When I was little, making friends was not always easy for me. I had my sister and my select friends that I felt comfortable with. We would play, imagine, and go on little adventures, but when I wasn’t with them, I preferred to be by myself. I would dance around pretending to be a ballerina, concoct the perfect mudpie for my imaginary cooking show, or scrape up what little make-up and nail polish I could find and envision myself as a fashionista or a superstar. The idea of meeting new people made me nervous. I was lonely sometimes, but I preferred to feel alone in my safe little world, than taking the risk of stepping out of my comfortable reality.
As I got older, things changed. In junior high, high school, and college the Lord intervened and took it upon Himself to place mentor after mentor in my path. Parents of friends, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, older students, professors, resident assistants and resident directors entered my life and changed everything. They poured into me as we laughed, served, spoke, studied, and learned together. They walked me through times both good and bad. I watched them raise their children, endure tragedy and pain with dignity, face the unexpected, and share words of wisdom. They were pouring into me over and over, sometimes without even realizing they were doing it. I knew what was happening was special, but not how special until I got a bit older and realized how difficult the gift I was given is to come by.
Twenty-somethings in Chicago are lonely. Many keep their minds off of just how lonely they are by partying every chance they get with people who barely know them, others jump from one romantic relationship to another or stay in a relationship they know isn’t right just because it is better than being alone, and still more live their lives on social media seeking out as many “likes” or “retweets” as possible by posting the funniest one-liners they are capable of or the most beautiful pictures of their most recent trips. Making friends after college is HARD and I can say that because I know. Suddenly, your friends that used to live so close by are all spread out. You work full days that leave you exhausted at the end of the day and unable to muster up the energy to get out and mingle. The fear of rejection overcomes you as you tell yourself it would be too weird or awkward to invite that person over for dinner or out for coffee. As a result, much like I did when I was a little kid, you stick to what you know and suffer the safety of loneliness rather than facing what it means to “put yourself out there.”
Though young Chicagoans are in dire need of deep friendships, I believe this void can’t even compare to the absence of inter-generational, inter-marital status, or inter-lifestage relationships. Whether you find your friends at church or work or in your apartment complex, it seems we go out of our way to keep clear of those who find themselves in a different area of life than we are in. The married with children deem the single to be too immature or clueless to ever actually be a friend and the singles accuse the married people of being too busy, arrogant, or boring to go out of their way to clear their schedules for. I get it. Chicago parents and grandparents want to use every ounce of energy they have to pour into their own children and grandchildren and Chicago singles want to spend as much of their free time as possible meeting prospective friends and significant others at the bar. It’s understandable, but are we better for it?
I think it is time for us to come clean about just how lonely we are. It may be terrifying, but we will almost certainly find we are not the only ones. If we come to terms with our sad state, maybe then we will be able to make a change. Perhaps if the 28 year-old male would humble himself enough to ask for help from the 50 year-old, he would have the necessary energy to pour more into the 22 year-old. Maybe if the the 35 year-old female took a chance and became a part of the life of the 24 year-old, she would find she got more in return than she ever imagined.
So today, let’s take a chance. Let’s talk to someone it seems we could never have anything in common with. Let’s admit our loneliness and brokenness. Let’s decide that we are better together than we could ever be apart.