew from before assumed we were in that honeymoon stage where everything is so wonderful that you don’t want anyone outside to bother you.  My mom and grandma told me how relieved they were that now I had someone to be with me so I wouldn’t be alone so far away from home, but I felt more alone then than I ever had before the wedding.

My expectation of someone else filling that lonely place in my heart didn’t hold up, and I felt afraid and even more alone because of it.

I’ve been married nearly 18 years now, and I can say without a doubt that this has been a struggle nearly every one of those 18 years. I have begun to learn to expect less from my husband and to rely more on friends. I have started to learn that his need for solitude is a God-given personality trait that allows him to think deeply and understand things I will never understand. I have tried to learn that his quietness doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me and, in fact, has nothing to do with how he feels about me. I haven’t mastered those things, but I’m working on them.

Most of all, though, I have learned that loneliness is a human condition that is not resolved by other humans. Friends can dull the ache. A spouse can mask the effects. Children can keep you so tired you sometimes forget about it. Deep down inside, though, it’s still there. Loneliness is just part of being human and can remind me that my life isn’t complete here on earth. There’s something missing that other people won’t really ever completely fill.

So for anyone reading this who feels lonely sometimes, I tell you the same thing I try to tell myself: don’t blame your loneliness on your situation. Don’t be angry at the ones you love for not perfectly filling your need for companionship. Let your loneliness point you to God, remind you that you’re never completely whole this side of heaven, and drive you to him for fulfillment. Easier said than done; it’s probably a lifelong project!

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My most adamant loneliness-busters. Look at those cuties!

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Still Here

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“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” –Willa Cather

I have a memory of Andrew that surfaces once in a while. It happened before we were married, when we were on a hiatus in our relationship. We had dated and broken up several times, and he had already broken my heart more than once. Still, despite the break ups that seemed to come out of nowhere, I could not escape him. No matter where I went, he eventually turned up. No matter how many times I decided not to love him, I always did again. So this particular memory happened after one of those times I’d decided not to let him back in my heart but to protect myself, to hold back. I had moved to Ukraine, and, of course, I ran into him there.

We started talking again, and I could tell there was still something between us. I went to a worship service at a Christian student fellowship of some sort. I sat near the back of the room, and he sat in the front row. I don’t even think he knew I was there. I saw him standing there. The room was dark, but lights on the stage lit the shadows enough that I could see his silhouette. He raised his arms and sang and praised God in such a pure and sweet way that I just thought, This man is someone I want in my life.

That one memory has stuck with me through some really difficult times. I’ve remembered his sincerity, his dedication. Knowing him better, knowing his struggles, his depression, his uncertainties, I still remember that man who praised God with such depth and innocence. At times when I’ve seen him question himself and his faith, seen him pull back from relationships and withdraw into depression, I’ve thought back to that silhouette and known that man is in there.

Today I went into chapel at the college, a dark room with lights shining on the stage. I scanned the audience, knowing that he usually sits at the back. This time, though, I saw him standing in the front row, praising God with that same stance and that same sincerity, and I instantly remembered that almost-20-years-younger version of him that has lived in my memory. I caught my breath. I know that man. I know the struggles and the pain those years have brought, and I know he stood there praising God with a lot less innocence and a lot more depth than he did the first time I saw him. I know that, despite his bouts with self-doubt and doubt in general and his bent towards depression, he is still here, still persevering.

We’ve struggled a lot in our life together. Some of it’s because of his issues, some because of mine, some because people just do struggle. I look at us and wonder why we can’t just be content. Why do we wallow in self-pity at times or argue or punish each other or whatever it is that we do? One of the students told me they hoped when they got married they’d have a relationship like ours, and my first reaction was to think, Oh my, I hope maybe yours will be smoother and easier. On second thought, though, I think she would be lucky to have a relationship like Andrew’s and mine because we do not give up. We might get to the end of our rope too often, but at least we tie a knot each time and hold on.

If there is one thing I’m proud of so far in my life, it’s that I haven’t given up. I may not have dealt with every situation in a healthy and productive way, but I haven’t thrown in the towel. We are committed , and when we get to the end of our lives we are going to be able to look back and see that it was worth it. We’ll see how the storms made us who we are. We’ll see how waiting out the hard times brought us to good times. We may not be able to point to our relationship as the most lovey dovey one, the most happily-ever-after one, but we’ll be able to say that we had grit, that we held onto what was important, and we’re proud of how far God has taken us.

 

Look for Something Good

Today I started feeling like everyone’s life is a mess. Do you ever do that? Just start thinking about people you know and realize that just about everyone’s got something big they’re facing. And by “big” I mean potentially life-altering: relationship problems that just don’t end, debilitating depression, gender identity issues. This afternoon I started thinking about these things and about how life is more often than not pretty complicated and messy, and I told my friend, “I just want to go back to the time when everybody’s lives were happy and OK.” I can’t do that because, of course, that time doesn’t really exist. We just think it does when we’re young and we haven’t lived long enough to have enough people open up and share their secrets with us, when we don’t realize that everybody’s struggling in some way with something.

