A Life Devoid of Friends

I remember well the late night and early morning hours following my senior prom. I was with my classmates on a yacht/ferry/boat slowly circling New York City. I and my girlfriend of roughly a year had stepped out of the madness inside for some fresh air and quiet. Even then, I could only do “loud” for so long.

The night had been great for the two of us, but we were the exception as far as romantic relationships in my closest group of friends. The run-up to the prom had been a mess. After a year of amazing fun, the Four Musketeers — me, my girlfriend, her brother and his girlfriend — had undergone a radical realignment with the breakup of our two counterparts and his selection of a new love interest that … well … let’s just say they were two great people individually who were extremely combustible together.

Perhaps it was the realization that high school was careening to an end and that we would all soon go our separate ways to different colleges. Perhaps it was simply that young love is inherently unstable. Whatever it was, it seemed like every relationship that had been solid ground leading up to prom had either exploded before it began or was on the brink as the night began.

So it was that my date and I found ourselves on the deck of that boat, alone. No other two Musketeers. Just us.

That’s when it began.

For the next hour and a half, people I would consider close friends came out onto that deck one at a time to dump their romantic woes on my shoulders. It was fine at first. I’ve always had a knack for feeling a person’s problems and being able to offer some insight that people find helpful.

It was a little less fine around the fourth or fifth person and totally not fine by the sixth or seventh.

By the time we pulled into the dock, I’d spent most of my senior after-prom giving free counseling to my friends.

It’s now roughly 30 years later. I’m no longer in touch with my ex-girlfriend or her brother. The fourth Musketeer and I have sporadic contact thanks to Facebook, but that’s about it. And I haven’t physically seen any of the people who sought me out that night in about the same length of time.

I went to college in Iowa, a state that didn’t really exist in the minds of most of my classmates. I needed to get out of New York and chart my own course, so I went and made a great life for myself.

But some things aren’t changed by time and distance.

I’m wrestling with a lot of shit right now, chief among them how spectacularly devoid of real connections outside of my wife and boys my life is. I guess I can’t say I’m surprised by where I am today. It’s what I figured was going to happen when I made some changes in my life just before the Before Times ended with lockdown.

The event that caused me to change how I do things was a lunch with two former colleagues who I would have considered friends back from my time working at an electric cooperative in rural central Missouri. I drove from my new hometown near St. Louis all the way to our state capital of Jefferson City, about two hours, to break bread with these folks. Before I left, I told them I’d love for this time together to be upbeat and positive and not devolve into what our conversations while I still worked with them always seemed to devolve into, which was them bitching about the various problems they had inside and outside the office and me playing the familiar role of counselor.

I just wanted to have some goddamn lunch and enjoy the company of my friends.

Within 10 minutes of being handed menus, well, it’s not a surprise where we were, replaying the same old tape that we had all agreed we wouldn’t play.

So I left, and on the drive home I realized I was done. I didn’t want to be anyone’s counselor anymore. I had no problem helping people out, but I’d grown sick of the fact that so many relationships in my life — those two being but a fraction — revolved around me being the shoulder to cry on or the soul to bitch to, with little in return.

I stopped texting first. Not just to them. But to everyone in my life who seemed to see me as free counseling and not much more. And ya know how quiet it got? Very quiet. Until, of course, something would fall apart in their lives, and then I’d get the obligatory questions asking how I was doing before things turned right around into what they needed from me.

And the reality was, I was doing horribly. My father-in-law had died, I had Longhaul Covid that was slowly killing me. Hell, my dogs (yes, plural, both within two months) had died! And that got, at best, an “Oh, I’m sorry. And now let me tell you about my latest situation.”

So when the conversations would go that direction, I would shut down and stop texting. Not surprisingly, when these people realized they couldn’t get something from me, they stopped contacting me at all. Sure, they’d dangle some bait every once in awhile, but even that bait often stunk of the old way of doing things, of them complaining about a person or a situation with whom I’d tried to help them.

All this was relatively OK while I was buried by Longhaul Covid and being a host dad to My Favorite African and selling a house and buying a house and changing jobs. But now it’s a few months later, and I’m looking around and wondering what exactly the definition of a friendship is.

To me, a friend is someone who wants to be involved in your life. They care about what you’re doing and the things you’re going through. They seek you out. They make time to hang out with you. And you do the same thing for them.

Friendship isn’t based on need. I don’t want to need anything from my friends other then their presence in my life, and I don’t want them to need anything from me other than my presence in theirs.

And by that definition I have exactly zero friends right now.

