the irony of loneliness
is we all feel it
at the same time
together– rupi kaur
Recently, I came across a New Yorker article from the early days of the pandemic. It was a timely piece, given many of us in April 2020 were feeling the sharp sting of isolation.
‘The History of Loneliness’ proposes that loneliness is a modern condition. At no other point in human history have so many of us lived alone. Opportunities to connect and relate to others are more abundant than they have ever been. Yet, more of us report feeling lonely today than ever before.
Enter what the New Yorker article calls ‘the great, global confinement’: social distancing, shut downs, lock downs, stay-at-home orders. In 2020, we felt like subjects in a year-long social experiment centered around one question: how resilient can we be in the face of loneliness?
I’m not here to offer a to-do list- the past year has pushed enough self-improvement on us, don’t you think? Instead, I’d like to offer a perspective that may resonate with you, or even bring you comfort.
Here we go!
What Is It Like To Be Lonely?
We all know this to be true:
You don’t always have to be alone to feel lonely
Loneliness is a term that captures so many situations and feelings. We can experience loneliness when:
We are in our own company
Surrounded by others we cannot relate to or don’t fit in with
We lack support and advocacy from others
We lose someone dear to us or drift apart from those who we used to be close with
Making a major life change, such as moving to a new city
We are alone, and would rather be in the company of others
It is not uncommon to be in life-long relationships and feel lonely. Nor is it strange to find someone who spends a lot of time by themselves yet does not experience loneliness.
The Paradox Of Loneliness
We have all experienced loneliness at one point in our lives. And here lies the paradox: everyone knows the pain of loneliness, yet everyone feels completely alone in it.
What is it about this feeling that prevents us from recognizing the same pain in others?
It’s too easy to be fooled by the happiness filter that is social media. We spend hours scrolling through Instagram, seeing mostly one side of a larger story. For many of us, the films and shows we grow up watching become the prototype of what relationships with friends and family should look and feel like.
When our experience doesn’t live up to these incomplete stories, we begin to believe that we are deficient in a profound way.
We see loneliness as a tragedy. This is not to undermine the real mental and physical health risks associated with the pain of loneliness!
What if we can adopt a different perspective? Loneliness is a season in life. Seasons come and go, and every time they do, we experience them differently.
5 Truths About Loneliness
If you are in a lonely season of life, I invite you to reflect on these 5 truths about loneliness. We don’t need to glamorize feeling lonely, or work extra hard to find meaning in the experience. Sometimes we unintentionally invalidate our own feelings in the search for meaning!
In that spirit, I offer these as a balm, not a remedy.
1. We All Feel Lonely
Feeling lonely is an inevitable part of the human experience.
We all have aspects of our inner selves that are quirky, odd, alarming, or just personal. We might not feel comfortable revealing them to everyone.
When we face a choice between being honest or being acceptable: most of us– choose the latter. When we reflect on the cumulative effect of a lifetime of making this choice, it’s no wonder that every single person around us experiences loneliness.
2. Total Sympathy From Others Is Impossible
It is very unlikely that we will find someone on exactly the same page of their journey as we are.
No matter how similar they are, there will always be variations due to different experiences; no two individuals are made of the same fabric.
Part of being human is knowing that only we have the truest and most complete access to ourselves. On one hand, this is exciting. We can discover new things about the people around us every single day and they can learn new things about us too.
However, it can also feel incredibly lonely. Sometimes you just want to download your feelings into someone else’s brain so they can understand the layers of your experience.
3. Loneliness Is An Opportunity To Grow
Feeling lonely allows us to think deeper about the conversations we have with ourselves.
It helps us develop a unique point of view and builds a sense of character. We may feel alone for now, however we will be far more capable of developing interesting bonds when we meet those aligned with us.
4. The Best Of Us Feel Lonely
Loneliness can make us feel alone, yet I assure you it’s a sign that you are not hollow.
Perhaps it suggests we have a depth to our person that needs more than what the usual norms of companionship offer. By needing more, we demand more, and often find ourselves rewarded with fulfilling company when we find it.
5. Sometimes It’s Better To Wait For A Real Thing
Loneliness is the price we pay for authenticity.
The sincerity we ask of this world cannot be honoured by everyone. Yet we hold on to our course, because finding the beauty in our own companionship is infinitely preferable to compromising for anything less than what feels real, and right.
Also, our circumstances change. It takes time to connect with others, especially in unfamiliar situations.
Before You Go…
I hope that you read this and feel understood. Loneliness will have you believe that you are alone and no one else understands. Believe me, I do. We do.
Remember to take care of yourself especially well in these times. Build a trusting relationship with the most reliable person in your life: you.
I want to hear from you: If you are in a lonely season of life, how are you doing? And what are you doing to cope?
Until next time!