Loneliness

“I stretch my loneliness out from eternity to eternity.”

— Rainer Maria Rilke, tr. by Robert Bly, from Selected Poems

One ant, a single bee, an abandoned antelope, and a lone wolf doesn’t amount to very much on their own, and neither does a socially isolated human being.

Some animals have evolved to rely on another set of eyes, another set of hands and minds, to keep safe, find more food, and to raise their young, to receive comfort, care, and guidance. Such a strategy has proven beneficial in the course of our evolution too.

We need strong social ties between every member of our clan and us to help us survive, and when those ties weaken we feel lost, we feel down, we grieve, and we hurt for our place among our people. This separation plunges us into darkness, and we will do anything to get out again.

Think of community as a sort of addiction, a medicine, a supplement to keep us alive, aware, and a part of life and our surroundings. We are addicted to communicating, to mutual intimacy and the exchange of ideas, grievances, and interests. We long to feel safe, seen, cared for, understood, useful, wanted, and connected.

Everyone feels lonely sometimes. Even those among us with big families, lovers, successful professions, money, friends, marriages, kids, even those of us who have achieved fame and secured a place in history, even they feel lonely sometimes.

How could we not? With such a rich inner life and such depth of identity, desire, wisdom, curiosity, and pain and no way to fully convey or share all that we are with another, how could we not lay awake at night wishing for a warm body to take it all away? How could we not long for a friend who might make us laugh, and to hear our pains? How could we not wish to know that at least we are thought of when we aren’t around or that our presence makes some measurable difference while we are here? What is life for if it isn’t for any of those things?

If having a community is an addiction, loneliness is a sort of withdrawal, a symptom, a warning signal of social disruption and spiritual dysfunction. It’s uncomfortable, painful, and we go to great lengths to avoid it. It manifests in a mind that has been cut loose and sent adrift, a mind that has become vulnerable. Loneliness is our reminder to seek out the safety of our tribe again. It’s the solution evolution found to keep us together. Loneliness made other people are our homes.

“Be silent in that solitude, Which is not loneliness —”

— Edgar Allan Poe, Spirits of the Dead

Of course, alone and lonely are not the same things. Sometimes we like to be alone. Sometimes we need to be. Time on our own, to be with ourselves and to shed the expectations and judgment of society is good for our mental health and an important part of our self-care. When we want to be alone, we do not feel lonely. Loneliness is the perception of being socially isolated and alienated when we don’t wish to be. We might be surrounded by people, but if our connections and interactions aren’t meaningful to us, we might as well be the only person on the planet.

We all know what it is but though evolution may have provided the instinct to keep us together the process failed to provide instruction. We want to communicate, but how? We want to connect, but nothing seems to be working.

Neuroscience and psychology have provided perspective by proving that the pain is real, not just mentally making us more fearful, more anxious, and more depressed, but physically making us more susceptible to disease with raised levels of stress hormones, inflammation, and a decreased immune response. Loneliness is not just an emotional malady, it is a physical one, and it most certainly can be fatal.

Science has been able to provide some insight but little balm for the pain. People forget, loneliness isn’t solved by simply surrounding yourself with more people. Despite our rising numbers and ever denser living conditions in our cities, despite the internet and all we to love and hate in common we still feel so alone. We still have no friends, no one to confide in, no one to let us know that while we may be alone inside of ourselves and doomed to be misunderstood for our entire existence, we are at least not alone in the feeling and frustration. We are not alone in our loneliness.

The problem is we expect people to come to us when we are lonely, but the answer is the opposite, we have to go to others. We have to seek out or place and purpose among a tribe of people who will make us feel understood, important, and loved. We have to go out and search for community and when we find it, we have to give of ourselves rather than take what we find and expect to fulfill our longing. Volunteer, share your story, listen to the stories of others, learn something, teach something, get out in the world, or call someone if you can’t and have the world brought to you, reach out, get therapy. When you need people, go to people.