Oh, there is someone whom I would have a considered a good friend until recently. He and I walked a really tough road together as he figured out his marriage had been dead for years and worked through the process of getting a divorce. Ever since the ink dried on that document, well, can you guess what’s happened to the frequency of our conversations? Of course, I was there when he started dating and had problems with the new girlfriend. Then we could talk. But just, ya know, talk like two dudes? Yeahno.

This lack of friendships is not due to lack of effort on my part. I’ve reached out to people who live in my general vicinity and share my same combination of chromosomes, and, at best, I get lip service about how we’re going to stay in touch. More frequently I hear how busy their lives are. Yeah, I think I know something about a busy life. My kids have sports too.

All of which left me wondering last night what exactly is wrong with me. I see my wife and her best friend. Man, they’re always there for each other, even though they live hundreds of miles apart. They drive the seven hours to see each other. They make the phone calls and send the texts. They’re involved with each other’s lives. It’s a mutual relationship, and of course they’re there for each other when times are tough, but they’re also there for each other when times are fine. My wife and her sisters? They are tight. My sister? She considers me dead, a sentiment I’m quite OK with after years being in the vortex of her storm.

It’s not just a gender thing. I see plenty of guys with friendships like what I’m talking about, where it’s just two dudes going to a bar or two dudes watching a game or two dudes grilling meat. My own father has two great friends he’s known for, like, 80 years, and they regularly make sure they’re in touch and go out of their ways to be together as often as possible.

And me? I’ve got nothing.

I was thinking that if I died today, no one outside my wife and boys would be able to say a damn thing about me with any sort of actual knowledge. They might have some recollections from the past. They might be able to pick up a few things from my writing. But no one — no one — knows a goddamn thing about me because no one has taken the time to figure it out.

That makes me sad.

Of course it does. I think that’s a pretty natural response to looking around and seeing absolutely no one who gives a real goddamn.

So what is a friend? My wife and I were talking about this last night because, as you might imagine, this weighs heavy on my heart, and being my sole friend is a tough burden for her at times. She is extremely sweet. She knew I was struggling and got me a card and left it on my keyboard in my home office. I nearly cried.

In it, she told me to remember that I am loved.

Sure I am. By her. By my boys. But if we’re going to talk about the definition of “friend,” we might as well talk about what it means to love someone. My wife tells me her mom loves me, her sisters love me, my brothers-in-law love me, and their kids — my niece and nephews — love me. On one level, I know that. But on another, well, let’s talk about love for a second.

I see love as friendship on steroids. Friends make time for each other. People who love each other are involved. They know what is going on in the other person’s life. They know something about their hopes, dreams, fears, desires and wishes. If a person is getting a gift for someone they love, they know just what to get them because they have some idea of what makes them tick.

I understand there are many different types of love, so maybe the people who love me love me in a different way. But if that’s the case, maybe we re-evaluate the way we use the word “love.”

The thing is, I know what a friend is. I’ve been one. I’ve had them. My high school girlfriend’s brother? He was my best friend before I started dating his sister, and, as weird as it sounds, we grew even closer after she and I started seeing each other. I left for college first out of my friend group, and when they came over to send me off, yes, my girlfriend and I had a tearful goodbye, but then it was just me and my buddy, and we sobbed like little babies.

He never needed anything from me. He just liked hanging out with me.

I’ve had friends since then, but looking back, so many of them were tinged by the same after-prom problem. What I thought were friendships might really have been nothing more than a social services relationship.

I’m grateful beyond belief for the friendship of my wife. She’s the original person who doesn’t need me. She just wants to be with me. She loves me and all my weirdness that she can’t quite comprehend and she doesn’t want me to change to fit her definition of what I should be. She just wants me to be me and to be happy. I want that too.

But we both agree that happiness can’t be found solely in my relationship with her.

I accept my role in this situation. I am not the easiest person to get to know, and, in the past, it’s been even worse. I have battled anxiety issues that would cause me to cancel plans late and to disappear at random times. But no one really cared to plow through that and be my friend anyway.

I also understand that people don’t feel like I do, that being an empath (and an extreme empath, at that) makes me have a level of perception and intuitiveness that others don’t have. It took me a while to figure that out. I know that what I’m seeking is connection, and at times I’ve found that in really stupid places. But right now? Man, right now I’m not looking for a soul friend. I’m looking for a buddy.

Hell yeah, I’ll talk about the big things, the meaning of life, the reason we’re all here, the finer points of any spirituality. But how about we pound back a few whiskeys and watch the game? How about we meet after work and smoke some cigars at the cigar bar?

I don’t know how all this ends. I really don’t. I’m beginning to think this is a problem without a real solution, that as much as I seek (or don’t seek and just wait), nobody’s walking through that door. I’m blessed to have had some really meaningful friendships in my life. The fact that all of them are now gone makes me sad but no less grateful for the fact, at one point, they existed.

