I can tell you with complete and utter honesty that I have not been lonely on this trip. No bullshit. So far. In fact, I am worried about the opposite. I’ve grown accustomed to the quiet—the peace of my own mind. I can go an entire day exploring the fields and hills of Poronui and not open my mouth once and I am content. I know all too well how easy it is to love your own space, your own tender world, that you become a hermit without realizing it. It’s possible to be too isolated. Despite how it may seem, I didn’t come here to run away from the world, to enjoy only my own company. I strongly believe that personal humanity cannot advance in a vaccum, albeit a picturesque one. But, since my job requires a lot of high intensity socializing, sometimes the last thing I want to do is make small talk or chit-chat. I crave solitude and time to process.
That being said, give me any situation where I am in a crowd and I guarantee that I will, unconsciously, befriend the oldest people in the room. For instance, I took a tour of the Waitomo Caves to see the glowworms (more on that later) and, per usual, I was the only solo tourist there. Towards the end of the tour, an Australian couple in their mid-60’s befriended me. They invited me to coffee in the gift shop afterwards and I got to hear all about their lives.
Brian is a dairy farmer and often travels to the U.S. to attend auctions. Each possessed their own wry humor and positive personality. What struck me most about the couple was their palpable love. When I observed them from afar, before they introduced themselves, I assumed that this was a second marriage and they were on their honeymoon or, at the very least, freshly in the thralls of new love. On the contrary, they’ve been married for 40 years and have 7 children together. We exchanged emails and I told them to look me up if they’re ever in Colorado (home of the “red-necks” according to Brian), if I ever return. I left the conversation feeling enriched and surprisingly, at home.
A few weeks ago, the café I like to go to in Taupo called The Storehouse ,was packed and an octogenarian sat next to me to have his pre-cigarette coffee. We chatted about his life as a deer farmer. He was fierce and opinionated and incredibly entertaining. Everyone has something to say about Americans these days. Dave believes you can sum us up in a few choice words: “extravagant over-eaters.”
Why are the best conversationalists over the age of 50?
The moral of this story is not: “the only people to befriend are people who could be your parents or grandparents.” The moral of this story is this: I think, secretly, I am terrified of people my own age. And while I like my own company and I’ve learned more about myself in these last few months than in the last five years, perhaps I should challenge myself to exist outside of my private, parochial world.
These are the questions that float through my mind:
- Maybe I should introduce myself to baristas?!? How do you even do that?
- How does one go about making new friends in a city 6,000 miles away from home?
- Should I force myself to make friends when I’m actually really happy and don’t really want any?
- Have I turned into Mr. Darcy and become taciturn? I.e. is there something wrong with me that makes me slightly anti-social and hermitic?
- And, most importantly: am I some sort of magnet for people retirement age or older?! Seriously, I need to know.
No real answers yet but not super worried about it. Yet. I’ll keep you posted.