And that is all well and good, and that will all make it better, but the real problem, the problem we won’t name, is that loneliness is a pain with no cure. It’s a chronic condition prone to frequent flare-ups and no matter what the doctors prescribe, it will eventually fail.

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”

— Orson Welles

Loneliness is our natural state and everything else is an effort to escape it, not the other way around. We are not naturally connected creatures, we are naturally longing for connection. We are not particularly good at seeing each other, we are only longing to be seen.

What is best to do is to accept it. What is best to do is to stop being afraid of it. Your pain is natural, common, an expected part of human existence. Loneliness is universal and it is that pain which connects us all. That is what we fail to see in each other, the utter loneliness. Look into the eyes of everyone you meet and you will see it there, that terrifying solitude mirroring your own back at you.

It isn’t easy to maintain relationships. It isn’t easy to keep those relationships meaningful. It isn’t easy to be secure in those relationships either. We all feel lonely and we feel it all the time, deep down. It can’t be cured, but it can be eased, you only have to seek out the pain in others and reveal your own too.

“When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”

― Tennessee Williams, Camino Real

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter L under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence.” I am aware that the challenge is over and that I have failed to finish on time, but I am determined not to fail to finish at all. 

Photo by Avgust Chech on Unsplash

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Late Night, Empty House Musings

It’s so weird having no one here to talk to. I’m the kind of person who is always saying something. I like to think out loud. I’m used to having someone here to think out loud to but the house is empty and there is no one here but the cat and the dog. The cat prefers to hang out under the bed and the dog cares nothing about what I am thinking. The silence here is almost more than I can handle.

Usually the house feels small but without you it feels way too big. I have decided to keep to the living room, only moving to the kitchen and the bathroom as needed. Even the couch feels big now and even though the dog isn’t supposed to be up here I let her anyway. I need another warm body to fill up all this space.

It’s dark out now but I can’t sleep. I tried but, like the couch, this bed is just too big. The house is creaking all around me and I can’t tell if it is the wind or if someone is trying to break in to murder me. I move back to the couch and try sleeping there for a while. It helps that I can see all the doors from here and I can tell if someone is breaking in. I decide to leave the kitchen light on too because without you the darkness is terrifying.

I still can’t sleep though and I briefly wonder if maybe you are awake too and if you would mind if I called you. I decide not to because I know you have a busy day ahead of you. I’d hate to be the reason you are tired tomorrow. I wonder if you are thinking of calling me too?

I wonder if you are afraid to keep me up and I silently pray you decide to call me anyway.

My Day Was Pretty Boring Without You

I heard the alarm go off promptly at 5:00 AM. I held you tighter knowing soon you would be leaving me. The alarm went off again 10 minutes later and I knew I couldn’t keep you anymore. You left and I heard you go outside in the cold to make sure the car would start. I felt the emptiness on your side of the bed and wished you could stay, then I drifted off back to sleep.

You came in sometime later, what time I don’t know. You kissed me on the cheek and said you had to go. I tried to wake enough to see you and say goodbye but I was exhausted. I don’t know what I said to you, I don’t remember now.

I do remember that sometime after that I did wake up and decided to take a shower. It felt like it must’ve been an hour or two since you left. I got up and began to get in the shower…..then I heard noises in the house. Someone was in the house and I freaked out. I opened the bathroom door slowly only to find you standing there holding cold medicine and lemon muffins. It had not been an hour or two since you left, it had only been 15 to 30 minutes. I told you you had scared the shit out of me then I thanked you for the medicine and food. You left then to head to work.

I missed you right away and tried to stay busy. I took my shower then took some meds and ate the muffins you bought me. I sat in bed and read some, then Twitter and Tumblr, I then played a new game I got on my phone. I was bored without you and I began to text you desperately telling you every little thought that popped into my head and reminding you to stop by the store later for various things. Sometimes you text back and sometimes you didn’t. I checked my phone every few minute to see if you had.

