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Archive for June 2018

A Spinster Forgets How To Small Talk

I’ve forgotten how to small talk. The realization of this hit me on Saturday night, as I sat on the deck of a sailboat smooshed together with LA friends, people I had met a couple times years ago, and people I never met and was not introduced to. While social situations in which I don’t know people have always stressed me out, I used to be quite good at them. At least I think I was. But there I was, sitting there wracking my brain for things to say to the guy next to me and coming up with nothing. No statements. No questions. Nothing.

In that moment, I realized that I don’t really hang out with people other than my family any more. I have lost the ability to do the small talking and the meeting and the socializing. And most people around me seem to do the same. Is it my age? Is it the more suburban desert life instead of a city one? Is it because I was working 4 jobs for a couple months so was just wiped out when I got home? Have I become antisocial? Like most things, it’s probably a combination of all the above.

Age is definitely a factor. I lived my late 20s-30s in Los Angeles, and in the city those are peak single years so it’s not difficult to eventually end up surrounded by other singles close to that age. And we lived life together. Our families were all in other cities, so we relied upon each other. My church was young and fostered this connection as if its life depended upon it, which I suppose it did. So, awkwardly and with a lot of effort, we created a little community of weird singles which grew as some of us dated, married, and/or had babies.

But the step after that is a hard one, as many of us moved away at that point. Even this weekend’s event was a going away party for one such couple. I stayed at another dear friend’s apartment, like always, only this time there were boxes and boxes against the walls as they too are starting to pack for their upcoming move. The city life is often a transient one. That age has passed.

Starting over again at almost 40 has been a bit more difficult socially. I’m still single. But I’m not 28. And in this suburbanish desert town, most Christians marry young, or at least younger than in LA. And the couples my age or older have teenage kids, and are incredibly busy. Everyone is so busy with activities – but not “hang out” activities. No one invites me over for dinner, or to grocery shop together, or to watch Netflix, or grab lunch after church. It’s a rather insulated city – people with houses and yards instead of tiny apartments where shared space is required for sanity.

Photo by Don Lee

In LA, very few of us had yards, so we’d all congregate in that one friend’s backyard for every birthday, holiday, or event. We’d squish 20 people into tiny apartments without a thought. We’d share space, air conditioning, Netflix, parking, storage, everything. Here, everyone is with their families, in their own homes, with their own garages and air conditioning and built in friends of husbands and kids. I am almost always with my family here as well, which is beautiful and special. So yes, age and the suburban lifestyle have definitely affected my ability to make new friends.

The general busy pace of life has also been isolating. Which is odd, because I’m actually working much less than I ever did in the higher pressure jobs I held before. We were incredibly busy, but somehow we figured out how to be busy together. Every Wednesday, I’d meet the girls for happy hour after work. We’d go to each other’s apartments to grade together. We walked to lunch after church together. We had Bible study in the same apartment for years, and ended up there so often it became a second home. Sometimes we even went grocery shopping together. Somehow the fact that we were all ridiculously busy never stopped us from hanging out – we just rolled each other into our day to day activities so much that it became our natural way of living.

Here, I go to work, come home and have dinner and watch TV with my mom, which has been quite lovely to be honest. But that’s pretty much every single week day. To be fair, I’ve been pretty exhausted at the end of the day lately because of the multiple jobs and also I was ill, but in my previous life that wouldn’t have stopped community. Friends would have just come over anyway. If I was sick, they’d stop by to bring me soup. If I was busy, they’d come be busy with me. If I was tired, they’d set me up on their couch in front of Gilmore Girls reruns, and put food and drink in my hand.

But here, I can be autonomous – I can let my family take care of me and not need anyone else. And since not one single person from my new church has ever invited me to go to lunch after service, or over for dinner, I haven’t bothered to reach out either. I don’t need them as much with my family right here. And I guess they don’t need me. So that makes it harder to bother.

That leaves the question, have I become antisocial? And I guess I have, at least a little bit. Starting the making friends thing all over again when I’m turning 40 in a month is unpleasant. Apparently I’m too young for the 50 year old couples in my Sunday School class to bother with me outside of Sunday morning. And I’m too old for the singles groups (thank God! I never did like singles groups). Because I know I either need to keep trying group after group after group to see if one may fit better or I just have to throw myself into the one I’m in now and do all the work of brazenly inviting myself into their lives, I’ve opted for just not having many friends here. Just sticking with my family and my one old friend.

Because of this, I haven’t gone to an actual party in ages. I haven’t showed up at a friend’s place to see a ton of faces I don’t recognize. There have been no happy hours or kick-backs or store runs or World Cup watching get togethers. And I think I’ve become happily comfortable in my anti-social life. It’s less tiring. Less work. And involves very little small talk.

