Thursday, May 8, 2014

My So-Called So Cal Life

I am utterly failing at building a social life in San Diego. We've been here for three and a half years, and I don't feel like I have many friends in the area that I can count on. The kind of friend you'd keep no matter where you moved on. Three and a half years is a long time to not make friends.

During the first months here, I felt desperate to connect with others. So desperate that my desperation may even have seeped out. Once, Jeff and I were hanging out at a picturesque park right by the cliffs with our dog and our son when a woman, also with a canine and offsprings, stopped to chat with us. It turned out that she too was a lawyer with connection to a high tech company that Jeff was familiar with. On that ground, we were able to chat almost an hour and even exchanged email addresses as we parted. That evening, I made the fatal mistake of inviting her over to our house for a BBQ that weekend. Who in her right mind invites a stranger to her house after one conversation? And who in her right mind would accept an invitation to a stranger's house, especially with her kids in tow? I never heard back from her.

Since then, we've met people -- once we made the effort to venture out of our house, after carefully covering our eyes with sunglasses to let them adjust to the glaring sun -- at meetup groups, at my son's school, at local playgrounds. We have worked on honing our small-talk skills, being careful to banter with wit and share some revealing tidbits about ourselves while striking the careful balance not to reveal too much. I have made some effort to blend in with the locals, taking the time to blow-dry my hair in the morning and refraining from grimacing whenever talk of Botox or God surfaces. I pet their dogs, and I ask their children's age. I smile knowingly when someone mentions a TV show. I ooh and aah over designer purses and even the make of their cars. I volunteer at my son's school.

Sometimes, these efforts seem fruitful. We've been invited to dinners, to playgroups, to Easter egg hunts. We've chatted tete a tete with other parents and exchanged jokes with people across the table. I've even had ongoing text exchanges with some of them, and even befriended them on Facebook.

But on days like today, these seem like nothing other than white noise. Mere clutter to fill up the time, to mask my failure to make real connections that are so elusive even under the best of circumstances.

The conditions I am living in are far from ideal. I am an alien in Southern California. I grew up on the East Coast. I wear too much black. I have never had plastic surgery, unless you count the laser removal of some moles on my face. My boobs are my own. I don't own a bikini. I easily weigh 20 pounds more than the average local mom. I did not have children in my 20s. I don't like beer. I am not familiar with any sports teams. I don't watch TV. I am not blond. I place a premium on being genuine and reliable. I like to talk about books and current events.

When I complain to Jeff, he says, "Well, I don't have friends either, but I have you and the kids. That's all I need." Well, I need friends. Especially girlfriends that I can talk to, about things that deeply matter to me. I'm not sure if it's a function of having grown up as an immigrant in this country, but I also need to be around people who mirror some part of who I am, someone who by his or her sheer existence can serve as a validation of my own perception and experience. Maybe I'm asking for too much...

I've instead had the opposite experiences. At least once a week, I feel invisible. Sometimes, people seem to see through me, and I don't think it's just me being overly sensitive. I could be picking up my son at school, and people I know look past me to greet someone else behind me. The other day, I realized it's the way I sometimes look past landscapers mowing a lawn or construction workers hauling debris on a construction site. I don't really see them. They are mere fixtures in a scene, with no individual identity. They cannot serve me any purpose -- and cannot possibly have any connection to me.

Ever since my sister estranged me, I've become more insecure and needy. Every failure to connect with someone seems to validate my deep fear -- that I'm flawed, that I lack the skills to manage myself socially, that I'm not enough to merit someone else's time. That insecurity and fear make me frigid, socially unengaged. They bind me in an unhealthy circle of not even wanting to reach out, to bother to try to connect with others. A cranky voice in the back of my mind wonders what the point is anyway.

We've talked about moving back to San Francisco -- where I felt so much at home, where I had many treasured friends. But when we visit, I know it's no longer our home. Our friends have moved on with their lives. The schools suck. The restaurants don't have high chairs. Everyone moves to Marin or to the East or South Bay anyway -- and what's the point of living in a more expensive suburb where you have to drive two hours to visit friends?

The other day, I chatted with a dad in my daughter's gymnastics class. A large African-American man who told me that he grew up as an orphan, a ward of three different states. Despite all that, he managed to put himself through college and went to law school, and worked at a corporate law firm in New York before moving to San Diego not too long ago. He told me that most of the kids he had known growing up are now either dead or incarcerated. I had seen him before, chatting and laughing with the other moms in the class. Watching him made me wonder how he could fit in so well when I seem to be struggling so much.

I don't have a solution, but I do want to smack the self-pity out of myself. To just buck up and figure it out. Maybe I just need to make myself more agreeable. Or less rigid. Or have a better sense of humor. Or turn blond.

If all fails, I guess we can start importing some friends down here.

I know it's not as bleak - or as black and white as I've painted it to be. There are people I can call, people I can grab a drink with. People who will respond if I needed help. People with good hearts and warm intentions. But do they get me, and do I get them? Here, at this stage of my life, there are so many variables at play. I'm not exposed to the same demographics as I was when I met people through work or school. I'm now a mom, and I don't have the time to nurture friendships as I once had. The moms I am meeting are in the same boat. You are busy, they are busy. They work. They don't have the same aged children as you do, or if they do, their children are overly aggressive toward yours. Neither of you has time to nurture your interests the way you used to. It's hard to find the time to sit down and talk when you spend all your time chasing after your two year old. Your friendships can only go so far talking about parenting techniques. I know all that. But knowing doesn't change your reality -- or make the shortcomings more palatable.

But I do remind myself that it took me four years to feel settled when I first moved to San Francisco. That is some comfort. And it takes time to build depth in any relationship. Maybe it's patience I need to nurture -- and some self-confidence. And to remind myself that I survived relocations to New York, Houston, Chicago, D.C., and San Francisco, many on my own. Could this one be that much worse?

1 comment:

  1. There are many times where I long for the friendships, the closeness and bond that I developed with women from my college years. I am still "close" with those dear friends in the way that when we do get to see each other (a few times a year) things are as they were before - we just pick up where we left off. That part is great because it proves that the bonds are strong enough to withstand the distance. However, it reminds me that I don't have relationships like that in my life right now and it does make me sad. I understand and completely relate to what you're feeling - and can only hope that one day soon - you will meet that rare friend - that becomes one of your lifelong friends, in San Diego. -C