MC desires to meet other MC's, 35-45, for interesting conversation, mental stimulation, growth, fun, shared activities, possible friendship. No strings attached . . .
Did you read this ad in a recent magazine? Of course not. It wasn't there. MC is an abbreviation for married couple. They are not looking for a sexual orgy. Sex--believe it or not--is one of the last things on their minds; they want friends, companionship, a social life with other MC's.
There is a myth that the big problem of married couples (or other partnerships) is finding enough time to get together with all their friends. Those sitting at home with their mates watching TV on Saturday night are apt to believe that everyone else is out "having fun" with friends. They don't know about the legions of others also sitting at home.
And yet we would sooner, it seems, discuss our VD, divorces or psychiatric visits than face the perceived shame of admitting we lack a satisfying social life or friends. Although the loneliness of singles is discussed often, the social needs of couples are rarely talked about.
As a career- and life-planning counselor I have come to recognize a correlation between clients' social life and their ability to function in other areas. They seek counseling to find career direction because they are bored with their jobs, unemployed, disabled and unable to resume their positions or they can't figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Some experience physical pain, depression, phobias as well as job-change upheaval.
Many clients concede reluctantly that they have no friends, little or no social life outside their marriages or nuclear families. They feel something important is missing from their lives, yet are unsure what it is. They tend to feel guilty and disloyal admitting that their mates cannot satisfy all their social needs.
Men talk of their need for--and lack of--male friends, often rationalizing their feelings with protestations that they do have business or office contacts. Men and women express about equally the desire for more of a social life with other couples. But frequently their mates do not share those needs.
Although adults can remember their cry for "someone to play with" as children, they suppress similar feelings as adults. Admitting those needs to others would advertise their inadequacy, like the teen-ager who doesn't have a Saturday-night date, but--so others don't think she's a wallflower--pretends she has a date and sits home alone.
If we are unhappy and don't identify the real issues it is tempting to blame them on the job, boss, spouse or children. Friendlessness implies personal defects: "If I were okay I'd have friends; I don't, so perhaps I'm not okay. If I let others know that I may not be okay, they won't want to get to know me . . ." An extension of that: "If I reach out to make a new friend that person may think there is something wrong with me that I don't have an adequate supply of friends."
Couples express feelings of loneliness in different ways: some gamble, have affairs, get divorced, change jobs. People tell me they once had friends but now have none. They blame the condition on work load, illness, a stick-in-the-mud spouse or a hurt in the past. Their headaches or depressions, even phobias, may be linked to loneliness and friendlessness. Often it doesn't matter where the cycle began or why, but the need for a supportive group network, combined with a one-on-one contact, is recognized by various groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Exercise! We are told. Without a compatible companion we may not feel like starting an exercise program or even going for a walk.
Is there a solution? Well-meaning people suggest, "join a ---, get involved in ---." Those who feel lonely and rejected do not easily enter a group and "make new friends." Neither, for that matter, do others. They see a nucleus of people busily working together and feel even more the stranger. "Join a church," they are told. They may want to meet new people but not affiliate with a specific church or religious body.
In a marriage or other partnership, it is particularly important to acknowledge individual differences in the need for socializing. The Myers-Briggs Types Indicator (a Jungian-based preference instrument showing personality styles) clearly shows the differences between those who are stimulated and energized by social contact and those fatigued and drained by massive doses of interaction. There are no right or wrong, better or worse personality types in terms of individual needs for friendships and social life. The problems occur when one mate prefers lots of stimulation and social contact and the other is content with much less.
Many couples nod knowingly when someone describes how the wife or husband drags the mate to a party. We tend to negatively label those whose ideas of "fun" differ from our own. Problems also occur when we compare our own friendship quota or social life to some hypothetical norm and find ours lacking.
Needs and interests change over a lifetime. It is of value to first identify your own needs and those of your partner, and then to explore options.
The process and feelings involved in changing a social life are similar to those of a career change. Expect to feel some anxiety. You are taking risks. Even identifying possible new activities may feel threatening. Have you ever procrastinated until the last minute and then all the tickets were sold out?
Spend time exploring your own needs, wants, preferences as well as activities you have never tried but would like to know more about. Make specific plans. (How many times have you circled events without doing anything about actually attending?) Identify a place, time or activity you would enjoy and take the initiative to invite others. If one couple turns you down, invite another. Risk going alone if your partner doesn't want to go.
Assume that many others "out there" are also anxious or afraid to reach out to start a conversation or to suggest a date. Don't magnify a single rejection into a final rejection by all humanity.
When encountering a new group begin by finding one person to talk to. Remember it is impossible to make friends with a whole group at once. Recognize the difference between feeling strange or not yet accepted, and not liking the activity or group. It takes time, patience and repeated participation to develop belongingness.
Finally, remember that you won't like everyone, nor will everyone like you. And that's okay. CAPTION: Illustration, "Why the hell don't we have a host of friends?" Drawing by Stevenson; Copyright (c) 1976, The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.