Mitch Hamilton of New York City wondered how he could feel so alone in a city with 8.5 million people - especially when he had tons of friends!
There was his best college buddy, Jason McKinney, who lived in Brooklyn. There was Alyssa, whom he'd met in a writers' group he'd belonged to when he first moved to New York. He and Alyssa had a standing Sunday morning brunch date, which they never missed. There was Randy, his work pal; he and Randy went out for drinks at least two or three times a week, knew all the best happy hour specials and had collected more than their fair share of telephone numbers from the Big Apple's fairer sex. And countless others...
Yes, he clearly had a fulfilling social life and mutually rewarding friendships. And so, Mitch chalked up his feelings of loneliness and isolation to lack of sleep (too many good times!) and the fact that he was generally hung over (again, too many good times!).
That is, until one Sunday afternoon when his mother called from their hometown of St. Augustine, Florida. Mitch had just picked up the phone to text a chick he'd met the previous Thursday night at a jazz club on the Lower East Side and accidentally accepted his mom's call. Mrs. Hamilton, who'd grown accustomed to leaving effusive voicemail messages for her darling firstborn son who was so busy working all the time that he didn't even have time to answer the phone, was delighted to hear Mitch's live voice.
"Mitch! I can't believe I got you! What have you been up to?" she asked.
Mitch explained about his weekly brunch with Alyssa.
"That sounds lovely!" said his ever-enthusiastic mother. "What's she like?"
Mitch considered the question. Alyssa was actually very needy and self-centered. As far as he could recall, he had footed their brunch bill every single week, except once, on Alyssa's birthday, when she'd explained that her goal for her new birth year was to assert her own independence and to stop letting people treat her as less than fully competent. He listened to all the problems she readily shared and even probed for more details about her life, which inevitably led to more discussion of more of Alyssa's problems. Their weekly brunch sessions invariably ended with a heartfelt hug and an exclamation from Alyssa, "Oh my God, all we've talked about this whole time is me! Next time you have to fill me on you. Promise?"
"Alyssa is funny," Mitch told his mom. "Very New York. Kind of high maintenance, but we go back a long way."
Mrs. Hamilton asked how Jason McKinney was. She of course remembered Jason from Mitch's college years.
"He's doing great," said Mitch. "He emailed me a few months ago. He got some big promotion at work."
Mitch realized that he hadn't actually seen or talked to Jason in at least a year. But of course, Jason's job as an associate at a top-notch law firm - or was it a hedge fund? - kept him ridiculously busy.
"How's your work?" asked Mrs. Hamilton. "I know you said you got along really well with the people there."
"I do like the people," said Mitch. "Katherine's great - best boss I've ever had, no question. And there's this other guy, Vincent, who's hilarious. We hung out once after the office Christmas party and were up till like four in the morning telling stories. I laughed so hard my stomach was literally killing me the whole next day."
"Is he the one you like to go bar-hopping with after work?" asked his mom.
"No, Vincent's married and lives in Westchester," Mitch told her. "That was the only time we've hung out outside of work. You're thinking of Randy."
"That's right, Randy," said Mrs. Hamilton. "That's wonderful you have a close friend at work. That makes such a difference."
Mitch reflected a moment. Randy was not exactly a close friend; in all honesty, he was a complete douchebag. No one in the office could stand him. The only reason that Mitch hung out with him so often was that Randy was always up for grabbing a drink. In fact, the last time he and Randy had gone out, someone had bumped into Mitch, causing him to spill some beer on Randy, and Randy had actually slapped his face - hard!
In a sudden moment of clarity, Mitch realized he had no friends. There were a few people he liked - his boss, Vincent, some others - but he didn't socialize with them. The single factor that determined the people he hung out with was availability. He didn't like these people, and he was pretty sure they didn't care about him, either. All that bound them was a tacit social contract that prevented any of them from having to sit in a bar or restaurant alone.
The unexpected awareness rattled Mitch, but only momentarily. There was a cold comfort in the truth. It wasn't pleasant, but it was real, and real was good.
"I'm glad you're happy in New York," said Mrs. Hamilton. "We miss you, of course, but all I really want is for you to be happy."
Mitch knew she meant it. "Mom," he said, "I really love you."
"Oh, honey!" said his mother. "I love you, too."