The rest of the day I slept or wandered the house bored and lost. I began to wonder what it must be like for people who are single. What do the do all day alone in their homes? When you are here the house if filled up. When you are here the house is safe. I have someone to talk to, someone to laugh at my stupid jokes. It’s weird to realize I didn’t talk all day with you not here.

Then I began to imagine if this would be how life was for me if anything ever happened to you and you didn’t come home. I know that is morbid but I think about things like this. I think it’s my brains way of trying to prepare for worst case scenarios and I know nothing is worse than living in this house without you. I saw days stretched out, going on forever, the days were empty and so was my mind and heart. I think I would become like a zombie, just wandering mindlessly from one task to the next.

I got depressed thinking about that so I put myself beck to bed. I am sick after all and need my rest. I slept the rest of the afternoon away. I woke up again just as it was getting dark out and I guessed I had another hour before you would be home. I decided to surprise you by cleaning something in the house. I know you expected that I wouldn’t feel up to cleaning at all, I knew you would be surprised. I was the one surprised when you walked in a few minutes later.

Now the house is filled up and I am laughing again. You are here to make me feel safe and make me feel better. You’ve cooked a wonderful dinner and made me feel like I was going to be ok. I know I just have a cold, a bad cold but just a cold, and it was just one day that I was here alone, but it was hard. We have been together for so long and now it feels like we are almost one person in two bodies. It almost hurts to be apart.

I Just Miss Her

Being alone hurts. Being around people and still feeling alone hurts more. Knowing there is someone who loves you but they are too busy to talk to you hurts in a completely different way.

I work long hours and so does my girlfriend. We actually work at the same job and she is kinda sorta my boss. We met before either of us worked here and she has only been my boss for a few months now. Most people think that working together would be hard. Most people can’t even fathom their significant other being their boss. We make it work though. Work stuff is work stuff and home stuff is home stuff. The hardest part of it all is actually the amount of time she has to devote to work now.

I used to be able to see her throughout the day. Sometimes we could even eat lunch together. Now I can’t come to her office as that would look unprofessional and people may think I am getting treated differently because she is my girlfriend. On top of that she is too busy to even text me or see me for lunch anymore. If we were working a typical 8 hour day it might not be that bad but our jobs often require both of us to work well over that. I miss her terribly now and I feel alone most of the day.

I have friends at work too but it’s not the same. They are mostly guys and they don’t often want to talk about feelings. I don’t feel like I have many people around me who notice or even care how I am feeling. I’m not mad at them. I can’t expect others to always care and anyway I would hate to bring them down with problems that can’t really help with.

So I wait all day until me and my lady can go home and be in our own little world. It is a long wait and the time we have together is short before we must head to bed. Even on the weekends we are often busy cleaning or running errands we didn’t have time for during the week. If we aren’t doing that there is always family we need to see or some social function we must attend. There isn’t much time for us to just be together with no outside demands.

I know she misses me too. She comes home and she just hugs me and tells me about her day. She tells me that this sucks. She would much rather be with me than dealing with the crap she has to deal with. I know I am priority. I do not doubt that what she tells me is true. There just isn’t much we can do about our schedules right now. We have to learn to to make the best of our time. I am doing my best to be ok. I don’t want to make her feel bad. She got this promotion for us, so that we could have a better life. Neither of knew what we were getting into though.

Her job is stressful so I try to cheer her up during the day when I can. She is too busy to even be cheered up and too stressed to be in the mood to smile or think happy thoughts. She tells me she appreciates my effort and she wants me to keep trying but I just feel like a bother. I don’t know how other couples can do this sort of thing. I don’t know how to be away from the person I love so much.

Maybe thats just because I had gone so many years being able to spend so much of my time with her. We have been lucky. Maybe eventually everything will fall into place and I won’t feel so alone without her around. I want very much for her to take care of the work she needs to and I am so proud of her for taking on this responsibility. I have to remember to stay grateful I have her and not forget that she misses me too. I have to remember to make the most of what we have in the time that we have it.