At the end of this month, it will be 15 months that I’ve been working at home and to be quite honest, there are some days when I just want to get my daughter on the bus and sit quietly staring out the window for 8 hours until she gets back home. I remember having this exact same feeling in school as a lad because I suffered from basically the exact same conditions. Despite the fact that there were people all around me I was more or less completely isolated socially. The reasons are relatively varied and no doubt already documented somewhere in this long and semi-periodic exposition of a blog but the effect was largely the same. I spent the first 18 years of my life interacting with the same 2-3 people and here again I find myself in the same situation. Except for the Christmas Eve out with The Boss and his Wife, my sphere of meaningful and non-work conversation has been exactly four people, two face-to-face and two electronic for the last year or more. Somehow, ‘speaking’ to someone electronically just doesn’t quite cut it.
I’m told, oddly, that this is just the way it is. Modern men just don’t have friends. If this is the case, then that completely sucks. So while my wife is chattering away with her friends for hours on end, going out for ‘coffee’ and throwing baby showers for people I’m just supposed to sit here in my stew of whatever it is I happen to be doing this month? Or perhaps just answer an email or two? What a hollow life society bestows upon us.
It is useful to note though that it was not always this way. When I worked in Customer Support at a software company we were a very tightly-knit group. I actually still talk to some of those people. It is this act of communicating with someone across such barriers of inconvenience that form my primary definition of friendship. In no job since that one though, have I come even remotely close to ‘making a friend.’ I can’t imagine for a moment that the Customer Support people were any more or less compatible with me than my subsequent co-workers but clearly the environment is different enough to keep a considerable distance between me and the person working next to me. Working at home though I don’t even have a ‘next to me’ so whatever hope there may have been for crossing those barriers is long gone.
Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m simply poorly suited to socialize at any level. I read a study once about baby monkeys who were taken from their mothers and instead fed by plastic ‘mothers’ made up to look like adult monkeys. The ‘mothers’ were basically just food dispensers. The baby could go to its ‘mother’ and suckle and were fed as well as normal monkeys but never had any social interaction with an adult, just a plastic doll. When these monkeys grew up they just sat in the corner terrified to move. It’s hard not to cry when you think about those poor monkeys especially when in many ways you ARE one of those monkeys. My mother was just about as much like a plastic mannequin as a person can get. I always had plenty to eat and suitable clothing but on an emotional level it was clear I was merely in the way. Family lore even has it that when my father saw my mother in the hospital after I had been taken off to the nursery her first words to him were, “How are the dogs?” I was a mere afterthought, a mere biological inconvenience, an exceptional bit of afterbirth not so easily disposed of.
Penultimately, it’s worth writing down a few of the theoretical solutions to this little “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” conundrum. The first and most obvious is to simply ‘go back to the office’. This is a doomed proposition though in my mind. First and foremost, I worked in the office for 2 years and didn’t manage to make even an iota of progress. I spent the first year sitting literally thrust into a corner by myself. I ticked off whole WEEKS on my calendar when I spoke to nobody in the whole company except for my own boss (amusingly an acquaintance from the Customer Support job). I was as good as a remote employee even when I was in the office. By the time the office had expanded enough that I had immediate neighbors I was already established as the ‘hermit in the corner’ and had a personality poorly equipped to overcome such an image. Add to that the fact that the last time I was in the office I felt like a downright disruption rather than a visitor and I think we can safely conclude that going back to work in the office isn’t the way to break out of my bubble. If anything, it’s more likely to deepen my existing cynicism.
It has also been proposed that I should go take a class at one of the many local colleges. While I don’t disagree with this proposal, the timing couldn’t be worse. I’d happily go take a writing class at U of I and probably will if I think about it at the right time but classes just started so one can’t simply break in in the middle of a semester. I’ll file that away for later consideration.
The third and crappiest option that occurs to me is to simply increase my online chattering. There is no end of random lonely people on the internet which may share enough of my interests to be interesting to talk to. Perhaps there’s a book club out there that reads literature rather than whatever the current Oprah selection is.
One thing that I can take from this with certainty is that most of the isolation I feel is completely my own fault. My current company prides itself on a sense of cohesiveness and to look at those outside my bubble that does indeed seem to be the case. They get along perfectly (at least from my perspective in the bubble) and seem to have a lot of ‘fun’. The conclusion one is forced to is that I’m the one screwing up. Perhaps it’s leftover from the schoolyards of my boyhood but whenever I approach someone to interact I can’t get over the thought that it’s probable that I’m disturbing them in some way. That they would just as soon roll along in whatever track they were traveling than be diverted by any of my inane babblings. I’m sure that attitude, though born of benevolence on my part, makes me look like an ass to the outside world. In some twisted way, I think I have to be less considerate of others (at least from my viewpoint) in order to be seen as friendly or approachable. I suspect this is how the baby monkeys feel too.