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Empty-Nesters And Online Friendships

For the last five days, my house was a whirlwind of excitement. My older daughter was visiting the UK after two whole years of lockdowns and travel bans. Younger daughter came too, from Melbourne, along with her husband, and for five days, I became the mother I used to be before they left home.

This afternoon when they left, once again I was left with the empty house, a lot of mess, and the sound of their laughter still echoing in my ears.

Where have the thirty years of my life have gone? I still remember when we brought the first one home from the hospital. Overnight our life changed. My husband and I left the country of our birth and have been living in Australia for more than five years. All this time we have been saying, we will go back to India. Even after five years, (ten years in my husband’s case) we didn’t feel connected to the country we were calling our home.

It changed within months. 

Suddenly we had so many memories attached to the place. The hospital where our first daughter was born. The two-bedroom apartment we brought her in. Our first owned home, where we moved two months later. The child-care and kindergarten she went to.

The second daughter arrived three years later, and we developed roots in our adopted country. 

I stopped talking about going back; instead, our family migrated to Australia. First, my husband’s parents came, followed by his brother and family. Then came my parents and my brother and his family.

No longer we felt alone in a country where we couldn’t even get Indian groceries in the eighties. Our children gave us the reason to settle down and enjoy life.

For the past thirty years, I have been a busy mother, a devoted daughter-in-law, and a patient wife. My husband and I have built a home that always has an open door for family and friends. 

I didn’t cry; when my daughters left this afternoon. Neither did I try to clean the mess they had left behind. Instead, I had a nap to allow my sixty-year-old body to recuperate from all the excitement it had in the last five days. Then slowly, I went from room to room to inhale the scent my kids left behind.

My home is empty again. Not only my home but most of our friends’ homes too. Houses that were once bustling with young children, their friends, birthday parties, sleep-overs, and video games and music have just two or three people living in them.

The house has gone quiet again. My husband has gone back to his computer and my father-in-law to the TV. I came to the kitchen to prepare dinner but realized that the fridge was full of leftovers that would last us for at least a couple of days. So there is nothing else to do but catch up with emails, Whatsapp messages, LinkedIn posts, and Medium articles.

An hour later, I realized what excellent role technology is playing in the lives of empty-nesters. Was it not for writing on Medium, I would have gone mad during the 24 grueling months of lockdowns and isolations?

And now, when the children are exploring the world and living their own lives, I am leaning more towards my online friends for social connection.

It was nice to know that my online friends on the other end of the world are patiently waiting for me to embrace me back into their circle as soon as I was ready.

The first article I read on Medium was from Niharikaa Kaur Sodhi where she told a story to illustrate that we can have meaningful connections online.

A friend, who I don’t know in real life and lives on the opposite side of the globe, checked in with me every week post my surgery. He didn’t have to. There was nothing he got out of it. He didn’t upsell me into buying anything.

He just did because he wanted to.

At the time of typing this, his son is in the hospital and I’m unable to reach him for three days. I don’t even have his number, because we’ve only communicated via DMs.

I don’t have to worry. I’ll probably never even meet him.

But I’m human, and I do. And that’s the connection you should strive to achieve.

People who I call ‘friends’ didn’t check up on me. Gym buddies who live 5 minutes away didn’t text me, leave alone meet me. But this person did. And for that, I’ll always hold him highly in my heart. — Niharikaa Kaur Sodhi

“We are humans,” she wrote, “and human stories get us together.”

“See, humans connect with each other on the simple things in life.” she wrote. 

It was as if she was talking to me directly. Never before had I shared my family life on the internet, and she was urging me to do exactly that.

I know there are many empty-nesters in the Medium community. They can understand what I am going through. I already feel better, having written what I am going through. 

With the help of technology, I am connected to countless people all across the world. Without them and my writing, I might have drowned in self-pity and loneliness.

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