Looking For Our Tribe

Since coming back to New Jersey from Chicago, I’ve frequently lamented the move. My parents need us here – that’s a fact that reaffirms itself on a near-daily basis. But we gave up so much to make this move.

Over the course of six long years, we had finally established a comfortable life for ourselves in Chicago. We had a wonderful home. We had a core group of amazing friends to spend our time with. We had a city teeming with endless offerings of entertainment and culture. We had (sadly past tense) a life.

We’ve now been in NJ since November, and we’re still struggling to assemble and/or find the next incarnation of our life. We left one behind in Chicago, but have yet to discover its replacement here. My previous job was a big obstacle in the way of that – I was traveling so much that when I was home, my energy was mainly spent recuperating from the last trip… and then blending seamlessly into preparing (creatively, psychologically, emotionally) for the next one.

In the meantime, my parents’ needs got greater and greater, and Fran was in the unenviable position of taking point with them. She was constantly “on call” and it never got easy. It was harder on her than me, because she had the daily reality of life in NJ – which consisted of my parents and little else – while I was only actually in town about half the time.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. I lost my job back in June, and Fran has traded in her caregiver name-tag to one that reads “bread-winner.” She went right out and nailed a plum position, and I am now the official hausfrau. She has a bitch of a commute – I know because I drop her off at the train early each morning and pick her up every night. But, like everything else, she’s rolling with it amazingly well, and doing everything she can to adjust.

As a result, we’re spending a lot of energy these days searching for the balance that we never really established here from the get-go. Socially (with the exception of my oldest friend from childhood and his wonderful family) we’re walking by ourselves down a deserted street. We don’t really know anyone locally and haven’t had the opportunity to meet anyone that might expand our social circle. Did I say expand? I meant establish.

A substantial part of the reason for that is my fault – I’m from the area, so I should have a pre-vetted social circle to fall into, right? Not as easy as it sounds – we’ve been moving all over the country for nearly the past 20 years, and I was never really good about keeping in touch. A bunch of people I was friends with years ago no longer live in the area. A good number of old friends are still around, however… but, for the past nine months, the chaotic job that I had made it nearly impossible to make plans or connections of any sort.

Add to this the fact that we happen to be childless by choice – most everyone our age has children, who are fantastic catalysts for social interaction, especially among parents. Over the years, we’ve noticed that friends who are parents tend to spend the majority of their social time with other parents. Not that there’s anything wrong with that in the slightest – as a parent, your children become the sole focus of your energy, attention and time. This becomes a means of socializing while still never drifting too far from your kids.

Color this with the facts that we are both liberal, we don’t attend church, and we’re rapidly discovering that the sociopolitical mood in the area is to the right of where we stand… not exactly the greatest recipe for meeting new people around these here parts. That’s quite different from what we had become accustomed to in Chicago, where the vast majority of our friends (not to mention friends of friends, and beyond) were a lot like us. Here? We’re still looking for our tribe. And they are definitely well-concealed in the underbrush.

But, as I said earlier, we’re still actively searching for balance. We’re getting out more and more, and we’ve been pretty active, more so than at any point in the past 10 years. We’re constantly going out for walks, jogs and – when we’re feeling crazy – walk/jogs. We try to challenge ourselves more and more all the time, and we’ll only end up feeling better about ourselves as a result.

We’re meeting more people through the friends that we do have, and I’m sure that sooner or later we’ll find some peeps that we click with. We recently got together with my cousin (who, since childhood, was like the brother I never had) and his wife and a splendid time was had by all, with a lot more to come.

We’re both determined to meet people who pursue similar interests as we do – I’m looking into a few different writers’ groups, and Fran is researching running groups. We need to each do some solo recon of our own, and then report back to base with our findings. And we’re going to do that.

We’re always on the lookout for cool cultural events, too… but that’s another area where Chicago really spoiled us in a big way. We used to be able to travel 15 minutes via the El train to a major concert, not worry about parking, have a great time and get home as easy as we got there. Now any concert or show we wanna see is a major production – we’ve got to drive everywhere, and nothing is close. But we remain hopeful.

We’re working on it. All of it. We’re going to get there. Our life is stretching out in front of us – we just need to put on our special glasses so that we can see it, aim toward it, find it, take advantage of it and enjoy it.

I find it interesting to note that my original intention as I started writing this post was to bitch about being unable to find a cool, comfortable independent local coffee shop w/free wi-fi where I could set up shop for a few hours to do some reading and writing. Needless to say, I’m writing this in a Starbucks – not exactly what I had in mind. But the wi-fi is free, the refills are only four bits, and the seat is comfy.

Maybe I’ll have better luck another time and find exactly the type of place I’m looking for… but for the moment, this seems to be working out okay for me.

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4 Responses to Looking For Our Tribe

  1. Ed: I finally signed up to receive your posts by email instead of trying to follow them on FB.

    I also decided to not have children. I totally understand that parents seem to gravitate towards other parents. Me…I have my cat!

    Since moving to Southwest Florida almost four years ago, to start this business with my husband, I too have missed going to cultural events and friends to socialize with. We lived in Monmouth Beach in a complex called Breakwater Cove in which we had great neighbors.

    Some suggestions for you to check out: Jersey Shore Runner’s Club for your wife. Check out Count Basie and Two River Theater in Red Bank. I’ve always enjoy their shows/plays. A definitely holiday must is Holiday Express at Count Basie..loved going there each year. There is/was a cute coffee shop on the main road in Monmouth Beach that may have Wifi…something to check out. As for writer’s groups…sorry I can’t help you there.

    I noticed you are going to the reunion so you may have an opportunity to meet up with some old friends and reconnect.

    Hopefully you’ll be able to use these suggestions. I’ll look forward to your next post.

    I’m sorry to hear your parents aren’t doing well.

    • eferrara says:

      Hi Ellen!

      Thanks for reading AND subscribing — a two-fer! Awesome!

      We don’t have cats, but we have our pug, Oona. She’s a grumpy senior these days — 15 years old!

      Thanks as well for all the suggestions — I may try to find that Monmouth Beach coffee shop today, and I’ll tell Fran about the runner’s club.

      Will you be going to the reunion? By the tone of your post, it sounds like you’re not…

      Thanks again — it was great hearing from you, and wonderful to read your thoughtful, helpful suggestions! I promise my next post won’t be as self-indulgent.

      …Well, I won’t promise, but I’ll definitely make a concerted effort. :-)

  2. Erica says:

    If it makes you feel any better I was just reading an article in the Chicago Tribune that stated many of the small coffee shops are pulling the plugs on free wi-fi due to the economy. The reason is that tables were turning over too slowly and many shops want to lower their electricity bills by not allowing people to plug in their electronics.

    Anyway-we miss you and love you both! Hope to see ya’l soon!

    Baby E

  3. Veronica Fox-Burnett says:

    Hi Ed – Love the blog – it makes it so easy to catch up with you. Sorry to hear that NJ isn’t being as welcoming and entertaining as it was for you all those years ago. Sounds like you must have led too exciting of a life! Hope you are starting to feel more comfortable and at home. If you are really bored (and I emphasize the REALLY) my son will be playing/singing at the Stone Pony on Friday, August 27. It will be loud and not all of the bands will be good. It would be great to see you though and it would be nice meet your wife. I hope your parents are doing well – say hello if they still remember me.
    Take care and be well,
    Veronica

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