Today I found myself in a conversation with a few of the crew on board. We were talking about relationships, finding love on board, and in general socializing and building friendships with other crew. One person in this conversation was wholeheartedly against building friendships with other crew and certainly not a romantic relationship. His reasoning was that “I wouldn’t do it at a job on land, so why would I do it here?” On land he surmised, he wouldn’t be in search of a romantic relationship amongst his colleagues, and likely would not be looking for lasting friendships from those colleagues, either. Relationships and friendships were for out of the workplace. Keeping his professional and personal lives completely separate. He told me these things as if he was proud of himself, as if arbitrarily deciding based on the premise of separating personal and professional lives that the 1900 people onboard were not worth getting to know better (about 600 crew and 1300 passengers) somehow made him superior to those that hadn’t come to this same conclusion.
Now, all crew members have at some point gotten to the point that the transient nature of our lives caused them to not want to meet any more new people. Spending months getting to know someone to possibly never see them again can be incredibly mentally and emotionally exhausting. When it happens over and over it again it can take a toll on you. We have all been at this point. But, most of us get to this point just for a day or maybe for a week – it is not our motto. When I responded that I thought that the idea of working on board just to go to work then return to your cabin and to not work to build friendships seemed isolating he said that I was confusing the difference between being alone and being lonely. That he could be alone without feeling lonely. Again, he seemed awful proud of the profoundness of his entirely not new or all that profound statement.
I have dug enough into my own psyche and feelings, through life lessons, reading, and a bit of therapy that I both understand the difference between being alone and being lonely and have experienced both sides of it. Once when I was in college I walked into the college gymnasium and student center for a carnival kind of night they were doing. These were somewhat common place in the winter months to try to get us all out of our dorm rooms and socializing to help fight off the winter blues. Now, I am a very social person. My whole life I have been. I’m not afraid to walk up to people and introduce myself to them, nor has there ever been a person that I have been intimidated to meet, regardless of their status or station in life. It’s part of who I am and anyone that knows my grandmother knows exactly where I get this trait from. (Her mother used to say she could visit with a fence post.) At this juncture in college it was maybe my junior year, I knew a lot of the students, the staff, most of the faculty, and in this gymnasium if there were 200 people I would have to guess I knew at least 125 of them or more. I have no idea how many people were actually there but I remember walking in, looking around at everyone around me, and while I knew nearly every person that I saw I felt completely and entirely alone. I had spent so much time in college up to that point meeting people without really forming meaningful friendships. I had focused significantly on the idea of quantity over quality. I think that many young people go through this and eventually realize that a few quality friends are far better than a multitude of acquaintances. Looking back on it now I can tell you who the three people were in that gymnasium that to this day make me feel less alone just because I know I could call them about anything. At this point I didn’t truly know that, and in retrospect I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I should have while we were right there, and those people were right down the hall.
This person that I was chatting with has no idea about my life or my experiences, and he certainly wasn’t interested in whether or not I not only understood the distinction, but had ever felt or experienced the distinction in my own life. And, as I met him while onboard the ship where he works I can safely say my guess is we will never know.
While this conversation enlightened me to certain parts of this person’s personality and what makes them tick I hadn’t put that much stock into it until I was reading later that day. I just started reading “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown. For those of you who don’t know who Brene Brown is she has a Ph.D. in social work and has done an incredible amount of research on the concept of vulnerability. She rose to international prominence with her TED talk on vulnerability and has been a guru for those of us that have maybe been in search of a bit of guidance to make to make our lives better ever since.
Barely even into this book, on page 8 she says “The surest thing I took away from my BSW, MSW, and Ph.D. in social work is this: Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”
The coincidence that I read that quote on the same day this conversation happened is not beyond me. Perhaps this person has found enough connection with those at home, perhaps he can strengthen and build those relationships with those on land enough that the complete lack of connection to anyone onboard makes him feel complete with purpose and meaning.
Regardless of his sureness that he was living his life right, I feel that this quote resonates with me far more than his life premise does. Connecting with others, learning about others, hearing their stories, and getting to know them, helping them if you can, gives purpose and meaning to my life. And no, not every person that I meet onboard will become a friendship that lasts a lifetime, but many people that I have met onboard have become lasting friendships. I met my husband onboard, I met two of my bridesmaids, and I have many other friends that I have met over the past 10 years that are standing the test of time.
So much of our life is like this. Think of your friends from elementary school or high school, from that job that you had twenty years ago, you are not going to still be friends with everyone, but there are some that you’ve made those friendships last. At the same time, as life isn’t all about you, maybe you don’t need a friend right then, but maybe that person does. Maybe the small amount of effort that you could put into listening to another person might be small in your life and make a tremendous difference in theirs. And, if you hadn’t taken a chance on getting to know those people long ago, regardless of the environment you met them in, you wouldn’t have those lasting friends that you have today – and, in my case – I wouldn’t be married.
I am grateful every day for my friends. Those friends in school that sat at my lunch table. Even if we aren’t still friends now, it was so great to have a friend to sit with then. For the friends on ships that invited me to go ashore with them when I just got onboard and didn’t know anybody, even if we aren’t still friends now, I am so grateful that you chose to include me back then. I understand there is a difference between being lonely and being alone. When given the choice though I choose connection.
Everyone can live their lives how they would like. If you are content in that life, then by all means continue on. For me though, I am going to continue to take a chance on people, invest a bit of time in them, and perhaps end up with a lifelong friend.