Just Lonely 4/24/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

The dirty truth about me is that I’m a creature of habit.  My first year as an undergraduate, I was housed in the freshman dorm.  Every year after, I requested the same room on campus.  Most people made friends and they decided to get suites in the better dorms, but I’ve never been good at making friends, and I like familiar places.  As such, I just stayed where I started until I graduated.

Back then, long before cell phones (car phones existed but they were very rare and expensive), our telephones were attached to the wall.  The cord on the phone was long enough to reach the desks, so you could sit and talk, but they didn’t reach the beds.  Anyway, the other thing that was different back then was that your phone number didn’t leave with you.  I’ve had the same phone number in east South Dakota, west South Dakota, Iowa, and now Nebraska.  Then, the area codes were unique to the region, depending on the population density, sometimes larger regions and sometimes smaller.  The area code for my phone number back then was unique to the city, and the exchange (the first three numbers) was unique to the campus. 

One day, the phone rang.  I answered it, and a woman simply said, “hello”.  So, I responded in kind.  We started chatting and eventually she said, “do you know who this is?”  As it turns out, it was a woman living somewhere in the same city that, every year, started dialing the area code and exchange unique to the campus when she was lonely, and kept trying numbers until she found a male who was willing to chat. 

No, it wasn’t sexual.  She made it clear that she was married, and would never meet me in person, and our conversations were not sexual in nature.  But we would talk for usually an hour or two, and she would call every few days.  Having found a number with somebody willing to talk with her, I became a regular for her.  The reality is that she was just lonely.  She needed somebody to talk with, and I was simply a willing ear.

She’s not alone.  At the drive-in theater, every once in a while, we’ll have somebody stop at the ticket booth and just spend too long chatting.  It happened last week, which reminded me of this story.  I honestly felt bad, because there was a car (and thankfully just one) behind this man, and when I realized that he didn’t want to move on I felt the need to try to urge him, gently, to move on so I could take care of the person behind him.  He was harmless, but he was alone in the car and clearly just wanted to talk.

As dean, I had to deal with one of our faculty who would periodically show up in my office, and just visit for hours.  I had to eventually talk with him about it, but it was a difficult thing to do.  He was rather infamous for his far too long visits.  Although I did enjoy talking with him, eventually I felt it necessary to inform him that it’s a habit that people do discuss.  I didn’t want to dissuade him from visiting, but he agreed that he would work on me on limiting his visits.  It did help.  Eventually, his visits did get shorter, so we were making progress.

Loneliness is something that I’m all too familiar with.  Of late, I’ve noticed that I tend to talk too much, and share more than I perhaps should.  With my friends at the drive-in, when I have somebody’s ear like the other ticket taker, I’m probably doing the same thing that the people I’ve mentioned do, talking too much, and visiting for too long.  They’re very kind, and let me ramble and visit, and I hope that I don’t come across as too boring, but I recognize what I’m doing.

Loneliness is an epidemic in our society, especially among the elderly, like me.  In other cultures, the elderly are held in high regard for their experience and a wisdom that can only be attained through years of life.  In this nation, the youth have the self-confidence to want to be independent, whether or not their confidence is warranted.  The elderly are simply discarded, or worse, as nothing but drains on society, too old to work, but still needing food and medicine.  We are put into retirement homes or left to waste away in our own homes as the young world rushes past our windows oblivious to us.  I really do understand my phone buddy, and my faculty member.  But I’m not sure that I’m doing justice on the topic.


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