It’s All Kosher (No. 2): Bored and Lonely
I’m a young guy formerly Hasidic. I’m lonely and bored in my new secular life. I go to Footsteps and hang out at chullent but I still find myself in my apartment Saturday night or Sunday lonely and getting increasingly depressed. What can I do?
So you live in an apartment somewhere out in the big velt. Maybe you live alone, maybe you live with roommates. But either way, I’m sure it is a lot less hectic than it was when you lived in the frum world where your schedule was dictated by countless religious obligations. You no longer live in a yeshiva dorm where they chase you into bed at dusk, or with parents who chase you out of bed at dawn, or with a few babies of your own who wouldn’t let you sleep at all. You left the very structured lifestyle that kept you occupied with family responsibilities and innumerous rituals. In your past, there were weekly shabbes meals, daily mikvahs, nightly simchas, thrice daily prayers, hourly brochos and a whole community of ‘good’ people who never left you alone.
Now you’re not bound to any of it. You’re can do whatever you want to do with your time.
There’s a thrill to that, but it’s also a very new and overwhelming challenge. Here you are, with all the time and freedom you dreamt of. But freedom doesn’t guarantee your fulfillment; it only gives you the opportunity to go after it. Filling your life with engaging and satisfying things requires a lot of effort. Think of it as a “process” that you’ll work on over time. Don’t sit around passively expecting someone to hand you a schedule. But don’t overextend yourself either, by constantly looking for distractions to fill the emptiness. I know that some people expect you to be happy and fulfilled immediately when you leave, as if now that you left the challenges are over. But have them know that here fulfillment isn’t offered on the McDonald’s fast-food menu. You cannot expect the social circle, good job and partner to come together in a day. While you slowly adjust, allow yourself to be lonely and bored at times.
A word of caution: Many who leave are tempted to huddle together to soothe that loneliness; they gather to eat Hasidic foods and recreate the comforting patterns of the past. Do that once in a while– it’s fun and it’s good to stay connected with the culture you’re from. But don’t make it the answer to your problem of boredom and loneliness. You risk getting stuck in a halfway house mid-journey, in a kretchma of sorts, where you sit around with your baggage and nurse the wearied person of your past. But remember that you’re not only the person you were, you are also who you could be. You can grow from your past, beyond it, into a content, dynamic secular individual.
Go on with the journey; you already came so far.
The next step is focus on developing your individuality. Learn more about yourself. Explore yourself. Get to know the person you are outside of your religious background. Find your likes, dislikes, passions and inner strengths. What makes you feel good, stimulates you and betters you? Are you drawn to art, academia, culture, nature, spirituality, sports or drama? Are you good at cooking a special dish, creating a type of art, performing in a sport? What can lift you up when you’re lonely or having a rough day?
Start a list with these answers and keep a few copies at various handy places. Add items to the list as you discover different things that intrigue you. The things on the list can be absolutely anything that strikes your fancy. Think outside the box. Expand your horizons and look beyond the activities your friends are doing. Something piques your interest? Google it and see if it draws you in. Go to www.findmyhobby.com for ideas; looking through the limitless list of hobbies on that site can be a hobby in its own right. You can even take a hobby quiz on CNN at http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2007/leisure/quiz/index.html.
Follow up on these interests by exploring them one item on the list at a time. Learn more about the activity, try it and seek out like-minded people. A good way to meet other people is by joining a club, a class or a meetup. People with a common interest often make the most loyal and engaging friends. Don’t think you’re different or that you don’t belong at these clubs. I know it’s easy to feel like a misfit among the unreligious. But once you get to know the people you will realize that you’re just very much like everyone else. You too can bring to a friendship the same loyalty and cheer you receive.
As you will learn about yourself and meet different people, you will become increasingly busy with new and amazing experiences. Time will pass too quickly, leaving you with many memories in its wake.
Best of luck,
The Unpious Posek
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