Saturday, August 19, 2006

Lonely in a crowd

Today I went to shalosh seudos at a synagogue I don't ordinarily frequent. Two friends of mine were supposed to meet me there but never showed. I ended up sitting by myself, even though I was across from one person and next to another. Neither of them made much of an attempt to chat me up.

It's hard for people who don't know a lot of people to meet new people. The West Side is not a friendly place, despite many official efforts to change that. My first year on the West Side was incredibly lonely and painful; I cried a lot, stuffing a towel in my mouth so that the girl I shared a room with wouldn't hear. Even my four roommates (for a while I lived in one of those multi-person apartment in the "dorms," aka the Key Westmont) weren't really open to welcoming me into their lives. It took me quite a while to make friends, and then when they got married, they'd move away, forcing me to make a whole new circle of friends.

It was exhausting, and at various points I'd give up. One of the reasons so few people know about my disorder is that I don't really have a lot of close friends, especially not on the West Side. When I stayed away from synagogue for months at a time because I was depressed and couldn't stand to be alone in the crowd, few people noticed. I became very isolated, which is very unhealthy for a person who's depressed.

For a while I managed to make a new cluster of friends, all of whom were older singles like me. Then, one after another, they began getting married. I'm lucky that one of them still lives on the West Side, but her husband and children naturally demand a lot of her time. Another is getting married soon and moving to a city far, far away, and I'm really going to miss her.

I don't know what can be done to make the West Side less like high school and more like a warm, welcoming place. After Sarah Adelman's death, YU sponsored a Safe Spaces program: discussion groups led by mental health professionals to help people deal with the issues and emotions the tragedy brought up. Several ideas for future programming were generated:
  1. Monthly discussion groups on various mental health topics
  2. Regular guest speakers on various mental health topics
  3. Mental health referral lists available at all shuls and shul websites (already being implemented)
  4. Regular "orientation to Jewish New York" seminars for newcomers to the West Side
  5. Weekly host families/singles for shabbat meals
  6. Dating support groups and/or hotline
  7. Women group activities/empowerment seminars
  8. Male group activities
  9. UWS mental health professionals meetings/collaboration

Some of these are good ideas, especially hooking people up for Shabbos meals: I for one hate calling people to invite myself over for a meal. Even when I know they don't mind me calling, I don't like doing it, which leaves me at home alone more often than not. I've also got an idea of my own that I want to propose; more on that another time.

At the wedding last Thursday, I was talking with a former West Side resident who now lives in Teaneck with her husband and children. She had an interesting take on the male/female group suggestion. Since part of the "singles problem" could be the natural difficulty men and women have communicating (I'm not a fan of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus because I'm not into pop psychology, but he makes a number of valid points), maybe it would be better to have coed groups. People could gain a lot of perspective from discussing issues of dating and loneliness with the opposite sex. (I'm also not a fan of "female empowerment." What do they propose we do, go into the Central Park Ramble and bang on drums?)
Copyright (c) 2006 "Ayelet Survivor"

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