One week of solitude and my epic fail at freedom 

Essays, Newsletters

This newsletter is now available to listen to if, like me, you’re best at absorbing content while you walk, run or drive.

My daughter recently drove 15 hours from our house in Pennsylvania to our home state of Alabama to visit family and friends. Before she left I thought to myself, “This will be a great opportunity to go out on the town and get my youth back!” 

A parent of any age can relate to not feeling that you have time to yourself or the ability to take a moment to be selfish. Even though she is 22, Isabel still lives with me and while we have our own jobs and lives, I don’t have my own space. As she put it on her way out the door for her trip, “Now you can finally dance around the house naked.”

I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite of what I did. I didn’t deviate from my regular routine. I was disappointed in myself. 

I realized that even on days when I did want to go out and do something fun at night, I didn’t really have anyone to do that with. I have friends at work and friends-by-proximity in my neighborhood but they are all younger than me, with young children, or single and dating or busy. 

If I called and said, “Hey guys, let’s go to a bar and stay out all night” I’m pretty sure they would have said, “With you?”

But I didn’t really give them a chance.

Then, when Isabel arrived in Alabama and was out at our favorite local watering hole with friends, she Facetimed me and so they could find out what I was up to. 

Readers, my life’s glamor has no end: I was cleaning out my closet.

They immediately gave me polite hell (we’re Southerners after all, not heathens) for using my time to clean out my closet while I had a week and a house to myself.

It’s embarrassing. But, I asked myself, why did I feel embarrassed?

Nobody would believe me if I told them I was happy not doing anything wild, and that cleaning out my closet was satisfying for me. And why should they? I wouldn’t have believed it myself when I was younger. 

Credit: Steve Cole images

So much has been written about making friends as we age, but no one gives you a How To Manual or instructions. Studies have been done about how unhealthy it is to be isolated as you get older and how so many Americans are lonely. Yet no one explains how, at any age past 25, specifically to make friends.

I moved across the country almost two years ago and I still need a large, bound volume I can put on my coffee table, kind of like the car instruction manual I keep in my glove compartment. “How to make friends at any age,” I envision.

I have begun to read “Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: An Introvert’s Year of Living Dangerously” by Jessica Pan, which is entertaining and funny, helpful and instructive, yet depending on where you live, her advice and lived experiences might be hard to follow at times.

Friends are important, as the study that says friends can help you turn mountains into molehills reinforces. (Students with a friend nearby assessed a hill at 10-15% less steep compared with those who were alone during the test. The longer the friends had known each other and the warmer their relationship, the less steep the hill appeared.)

More evidence: When people are put into an MRI and asked about friends, the areas of the brain for positive emotions light up.

I’m an extrovert who talks to everyone in my neighborhood and can start a conversation with anyone, and while science tells us that those surface interactions are important, that’s not a deep connection. 

Loneliness isn’t about being alone, which I enjoy. It’s the absence of a deep connection.

Loneliness as a concrete emotion is a relatively new concept (given “it takes a village” and all) and didn’t even enter the English lexicon until about 1598, according to Merriam-Webster.

You know by now that I read a lot. I love a good book where I can learn something then take that knowledge into my life to use. So I picked up Eric Barker’s “Plays Well with Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships Is (Mostly) Wrong.” 

Even as I opened it, I scoffed at myself, twice-divorced and middle-aged, did I think I was about to enter into a relationship? No. But I wanted to know where I went wrong, other than marrying 1) Too young the first time and 2) An alleged criminal, absolutely horrible human being the second time. (Obviously I didn’t know that was the case, so I thought this book might help me see where I missed the signs).

But much of the book was about friends, as well as romantic love. Barker talks about how the closer you are to a friend, the more the boundaries between the two of you blur. When you are close with a friend your brain actually has to work harder to distinguish the two of you. When women, specifically, heard the name of a close friend, their gray matter responded the same as it did when they heard their own name.

Gasp, y’all. That’s deep. Let’s go deeper:

George Herbert Mead, an American sociologist and philosopher, elaborated on the concept of the looking-glass self, originally proposed by Charles Horton Cooley. The concept suggests that our sense of self develops through social interaction and is shaped by how we believe others perceive us. If that’s true, then my looking-glass self is warped right now and could also use a good cleaning.

I was an English major in college and in classic literature the concept of another self often pops up. It expresses the idea that we might have more than one identity, or aspects of ourselves, that feel distinct from our core personality.

This describes my confusion over being an extrovert who can talk to anyone, anytime and anywhere, but also love being alone in silence. The idea of another self suggests a hidden or unexpressed part of yourself. It could be a talent you haven’t explored, a personality that emerges in certain situations, or even a buried desire.  This other self might be something you yearn to embrace, or something you fear.

It also relates to how we act and perceive ourselves in different social settings. For example, you might be outgoing with friends but reserved at work. 

What I find comforting about the “other self” is that it seems to suggest that we are constantly evolving, as our friendship groups evolve, and we are capable of change. 

There is an episode of  Modern Family called “15 percent” and it postulates that people can change about 15 percent. I cling to that. I don’t think many people are capable of profound, personality-shifting change, but I do think all of us can change about 15 percent, for better or worse. 

👋 Say Hi! Please drop me an email at or reach out on social (@merecummings on all social media) and let me know your strategies for making new friends. 

🏳️‍🌈 Happy Pride Month! Donate to The Trevor Project, if you are able. Right now, a donor will match each dollar with four, to support LGBTQIA+ young people.

📺 What I’m watching: Now that classes are finished (and I teach online in the summer) I’ve been (finally) watching “Sherlock” on Hulu and y’all, it’s gooood. I fear developing a parasocial interaction with these characters, which might further isolate me from making true friends.

📚 What I’m reading: I’ve just finished reading and watching all of the Harry Potter books and movies and I am shook. Enough said. I hate to support J.K. Rowling, who seems to be an absolutely awful human, but the woman can write, and I don’t even like fantasy books. It led me to this video from a YouTube channel I love, “Should we separate the art from the artist?” (8:00 minute mark). As always, you can see the books I’m reading on my Goodreads profile. (I’m reading 10 right now because it’s summerish and I can.)

✍️ What I’m writing: I reviewed Emily Henry’s latest, “Funny Story,” for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A great summer read if you haven’t caught it yet, but it was not my favorite of hers. That spot is reserved for Happy Place.

🫧 Random stuff: In no way am I getting paid for promoting products yet when I find something I love, I have to share. I have super sensitive skin and I love women-owned Rebel Green hand soap. I’m addicted to it and buy it in the 64-oz. container and just refill my soap holders. (The lemon mint is my fave!)

☕️ Please support my caffeine habit ☕️

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