I’m 47 years old. My life isn’t what I want it to be. And I’m not sure that’s ever going to change.

When Can I Be Done?

I ask a lot of questions. I’ve always asked a lot of question. If there was a prototypical annoying 3-year-old who wanted to know the “Why?” of everything, just look at a picture of 3-year-old me and that’s the kid. It never stopped. I still ask myself a lot of questions, but the one I…

Keep reading

The Lonely Have The Answer

Evolutionarily speaking, the feelings we hate the most are good for us. Take fear. Fear sucks, right? But fear also biochemically gets your body ready to fight or flee, and from a survival standpoint, that’s a good thing. Then there is loneliness. I’ve been lonely a lot lately. I mean, an awful lot. This isn’t…

Keep reading

Grief, Twenty-Three Years Later …

As a society, we don’t like messy grief. We make movies and write books about people whose grief is nice and neat and tidy and, most of all, purposeful. Dignified. Proper. But messy grief — or, as I like to call it, real grief … no one makes a movie or writes a book or…

Keep reading

Toxic Sacrifice

It makes sense that, traditionally speaking, men raised in the United States build their life around sacrifice. It’s a deeply embedded part of our culture. As a historically Christian-dominant nation, we are raised with a male-identified God who came to Earth in the form of a man who literally laid down his life not just…

Keep reading

When Old Things Don’t Fit

Most of us are familiar with how it feels when we find an old article of clothing in the back of our closet and make the mistake of trying it on. Bodies change. Styles change. Tastes change. In most instances, closet finds and best left unfound. I think it’s something of a truism in life…

Keep reading

The Significant Things

Oh, to know The Significant Things as they happen That the casual “hello” is the first word you are speaking to your forever love. The handshake is an introduction to the person who will most deeply touch your soul The trip, taken, is the one that starts the path to your destiny. To know The…

Keep reading


So much of this world is hard. By that, I don’t mean “difficult,” though yes, it is that, too. What I mean by “hard” is the opposite of “soft.” I’m talking about the kind of thing that, when you bump your shin or — God forbid — your pinkie toe against it, it fucking hurts.…

Keep reading

Sixteen Notebooks

It was the afternoon of Sept. 26, 2015, and I’d just returned home from a short stay in a psychiatric hospital. The pace of life in a psychiatric hospital is glacial. Days stretch on endlessly, nights pass in medicated dreamlessness, and the cycle repeats again. There’s horrible food, group sessions, recreation time outside when it’s…

Keep reading

Thirty Years in Hell: My Mental Health Story

This is a story I share with great hesitancy. I have felt the bitter sting of discrimination for having a brain illness, discrimination no one experiences when they have a problem with a different, better understood organ — the heart, the lungs, the kidneys. I know what it’s like to have work colleagues ignore you…

Keep reading


I’ve long held a fascination with scars — both my own and other people’s. Scars hold stories. Not many people get a scar from something they don’t remember. I remember being fascinated in middle school by this really cute girl I wanted to talk to. She had a tiny scar over her top lip. I…

Keep reading

What Healing Looks Like

Healing isn’t for the faint of heart. Not if it’s genuine. Not if you delve deep into the core where all that is ugly and wicked and broken has had time to take root and fester. Real healing is not all about finding sunny days and happy times. Maybe those are on the other side…

Keep reading

Since Then

Since Then … Every morning holds that moment Every mile, a reminder Every night sighs a silent prayer Since Then … The music tends to a hurting heart Harmonizing with the memories of what was Before ripping the wounds open once again Since Then … A million words haven’t fixed what I didn’t know was…

Keep reading

I’m Doing Alright, But …

The drive home last night was a bit rough, which wasn’t entirely surprising. I’ve been around a lot of people the past few days, hadn’t slept past 4:30 a.m. for four or five days, and, in general, this has been one of those “Big Feels” times that seem to happen to me. There are these…

Keep reading

The Inside Story of Johnny Boy Marketing

Big things happen in odd places and at the strangest times. I met my future wife in the basement of a dingy college residence hall. The biggest boost to my career came when I had to cancel an interview with someone who could have been President of the United States. And I realized I could…

Keep reading

A Human Paradox

One of the great paradoxes COVID revealed in the human animal is how much we need each other while we simultaneously can’t stand to be around each other for long periods of time. Stay-at-home orders booted us from our familiar social circles and, in many cases, put is in direct contact with those we love…

Keep reading

Soul Comforts

Soul Comforts A just-because gift An accidental nap Shared fries A hidden note, found A joined passion A soft hand Communicated desires A hug, freely given A safe landing place A secluded table Memory-filled songs Appreciation, openly stated Take me away from here Take me away Take me Take A common blanket A slow dance…

Keep reading

Searching For The Sweet Spot

I believe there’s a sweet spot in life. It’s that space in which everything just feels balanced. There’s not too much work or too little play, the calendar is just full enough, your friends and family are who you need them to be and you are who they need you to be. Your job is…

Keep reading

Anybody Out There?

