“Babe… do you know where the books are?” I shouted, as I made my way through the maze of boxes, bags, and random assortment of crap strewn across the floor.
My boyfriend and I had arrived at our new home a few hours earlier, but the interior already looked like an overstuffed storage unit had exploded and scattered its contents everywhere.
The truth was, I should totally have been unpacking, but I was feeling overwhelmed. The sheer amount of stuff that needed to be unpacked, sorted, organized and put in its proper place combined with the fact that I was in a new city where I knew no one (minus my boyfriend and my dog) had me feeling panicky. I needed to unwind, to take the edge off, to connect with someone who understood me.
Really? I needed a friend.
But thanks to my new zip code, no friends were immediately available, so I went for my go-to backup: re-reading a favorite book.
I read every night before bed and my boyfriend always pokes fun at the fact that nine nights out of 10, I’m re-reading a tattered copy of a book I’ve read at least 20 times.
For me, re-reading books – and in particular, re-reading memoirs – isn’t just about revisiting a familiar story. As sad as this is to admit, it’s become a sort of stand-in for friendship.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not some sort of outcast with an inability to form social connections like Edward Scissorhands or something. I’ve got a handful of really amazing friends.
It’s just that in today’s society of texting, social media, and #omgsobusy, the amount of time I spend actually engaging in those social connections in a meaningful way hovers somewhere dangerously close to the “zero” mark.
As humans, we crave connection. We want to be seen, to be heard, to be understood. We want someone to bear witness to our life and to help us find meaning in it: the ups, the downs and mundane in-betweens.
That’s why friendship is so important. Friendship gives us the connection we crave (without the strings that typically come from romantic or familial relationships, thank God). It gives us a running buddy on the road of life.
When you’re younger, spending time with friends is easy. You see your friends at school, at soccer practice, at weekend sleepovers. In college, you spend ALL your time with your friends, drinking and studying and meticulously recounting the details of your latest hookup. It’s hard to imagine a time when your life won’t revolve around your BFFs.
But then, adulting happens. You get a job. You get a home. You get all sorts of bills. Your time isn’t as free as it used to be. Once you start adding babies and marriage and mortgages into the mix, forget it. Scheduling brunch with your girlfriends can take months.
As the adult responsibilities and commitments in our lives grow, the time and energy we have to dedicate to our friendships shrinks. It’s sad, but it’s true. I lived literally two buildings away from my best friend in the world for an entire year. It was a 1 ½ minute walk; we clocked it. When I moved in, we were so excited: “OMG, we’re going to hang out every single day!”
We were lucky if we saw each other once every few weeks.
This is the unfortunate reality for pretty much everyone I know. As we add more items to our seemingly endless to-do lists, friendship gets pushed further and further to the bottom. And while social media provides us with some sense of connection to our besties (“Oh look! Juliann got a new haircut!”), it’s not even close to real thing. Instagram Stories just can’t fill the friend-shaped hole in our lives.
So when I find myself with that “I need a friend” feeling and no friends are available, I turn to memoir. For me, revisiting the stories of my favorite authors feels like catching up with old friends. When I read “Carry On, Warrior” it’s like Glennon Doyle is sitting at my kitchen table having a glass of tea. When I pull out my copy of “Drinking: A Love Story” it feels like Caroline Knapp is there holding my hand, saying “it’s going to be ok” in the moments the alcoholic inside me threatens to re-emerge. And anytime I need to laugh, I can always rely on my girl Jenny Lawson. (If you didn’t almost pee your pants while reading “Furiously Happy” I just can’t talk to you anymore.)
Reading these stories? It’s comfortable. It’s familiar.
It’s almost like the real thing.
I get my friendship substitute from books. But I know other people who, when they’re feeling the sting of loneliness, watch their favorite movie or binge eat their favorite cookies or drink their favorite glass of wine or do their favorite Zumba routine.
WHAT we do may be different, but the WHY behind it is universal: we’re in desperate need of connection, but when connection is in short supply, familiarity will have to do.
But is familiarity enough? Does finding comfort in things like books or movies or wine really do the trick? I wish I could say yes, that reading about Liz Gilbert’s adventures through Italy, India and Bali for the 10,000th time is just as satisfying as hearing about a real-life friend’s recent trip to Legoland with her kids.
It’s not though.
I considered all of this as I finally found my box of books and pulled my ear-marked copy of “Eat, Pray, Love” from the top. It was hard enough connecting with friends when I had them within walking distance. What was going to happen now in a city where I was all alone? Would I be able to find the connection – the friendships – I craved?
The answer was, of course… who knows? But at least for that moment, with no friends in sight, I had my old friend Liz Gilbert to get me through the night.