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One of the fond memories: vacation with the family in the mountains.

I was thinking about that this evening when I saw a Facebook post asking people to share their fondest memories. I shut my eyes and started thinking what I’d write if I were going to share. I have to admit, it took a while to get past the obligatory days: my-kids-were-born and wedding day, but as I pondered it I realized I have an awful lot of fond memories.

  • sliding (on purpose) on a patch of ice on the sidewalk in Kharkov, Ukraine only to run into Andrew at the end and knock him down
  • walking everywhere around Simferopol and Kharkov with Andrew while we were dating, not feeling tired because I was just so happy to be with him
  • cleaning my first apartment on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Kherson while listening to 80’s music on a little red tape player
  • walking Betsy, the best dog in the world, in the cold every morning and snuggling under the covers with her at night
  • sitting at the island in our kitchen as a child and talking to my mom as she cooked dinner
  • lying in bed as a little girl, watching the “digital” clock dial turn every minute
  • reading for hours every day during Christmas break when I was in junior high
  • fighting with my sister over which direction the fan would point in high school
  • making a video with my Ukrainian friends to give to the missionaries before they moved back to the US
  • teaching my dad to use his iPad and staying up late making funny videos on it
  • spending time with my great-grandma, my grandma, and her sisters, and listening to them as they sat outside, breaking beans and laughing together and thinking about how much alike they looked and sounded
  • eating rice pudding in NYC with my friend and just being happy to be together
  • Andrew making a surprise visit to see me in Simferopol, a 12-hour train ride from his home in Kharkov, while we were dating
  • playing Michael Jackson music and dancing with Andrew and the kids after supper every night when the children were little
  • making Christmas cookies with my grandparents and my cousins and standing still while my grandpa vacuumed the flour off our clothes
  • watching Oprah and praying for her with my friends in Bible college
  • putting up a tiny Christmas tree in my first apartment and accidentally getting myself twisted up in the lights
  • the best vacation ever in Wisconsin Dells when I was about nine and my parents saying yes to everything we wanted to do
  • teaching my kids to crochet
  • some really fun parties with missionaries in Simferopol
  • walking part of the Oregon Trail with my kids and Andrew
  • meeting some writing goals I thought I wouldn’t meet
  • going to work and seeing a surprise gift waiting at my door
  • meeting my best friend (I’ll let you all think it was you–but I actually remember the moment I met a lot of you, and all of those moments were pretty great)
  • my mom teaching me to write and later to type
  • riding the scariest amusement park ride I’ve ever ridden with my ten-year-old and being more scared that my phone was going to fall out of my pocket than I was that I’d die in the ride
  • lunch dates with my American friend in Simferopol–especially the one where she slipped on a mossy sidewalk and fell in a puddle, getting green moss all over herself
  • meeting a friend to talk about writing and not talking much about writing but a lot about everything else
  • eating chips and drinking Coke and talking about life with a friend on the balcony of an apartment in Kharkov
  • laughing with my roommate about the stray horse in the courtyard of our apartment building in Kherson
  • making the kids laugh a lot by making up lyrics to a song on the radio and mimicking the person singing it
  • going to dinner with a friend and staying until they closed and then talking in the parking lot
  • lying in bed, cuddled with Emma and Andrew, warm and soft and sleepy
  • working half the night to do inventory with my boss and coworkers and laughing at everything
  • waking up with baby Emma on one side, Andrew and Hannah on the other, and Alex on my feet and not daring to move for fear of waking them up
  • lying on the picnic table at night in our back yard in Indiana when I was little, thinking about what I’d do when I grew up

Just typing all that out, just the fifteen minutes it took me to think those up, turned around how I felt. Life stinks in a lot of ways, but, man, there are some good things about it. The next time I lament giving up my alone time to be with someone else, I hope I remember how all of those things in my fondest memories list were done with other people (well, one was a dog, but maybe that sorta still counts). My friends and family make my life worth sorting out the rough parts!

Holidailies, Day 3

Tonight my sister-in-law sent me a picture of Andrew and me. It was taken about 15 years ago, the year after we got married: pre-kids, pre-home ownership, pre-responsibilities and bills and debts and work. Looking at that, I wonder what I ever thought about during those years. What preoccupied my mind when I didn’t have to think about what to cook for kids, which is totally different from cooking for just two adults, and when I didn’t have to keep five people’s schedules in my head, and when I didn’t have to remember when I gave the last dose of medicine so I wouldn’t overdose someone on cold medication, and, most of all, when I didn’t wonder if what I was saying and doing every day was completely ruining some impressionable young son or daughter’s entire future and providing some therapist in the future with years of income.

