Saturday, October 29, 2011

PA in the fall: thoughts on isolation

I sit in the dinning room of my friends Nate and Jill Roach, and I am not in the least alone. Nate is just in the other room, doing something on the computer, Jill is upstairs presumably taking a nap, and there is a small, crema-colored kitten wandering around. I am quite enjoying the shared quiet. I am here for a few days as part of a recruiting trip for TIU. This trip is the end of travel season, a time of college fairs, high school visits, crch visits, hand shaking, chit-chatting, and trips both in and out of state. Often I am surrounded by people, and yet this is the season in my year in which I feel the most lonely.

Dozens of surface level, transaction base connections each day string into weeks without many substantive conversations, and without really connecting with others. There is a guardedness to the communication of admissions counselors when they are on the road. No matter what else we do, we are representing our schools, and in that setting there is a level of reserve that can't be dropped. College fair circuits are the easiest places to make friends. Imagine a setting where there are dozens of highly friendly, socially capable people all around the same age. And now imagine that they are all in the same profession and that they see each other multiple times per day. See? Easy.

On the one hand, this is one of my favorite things about being an admissions counselor. It's like camp: there is a small number of admissions counselors sharing the same experience. And I love meeting new people and making connections at colleges all over the country. I have formed some very deep and real friendships on the road. I am so very grateful for those people. On the other hand, I spend hours alone in the car, in airports, at coffee shops, and hotels. Conversations in this setting tend to be surface level and task-focused. In the middle of this I find myself both lonely and fiercely independent. When you are traveling there is permission to disengage from the relationships in your life. I don't have to hang out with people or make it to regular commitments, I don't have to call or email or Facebook. I am gone. It is empowering to travel the country alone - to explore cities, regions, and states; to seek out new coffee shops and restaurants; to meet new people and make new connections; to bodly go where no TIU rep has gone before- alone.

Here is the really surprising thing: It is challening for me to settle back into intimate relationships when travels season is over. I crave intimacy when I am traveling, but shutting down accepting the reciprocal presence of another in my life is one of my first reactions when I return. Why is this, I wonder? Why, even now as I sit with Jill and Nate, do I struggle to access my own internal world? I am not sure what it will look like, but I anticipate some kind of reentry into the close relationships in my life.

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