My wife and son are going out of town for the week starting tomorrow afternoon, and I have absolutely no one I can call to do anything with. No one. Nobody. If I put in pin in my house on a map (remember those?) and drew a circle with a 50 mile radius, there isn’t…

Keep reading

The Night I Died

I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. The reasons are varied and scattered. Part of it is how much death there is around me. Well, maybe not around me personally. But more than 1,000,000 Americans have died from Covid, and that’s a gross understatement because the true toll won’t be known for years, once…

Keep reading

The Danger of Self-Censorship

There’s been a lot of talk in my area lately about banning books. I love this. Oh, it’s not because I think that banning books is such a good idea. It’s not. Nor is blindly insisting that every book needs to be in a school library to have significance. They don’t. What I’m happy to…

Keep reading

Welcome Back, Swagger

There was a time in my life when I had swagger. I was never the most popular or athletic kid in school, but for a while there, I was a really good baseball player. I could hit. I could field. And, boy, could I pitch. Some of the most “over” kids in high school would…

Keep reading

Dear World, Seriously … WTF?

Dear World, Hey there. It’s me. John. John who? Yeah, I thought you might say that. It has been a day. It has been a week. Hell, world … it has been a life. Oh. Wait. You need to grab my file? Go ahead. I’ll wait. Give it a good read. Yeah, don’t skip over…

Keep reading

Livin’ The Empath Life

I was in my 40s by the time I realized the average person doesn’t feel things like I do — not even close. Up until then, I always just assumed that when people were around someone who was feeling some sad or angry or even extremely happy, they felt that shit too. I’m not talking…

Keep reading


Insomnia sucks. Period. Full Stop. But… The benefit of sleeping extremely poorly for about four months after Longhaul Covid turned my already bad sleep situation into one that was slowly killing me was that I didn’t dream. I never slept deeply enough or long enough for dreams to happen. And in many ways, that was…

Keep reading

James Might Have Killed His Dad

James was one of the first people I met when we moved from the frozen tundra of south-central Minnesota to the ruralist of rural Missouri in 2009. We signed up my older son, Joey, for Little League right away in an effort to spur the formation of friendships and to scratch his itch for the…

Keep reading

So Many Damn Feelings — Oct. 22, 2021

👇 What’s Below 👇On Men and Crying 😭 Why I write ✍🏻Back Crackin’ 👨‍⚕️ So here’s a thing I sometimes hate about myself: I cry. Like, easily. And often. Or at least it’s “often” in comparison to how often men normally cry. At least, I think it’s often in comparison to the frequency men normally cry. I…

Keep reading

Infant Loss Awareness — Oct. 15, 2021

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, and even almost 21 years later, I’m not sure how I feel about it. So much of time is arbitrary. We screw it up so badly that we have to add a whole day every four years. So for me, today is just like any other day…

Keep reading

Fourth State of Being — Oct. 14, 2021

There’s this state of being that’s not quite asleep, not quite dreaming but definitely not awake. That’s where I found myself Thursday evening at Livin’ Sublime Wellness, my little yoga studio in Wentzville. Restorative yoga is a lifesaver for me. If you haven’t tried it, you should. Not to sound all Hippie-Dippy or anything, but…

Keep reading

Rocks > People? — Sept. 16, 2021

In high school, I was friends with a girl named Denise. She and I were both free-spirited creative types who liked to write. For a time, we served as co-presidents of the formed-by-us creative writing club, and we even went on a date (that didn’t work out too well). Denise was and is a no-bullshit…

Keep reading

Why Exactly Am I Here? — Sept. 4, 2021

Sometimes Things Be That Way There are some days that, when night falls and you take stock of all that happened, you just say — or at least think — “Well good goddamn. What the fuck was that all about?” Today has been such a day. I look back at the waking hours and realize…

Keep reading

An Emotional Day – Aug. 29, 2021

Believing in Myself So here’s the thing: I have amazing intuition. Believe what you want about humans having only five senses. We don’t. We have more. And for me, one of my strongest senses is my gut feelings about what to do and not to do. I’ve had this ability since I was a small…

Keep reading

3 responses to “A Life Devoid of Friends”

Leave a Reply