The Picture: Andrew on the left, me on the right, an aunt and a niece with us. That's not our baby, by the way. That was before offspring. Interestingly enough, I look surprisingly like my sister.

The Picture, taken in 2000: Andrew on the left, me on the right, an aunt and a niece between us. That’s not our baby, by the way. That was before offspring. Interestingly enough, I look surprisingly like my sister.

Not only that, but what did even do every day? I mean, I remember I worked out every day (hence my super skinny-ness…probably shouldn’t have let that go).

I remember reading books I wanted to read and being able to finish them in less than 3 months. I remember having a daily quiet time. I remember talking about stuff I liked to talk about for longer than a few minutes without being interrupted. I remember going out to dinner with friends and writing letters on actual paper and journaling.

I remember that Andrew and I used to lie next to each other on the couch without a) suffocating each other or b) falling off the couch because our bodies actually took up just a sliver of that couch at that point. To be honest, I don’t know if we could lie side by side on the couch anymore because we haven’t even attempted it for years!

I remember that we used to go to Applebee’s and say how expensive it was because it cost almost $20 to eat there. Now we spend way more than $20 at Wendy’s when all five of us go there and eat off the dollar menu.

I remember that I used to spend more than 3 minutes on my hair every morning, and once in a while I went without makeup for fun instead of lack of concern about whether I was wearing makeup or not.

I remember sleeping. I’m not even going to elaborate on the loss of sleep because, really, it’s just too painful at times to think about how I used to sleep and how I took a solid 7 hours of sleep for granted.

Those were fun days, nice times, when I thought about myself and how to make myself happier, prettier, skinnier, smarter, more interesting, funnier.

However, those were also days when I didn’t really understand responsibility and how loving someone means doing stuff for them, stuff they may never notice, stuff they will almost definitely never appreciate. Those were days when I thought I knew about love but what I knew about love was all about what another person could do to make me feel loved. I had no idea how to love a crying, pooping little person who would soon start throwing temper tantrums and basically refuse to do anything that was good for him/her. I had no idea how to love someone when we were both at our rope’s end and angrier or more hurt or more exhausted than we’d ever been.

I seriously wouldn't go back for anything. Look at those three cuties that didn't even exist 15 years ago!!

I seriously wouldn’t go back for anything. Look at those three cuties that didn’t even exist 15 years ago!!

I don’t really think I know that yet, but at least I know a little more about it. So maybe it’s ok that Andrew and I can’t fit side-by-side on a couch together or that I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in 14 years. Marriage and parenting have changed us. In some ways for the worse maybe, but in some ways for the better.

Now, I just wonder where the next 15 years will take us.

All’s Quiet on the Western Front

stormI’m sitting in my dining room, at the table. The kids are in bed asleep. Andrew is in bed asleep. All I can hear is the gurgling of the fish tank, the occasional stirring of the dog in the corner, and my neighbors fighting outside the window. It’s 10 pm this time. The last time it was closer to midnight, and the talk sounded a lot more dangerous. In fact, the last time I’m pretty sure they threw some garbage cans around the yard at each other.

I listen to their voices but can’t really hear much more than the occasional curse word. I listen because I’m curious and because I feel for them. I understand the frustration that brings a person to the point of yelling and not caring who hears. Or yelling and wanting someone else to notice and care. Or even worse, the frustration of just being quiet and either not knowing what to yell or not caring enough to say anything at all.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Relationships are hard, and the ones that matter most tend to bring the most hardship. If I don’t like a coworker, I can avoid the person and keep things superficial. If I don’t like someone who lives in my house, there’s not much I can do but dive in and face the discomfort. I can quote the Bible verse, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:7) until I’m blue in the face, but I can’t ignore the fact that when iron sharpens iron, sometimes sparks fly!

I tell my kids all the time if people live in a house together they will sometimes have conflict. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about each other. It’s conflict that gives us the chance to learn how to face disagreements in ways that don’t hurt others. I tell them when they grow up and have families of their own they will know how to deal with conflict in ways that build up instead of destroy. That’s what I say, but I’m not sure I’m teaching them how to do it. I’m still learning it myself, and I have to admit I’m not all that good at it.

wedding picWhen Andrew and I got married, I knew that God planned us for each other. I felt certain of it. I never was one of those girls who thought there was one person for everyone, and I’m still not. If that were the case, I for sure would have messed up and married Mr. Wrong and then what? Would my whole life have been a mistake from then on? I have always believed that God’s will for me is flexible and fluid and that if I know him I’ll follow him and I’ll look for ways to do what he wants. If I miss some things he’s pointing out to me, he will still use me in other ways.