But on the boat Saturday night, looking around at everyone else chatting away as I sat there silent for the moment, the thought struck me that maybe I’ve grown too self-focused through this isolation. I’ve got a lot to think about. But I think it might be time for me to try out the 30-somethings group at church even though I’ll be the oldest person there. It might be time for me to put in a bit more effort to becoming part of the community outside of my family. It might be time for me to brush up on my small talk.

Not Everything is Terrible

Looking back over my blog, I realize that I often highlight the negative. If you only know me through this blog, you definitely see my struggles and my cynicism, but I’m not sure if you can see my joy. Perhaps joy is actually more difficult for someone like me to express in blog form because there can be something so ineffable about it, something hard to put my finger on.

After struggling through my last bad bout of depression two years ago I made some radical changes in my life (which I explain in my first ever Awkward Spinster blog “Life, Episode VI”). One of the things which has really helped change my outlook is learning to consciously realize not everything is terrible, and to actually put in work to change my focus from all the bad things to the good as well. For this pessimistic soul, this takes continual effort and does not come naturally.

Perhaps this shift in thinking doesn’t come naturally for you either, so I invite you to try out the following steps for a bit and see if they help. If you’re an optimist, that’s awesome, keep reading for tips for your not-quite-so-perky friends, or for the inevitable crash that will happen when things don’t turn out quite as brilliantly as you thought they would (Oops, my cynicism is showing a bit too much!).

So, here are the Awkward Spinster’s 4 steps to realizing that not everything is terrible:

Recognize the Excellent Times

Philippians 4:8 tells us: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

But how can we think on these things if we don’t even realize they’re happening? In the midst of hard times, it can be difficult to see past our struggles. The first step I have to take to overcome my pessimistic mind is first to even recognize that truth that not everything actually is terrible, no matter how much it might feel like it is. I must pay attention to and acknowledge the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy things as they happen.

Last Monday, I got to spend an evening with two of my best friends. As we sat on the patio drinking good wine, eating good food, and talking I realized that for once, all three of us were happy. At the same time! For a few years now, we’ve each gone through some tough times personally, physically, and professionally, but in this moment we were all doing well. Instead of letting that realization pass by, I acknowledged it out loud. Somewhat incredulously, with a huge grin, I asked them “Wait a second, are all three of us actually happy with where we’re at right now?” They responded with big smiles as we toasted this precious moment.

You see, the three of us have picked each other back up from hard times, encouraged one another, and prayed with and for each other time and time again. It was important for us to pause and acknowledge this wonderful moment, to not let it slip past.

It’s also helpful for me, when trying to see the good things in life and not just the bad, to celebrate the excellent times in the lives of others as well. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” I’m pretty good at weeping with those who weep, but we also need to rejoice with our friends and family in their good moments!

My little niece is so excited about birthdays and Christmas, pretty much any opportunity for gifts to be opened. But when my nephew had a little graduation party, she struggled to enjoy it in its entirety because she didn’t know how to rejoice with him when he was being celebrated instead of her. She is just beginning to learn the freedom and excitement of being genuinely happy for others’ good fortune instead of giving in to jealousy.

I have found soul-deep joy in the marriages and children of my dear friends, even though God has chosen not to give them to me. Enjoying when lovely things happen to those around us, even if things aren’t particularly great in our lives at the moment, can help us see past ourselves and remember there is good. Instead of feeling sad or bitter when we’re stuck at home while a friend goes on a lovely vacation, our love for them can lead us to feel happiness on their behalf, which spills over into our own lives.

Linger in the Sweet Moments

Once we recognize that we are, indeed, in the midst of a particularly sweet moment, we can do our best to linger in it. This isn’t always possible, as some moments of grace and goodness are fleeting. But I’m actually starting to realize that, even in the midst of my busy days, I have the ability to pause a little longer and change the course of my day ever so slightly by lingering in these moments of joy.

When we recognize that good things aren’t always big things, then even pausing on the walk from the car to the classroom to look up to the sky can help change my focus. After all, Psalm 19:1 tells us “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

I blogged a bit about my quest to find more beauty in life, and once I’ve found those moments I’m trying to stay in them a bit longer. I’m an efficient worker, so this takes practice for me. It can feel wasteful or hedonistic at first – but it is necessary and life-giving, bringing glory to God and peace to our souls.

This Sunday afternoon, my mom invited my brother, his wife, and son over after church for lunch. She told them that I needed to blog, so probably wouldn’t be able to stay outside with them for very long, but they were welcome to stay as long as they liked. But the minute we set up the little paddling pool and Benji jumped in with glee, my heart was filled with incredible joy.

Several times I tried to head back in to my desk to work on this post, but I kept ending up back outside with the family, laughing with my sweet boy as he splashed around with sheer joy. Instead of stressing me out because I didn’t get my writing done when I’d planned on it, I came back to my laptop after they’d gone, inspired and refreshed. Prioritizing that beautiful time, choosing to linger outside, helped change my perspective.

