As I was saying good-bye to my friends today it hit me. It always happens that way here. Whenever I've had a wonderful time with lots of friends the time comes to go our separate ways and after ten minutes of being without them I feel utterly and helplessly alone. I don't remember this ever happening when my friends and I lived only twenty miles apart and we'd see each other the next week or maybe the next day. Here it hits me every time, more now than in the beginning.
This time as I got on the bus, bracing myself for the 3 hour ride back to my town, I saw a friend that was on her way back as well. I sat next to her, happy for at least the comforting presence of a friend. As we rode away we started talking about our weekends and something interesting happened. The woman I was sitting next to, Emi, is a teacher at my school. She's three years older than me, speaks English very well (all through self-motivation), is married, has a 3 year old son, a house, and a mortgage. I had never talked to her outside of a work-related environment. Sure we're friends; I go to her house almost weekly for language lessons or just a cup of coffee and a chat. Every interaction we've had though stems from school. Sitting on the bus next to Emi I realized how different we were, how completely opposite our lives are.
She had gone into Sofia for the final exam of her voluntary weekend English course (She teaches classes all week and then two weekends out of the month for the past year she's been traveling into Sofia to study English all weekend so she can be a better teacher.) I went into Sofia to watch a silly, fun movie and drink Starbucks (it's brand new here) with my girlfriends. I had had an excellent day of eating, shopping, coffee drinking, silly song singing, picture taking, movie watching awesomeness. She had had a stress-filled day with 8-hours of exams. I was returning to my cat and my cold apartment, my only responsibility to prepare for class the next day. She went home to pick up her son and husband, warm the house, fix dinner, clean, and plan for the next day.
I don't know why it struck me so suddenly, but it was almost as if we lived in parallel universes. Then I realized that all of the friends I have in town have the same story. They are all married, in their early to mid-thirties, have full-time jobs, and children. I enjoy all my friends and the time I spend with them however different it is. But, my friends with children can't do things at night or for longer than a few hours and my single friends and I have weekend sleepovers. So when I'm in my town I spend almost every evening alone in my apartment, since it's culturally unacceptable to go to a cafe or restaurant alone. So when I have something to compare that to, say... going out almost every night with friends, it makes my day-to-day life seem stark. Perhaps this is why I feel the loneliness when I leave my single, mid-twenties, carefree friends. Is there anything I can do about this? I don't really think so. I enjoy my life and my friends in my town, but I also love the group of single girls I get to hang out with every so often. Both keep me here, going, and happy (most of the time). So I guess it's just another paradox of Peace Corps.