Failed joiner. A profile claimed that school shooters aren’t just loners but kids who tried–and failed–to fit in. Kids who desperately wanted to connect but couldn’t.
The phrase haunts me. Failed joiner. It’s the story of my adult life.
Making friends came easily as a kid in sprawling neighborhoods packed with children just my age. We rode bikes and played pretend, exploring the woods and our own imaginations. I committed everyone’s phone number to memory (and could probably conjure a few even now, decades later, although I can barely locate my own cell phone most days).
When the days grew long, I washed dishes at breakneck speed, spying kids already congregating through the glass above the suds. We’d run and hide, screaming “Bloody Murderrrrrr!” ’til dark encroached, promising to reconvene after dinner again tomorrow.
I moved a few times, starting over from scratch, but neighborhood life, free time, and a flurry of activities provided space and companions to bond with over cookie sales, lap lanes, choir rooms, and on the late bus home after play practice. Proximity, shared interests, and school projects meant always having a buddy to meet up with and someone to call on my Very Own Phone with its coiled cord and best friends all programmed on speed dial.
It’s trickier cultivating friendships as an adult, isn’t it? Babies and kids complicate the equation, but it was hard before that, too, like I graduated from college and my natural ability to connect with people my age. Cutting through the pleasantries dividing strangers from friends takes so much longer without the shared schedules and housing that once made it second nature.
Do we age out of being open to intimacy? Are we too tired to make the effort? Too narrowly focused? Did we forget along the way how to let each other in?
I joined the board of a local youth ministry. It wasn’t that long ago that I served as a youth pastor myself, but as he talks, I realize how much has changed in a few years.
“Pray that the students would know that a social life is something that happens in the world outside their bedroom.”
Getting kids to come to stuff is harder than it used to be, he says. They keep their options open, never committing; they’re averse to taking social risks.
Who’s there? (No one.)
Is it worth coming? (Nah. I’m out. Let’s find something better.)
Social media and smart phones promised to shorten the space between us, but I’m not sure how true that’s been in practice. It seems like it’s not just adults having trouble building community. Many of us are distracted, blearily accustomed to settling for substitutes, surface interactions, and playing it safe.
How do we find connection in an isolating age?
God knows I tried the joining route, lugging babies from group to group. I planned retreats and baked pastries for meetings and meals for new moms. I showed up and then some, hosting dinners and parties and play dates, but nothing really took. I am the failed joiner, heart breaking for lost, lonely boys playing video games in their basement and everyone longing for someone to reach back.
I suspect that there’s more of us than we realize. Digital connection bridges some divides while camouflaging–and widening–others. Is loneliness the ironic, invisible thread connecting so many?
I don’t know the answers, but I’ve reached the end of my rope more times than I can count. Most recently, folks were posting images of their Myers Briggs personalty types, and characteristics like Loyal, Compassionate, Caring stood out to me. What good friends they must be!
Is this my problem? Am I too in my head to function well in relationships? I sobbed to my poor husband for the second time in a month. So much has changed for the better this year; I hadn’t realized this wound was still so raw.
In my head, I know it’s not true. I don’t need to become someone else in order to make friends or be a good one. I can love just as well as an introvert and a thinker. But lies whisper loud sometimes, drowning out the still, small voice of Truth. I shut it down.
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace, Lord. Incline my ear to hear, my eyes to serve. Direct my steps, and as my heart grows faint, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
Failed joiner, know this: dark seasons may last years but not forever. Friendship is every bit as much about timing and chemistry as perseverance or personality. Group acceptance is overrated, but nothing beats breaking bread side by side and laughing ’til you (almost) pee.
Take heart, dear one. Slow your striving and draw near. Lift up your head: the sun of righteousness rises with healing in its wings.