Be Grateful for all Good Gifts

Acknowledging and extending beautiful moments should naturally result in feelings of gratitude. Interestingly, even if these feelings don’t come naturally all the time, we can develop them with practice. On joyous occasions, our gratitude should bubble out of us like children at Christmas who can’t stop thanking their parents for getting them exactly what they wanted even though they weren’t sure they’d get it.

James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Each moment of beauty, each time of rest, each bit of peace we experience, each laugh and smile – these are all gifts from God.

When I watch my little nephew giggle with such pure glee from splashing in the water, when I see my brother and his wife laughing with him and experiencing so much pleasure watching him have fun, I am overcome by gratitude to God for giving us this moment.

As we recognize awesome times, and try to linger in them a bit longer, our gratitude should extend to others as well as God. By stopping to thank my mom for making us lunch and getting the little pool, it helps me appreciate the thought and effort she put in to making this day happen. By thanking my friends for having me over after a long day of work, making me drinks and cooking for me, I’m noticing even more little things which were gifts that night.

I’m learning that a heart filled with gratitude is a bit less easily darkened by depression.

Remember the Not-Terrible Things

My last tip is to fix all these little joy-filled moments in your mind to remember when things do get terrible again. Because they will. That’s not the cynic in me speaking, it’s the reality of this world. And for those of us prone more to negative thinking or even depression, it’s easy in the hard times to forget the good, it’s easy to feel like things will always be this bad. This is when we must preach the truth to ourselves over and over again – after all, Philippians 4:8 begins by telling us to think on “whatever is true,” it is the first thought on which all else hangs. And the truth is that God is good and he loves us.

If we’ve rehearsed thinking on these things – the times in our lives he has given us good gifts of children’s laughter, majestic skies, good meals with friends, an endless array of beautiful things both big and small – then in our darker moments we can remind ourselves that not everything is terrible, even if it feels like it is.

Psalm 116:5-7 states “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Our souls can return to rest in these memories instead of letting the negative ones swarm over us completely.

These steps aren’t the magic bullet to contentment and happiness, there is no such thing. But they’ve helped me through the past couple of years. They’ve helped me this Sunday, as I struggled once again with trying to fit into a church family, yet ended up feeling like the bastard child yet again. Even now, I can choose to spend my mental energy replaying the difficult time I had this morning, or Benjamin’s laugh.

Not everything was terrible today, after all.

*The fabulous “Not Everything Is Terrible” bandana pictured above was a gift from a dear friend, and was designed and screen printed by artist Janine Kwoh. You can find her fabulous work for sale at her Etsy shop: kwohtations

When Sunday Is the Most Difficult Day of the Week

It took me two tries to make it to church this Sunday. I woke up tired, my mom woke up still feeling the last lingering effects of the cold she had last week. I didn’t get out of bed as quickly as I should of, so was running late. I knew the lesson my small group was going to go over today would be a struggle for me, and I’d either have to speak up and be the one voice of dissent or bite my tongue the whole time, so I decided to just go to the service late and then come home instead of going to group after.

Coffee was spilled on a dress in the car on the way there. The Jeep we parked next to had a Bill O’Reilly air freshener hanging from its rear view mirror, I kid you not. Other cars greeted us with their not-so-friendly NRA and AR-15 stickers. Because we were late, it was hard to spot empty seats. It had already taken everything we had to get to this point, so we left and went home. In this struggle, I was very much The Awkward Spinster.

Knowing full well that a large part of this struggle was my own attitude and feeling convicted, an hour later, we headed back for second service early, got seats, and made it through the whole time. The service was fine.

John 13:34-35 records Christ’s words during the last supper. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Why is this so difficult? Humans, that’s why. We are so bloody difficult. I am difficult. And, as a single woman who is almost 40 trying to integrate back into a city I happily left in my 20s, I am finding it more arduous than ever. Being with my family is fantastic and quite easy. My prayer group of family and a couple close friends is lovely. But church? Church is the hardest part.

And I think I’m failing right now. I’m not really loving the people in my church because I don’t feel like I’m actually part of my church. I feel like the weird spinster aunt who’s just visiting so everyone puts up with her. You know, they all tolerate her odd ideas because she’s just the slightly wild one who never bothered to get married or have kids and actually thinks universal healthcare is a good idea.

I don’t really have a lesson in this or a solution to my problem. This is just the reality of an issue I’m in the middle of. And, since this blog is meant to openly discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of the life of this particular Awkward Spinster, I didn’t want to dodge this aspect of single life.

I do think church is hard for everyone, not just singles like myself. I know many a married mother and father who also struggles with church community, especially in the current political and social climate. But as someone who experienced singleness in the context of an imperfect yet loving, embracing, supportive, empowering church family for years, that makes starting over again even more painful. I don’t have a husband to hold my hand when I’m upset in church, a partner in the awkwardness and pain. It’s just me, sitting in small group surrounded by people, feeling utterly alone.