That being said, though, I knew Andrew was for me almost the moment I met him. Now I thank God for giving me that assurance! Now I can rest in the belief that God put Andrew in my life for a reason. When life gets hard and we get frustrated with each other, I can look back at the time I felt sure God put us together and know that he still wants to use us in each other’s lives.

If I believe this, I trust God will use him to change me into the person He wants me to be. I trust that God will use me to mold him into the person He wants Andrew to be. Even in times when living with another person is hard and I feel frustrated by our differences, I have to admit that when I look back at the people we were when we started this marriage, I like who we are now better. I might think at times that my life would have been easier had I just gone it alone, and I might be right. It almost definitely would have been easier in a lot of ways. However, what would I have become if left to my own devices, without the smoothing influence of my husband? I’m not sure I would have liked that person.

Peace in the War Zone

Let me give an example. One of the struggles we’ve had in our marriage revolves around the way that we talk. I come from a tell-it-like-it-is kind of family. I remember my grandma telling me men can’t read your mind so if you want something you’d better go ahead and just tell them what you want, not to expect that they’ll figure it out on their own. I took that to heart. I saw too many girls hinting, wishing that some guy would figure out they wanted something and then getting disappointed and even angry when the guys didn’t catch the hint. That seemed foolish to me, so I decided I wouldn’t hide how I felt or what I was thinking from my husband.

Andrew’s family is different. They’re waaay more subtle than mine. Their idea of telling-it-like-it is…well, my family would never even know there was any telling going on if they heard it. His family does this out of respect, I think. They don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, so they present themselves more subtly. And guess what. The other family members figure out what they mean without the loud, in-your-face telling that my family does. It works for them.

We were about to have a family conflict over the appropriate way to take the photo.

We were about to have a family conflict over the appropriate way to take the photo.

However, put these two together, and it’s not always so easy. When we were dating, I went home from college with him to visit his family one weekend. On Saturday night, I asked him to wake me up the next morning in time to get ready for church because I didn’t have an alarm clock. The time to get up came and went, and he didn’t even knock on my door. I finally woke up and asked him why he didn’t wake me up. His answer? “I was making noise so you’d hear it and wake up.” To him, this seemed like a perfectly polite method of waking me up. To me, it seemed like he didn’t care enough to make sure I was awake.

These different styles have led to a lot of “interesting” conversations over the years, but early on we both realized the value of being married to someone with a very different style of self-expression. Over the years, I have become less abrasive, more thoughtful in my approach. I’ve learned to think before I talk, to consider people’s feelings and not just blast everyone away with my opinion. I’ve learned that if the tone of my voice sounds angry, it doesn’t matter what I say because he will only hear anger. I’ve learned it’s not up to me to save the world and to point out everyone’s flaws and shortcomings. He’s learned to stand up for himself more, to be more aggressive in conversation. He’s learned to say what he thinks because people might not pick up on the subtle cues. Somehow in the mix of the two of us we’ve both found a decent middle ground that enables us to say what we think without hurting each other much of the time. This has translated into our other relationships at work and with friends as well.

Nothing Worth Doing is Ever All That Easy

The most recent picture of us. We've changed just a little from how we looked in that wedding photo!

The most recent picture of us. We’ve changed just a little from how we looked in that wedding photo!

In that case, iron has sharpened iron, but, oh my, that sharpening process has been long and difficult, and it will probably continue until the day one of us dies. It has involved deep issues, things from both our pasts that aren’t easily dealt with, things that neither of us ever wanted anyone else to know about, things that we can’t hide from the one we live with day in and day out, especially not if we want a healthy marriage. When those kinds of things come out in the open, they have the potential to destroy us, but they also have the potential to grow us into  stronger, more stable, more understanding people. People who are more Christlike.

I began writing this post over seven months ago. I have hesitated about posting it because I’ve got friends who know some of the realities of my marriage and might read it and think what a hypocrite I sound like, coming from a less-than-perfect marriage and writing about how God uses it. I hesitated because it’s easy enough to gloss over the difficulties publicly and present our marriage as this model relationship when it most definitely is not. We’ve had our share of destruction and pain over the years. I can’t help but think, though, that it’s worth it. It’s worth the arguments, the silence, the hurt that we’ve both sometimes felt because now that we have been married long enough to look back we can see some progress. We can see the positive changes that have resulted. We’re learning to see each other as people who are still growing and changing instead of as final products, solidly stuck in our ways and unable to change.

Not that we’ve perfected it! Not at all! There are still so many things that we need to work on, some that I’m sure we don’t even know about yet. There are still so many mistakes and blunders. We still struggle quite a bit. Sometimes I still look at him and think, “Who is that?!” and at times I wonder if he even knows me at all. Then he says something that summarizes my personality in one sentence and I think maybe I was wrong. Maybe he knows me better than I thought. No matter what our differences might be, our sixteenth anniversary is just around the corner, and I can happily say that we are not throwing garbage cans at each other. At least there’s that!