Originally published February 8, 2010
A few months ago I went to a concert by myself. I do this a lot, go out alone. Sometimes I prefer it. I really didn’t think it was a big deal until I told a couple of people about the concert. Of course the inevitable question was, who’d you go with? The reactions surprised me.
Apparently it’s courageous to do something social on your own. Or, maybe it’s even anti-social!
I’ve often written about my intermittent loneliness and how I feel that it is something that, although difficult, can be overcome. The key is to learn how to not let it affect big decisions. I’ve let that happen and learned from it – I hope. The biggest one, I believe, was moving back to Toronto from Vancouver before I’d given my life there enough of a chance. I felt indescribably lonely and was susceptible to family and friends saying, just come home. It was a mistake, but one I am trying to make the best of.
These days I’m more willing to wait the lonely feeling out. To let it run its course, because I believe it always will.
I never felt lonely a day on earth while my mother was alive and because I believe my loneliness is attached to her death, I always think of it as situational. That she’s been gone 12 years doesn’t seem to affect my characterization of the feeling. It comes, it goes.
A new book called Lonely by a Canadian writer, Emily White has got me doubting myself and wondering if I’ve caught the bravado bug I sometimes accuse others of having, the ones who are unwilling to admit their loneliness.
White bravely tells of her chronic loneliness which she felt most of her life, but intensely so for about 3 years in her mid-30s. Three years! Chronic? Oh dear.
I have to admit I read the book with much fear. In fact, in parts my heart was beating so fast I felt sure I was having a full out panic attack. Her early life mirrors my own: feelings of separation, isolation, too much of a gap of age and temperament with siblings, parents at odds with one another, their evident loneliness, a mother who held me a little too close to fill in the spaces for her. Hell, even Emily White’s first boyfriend had the same name as mine. Has my loneliness been with me my whole life? Could feelings of loneliness and isolation be the reason I have so few memories of my young life?
I looked up from the book at the prints decorating my bedroom – it’s not the first time I’ve wondered why every single one of them depicts a woman alone.
Has loneliness so shaped my life that it’s the reason I am middle-aged, single, with no safety net, a tiny social circle and indistinguishable social life and, worst of all, no kids? Did I somehow make this happen? And collect the art to reflect it back to me each day upon waking?
Do people look at me walking down the streets of my neighbourhood and say, there goes that lonely woman. Always alone. (no wonder I feel giddy when I can go into a local coffee shop once in awhile accompanied by a – usually male – friend. Phew, they will know I have friends and maybe even a boyfriend!)
White makes a case for loneliness as an affliction caused by genetics and nurturing. She believes we are wired through DNA to be lonely. And that sometimes our loneliness mirrors that of our parents, in her case mostly her mother. Because she wants it more out in the open, she believes it should be listed in the updated version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), due to come out in 2012. This, she says, would ensure it gets properly funded for research and treatment, the natural progression of this being medication.
Now, I haven’t done the exhaustive research she has but I disagree.
I think loneliness is a periodic state of being that visits itself upon each and every one of us at various times. Let’s face it, more people live alone now and gone are the days of close knit communities and extended families. The key is learning to understand how it affects you and what to do to work through it. After all, we’re supposed to grow and learn in life. Sometimes my loneliness is acute and it feels like nothing can alleviate it. Since I’m pretty comfortable alone it’s not being alone that triggers it. It’s being alone when I don’t want to be and feeling like I can’t connect with anyone. It’s that feeling that there’s no way to communicate my deepest feelings that makes me the loneliest.
Admittedly, the biggest reason is not having a one and only – which isn’t necessarily a love partner, though that would be nice. And I’m trying to find a way to understand how to make that very neglected part of my life work. But, just one or a few good companionable, compatible, supportive friends would do the trick.
I have friends like this, but they are mostly busy with their lives of husband/wife, active young family connections. Or they’re too far away to connect with very often. I’m a natural sharer and sometimes feel unbelievably bereft, and afraid for my future with no safeties in place. Also, being alone so much means that my nurturing instincts can go numb with disuse, or worse, get misplaced on someone entirely inappropriate. Something that can catch me unawares if I’m not careful.
Emily White thinks this type of dulling of the senses is a result of loneliness. She also offers up plenty of studies, although they are relatively small ones, that show how loneliness affects heart health, and is implicated in dementia. These pieces of information are nothing short of terrifying to me and the surest way to get me to try any outlet at all towards connection.
White says lonely people are reluctant to tell their families and friends that they are lonely. It’s true. Most people end up feeling responsible for how you feel and it only serves to turn them further away, not closer. I prefer to just bare down and get myself through it. But I’m also not afraid to say it’s a pretty big part of my life right now. But that really is my challenge, not anyone else’s.
I do know how to reach out and I enjoy sociability. I welcome it, when I’m feeling up to it. The truth is, through many years of therapy and 5 years of living away from home, I discovered the original me and that person requires more time and space, which usually means plenty of solitude of the chosen variety.
Most lonely people I know -whether they admit to being lonely or whether it’s something I sense – are creative, singular, and as I like to call it, living outside the much touted “normal” lines. I can’t really complain about feel lonely when I bring it on by leaping out of my life every five years, at least.
My worry is that I will always do this and never settle down and that my innate (not genetic though) loneliness causes me to do this.
Perhaps I will never know. It’s not a worry I really want to take on. I prefer to believe it’s a badge of maturity to learn to live with loneliness. or should I say, live it out.
But I certainly have no intention of taking a pill for it. Nor will I stop my solo, apparently oh so courageous, outings to concerts and social gatherings.
One thought on “The Vault: best of herkind.com/ Solo”
I find it pretty hard to agree with Emily White’s assessment that lonliness belongs in the DSM. My understanding of the DSM includes mental disorders of one time or another; abnormal behaviors in society and whatnot. I’ve never known a person to NOT feel lonliness at one time or another in their life. Its not a disorder, its just life. Even people who have significant others, have a relatively happy life for all intent and purposes feel lonliness.
If everyone at one time or another feels lonely it doesn’t fit the description/requirements to be listed in the DSM.
I suppose its brave to go to a concert solo, but I look at it from a security aspect…going alone means you’ll be in a huge crowd of strangers. People can act out in a crowd. Additionally, if you want to see the concert and no one else is available or wants to go should you stay home? Pass up on seeing that concert because you have to do it alone? I think not. In essence because we’re alone we are to then miss out on parts of life because of lonliness. That just doesn’t make sense to me.
Emily White might be confusing depression with lonliness and vice versa. Depression can be in our DNA, inherited from mom or dad, etc…but lonliness? Seems lonliness might be a symptom of depression sometimes, but not all the time.
One other point, I have known people that are NEVER alone–EVER. I had a boss who wanted me to go to the bank with him, to go here, go there during the work day. He couldn’t stand to be alone even with wife and kids. Others too I’ve known that are busy, busy, busy with friends and activities. I look at them and think MANIC sometimes. What is it they are trying to avoid by chronically filling up their hours, days, weeks with people?
That’s the other side of the spectrum of lonliness I suppose, however it could be just as bad as chronic lonliness. Or its a lifestyle. Or its just a drop in the ocean of life.
Again, we’ve all felt lonely and in that lonliness many of us ask, is this normal? Or is there something wrong with me? Often that lonliness is healthy. We get to figure out who were are, what in life we want and what we don’t. In that sense lonliness can’t be a bad thing, its not even antisocial since we all feel it at one time or another.
Just my thoughts…..thank you for writing. It got me thinking about lonliness in a different way.