LONELINESS is packed with feelings and emotions. It can consume you at any time – day or night – and create havoc with your emotions. Feeling lonely can cause you to lose perspective and, sometimes, to lose all hope. Even before COVID, we lived in an isolated culture where people were starved for connection. And now with the fear of COVID, loneliness is even more intensified.
There are days when my life is filled with the sound of voices on the phone, or pictures of friends on Zoom and Facetime, and yet, I feel alone. There have been times in my life when I would walk in a church filled with people, or show up at a party where I knew everyone, and yet, I felt alone. At some point, we’ve all experienced feelings of being alone and the shadow of loneliness that follows close behind.
Being alone isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good, necessary, healthy thing. It’s a time to reflect, to appreciate, to think, to create, to process your life. Reflection and synthesis of ideas is crucial to learning and growing, and for many people this can only be done when they are alone. Kierkegaard nails this with one of my favorite quotes: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” Damn, Kierkegaard, I bet you spent a ton of time alone.
So why are we so damned afraid of being alone?
Because we’re afraid others will think we’re lonely. There’s something wrong with lonely people, or else why wouldn’t they have people around them? There must be something broken about them! If you learn someone is lonely, you best stay away from them. Leave them to their cats. Loneliness results in more loneliness; it’s a beast that feeds itself. (Please know that I don’t believe any of this — or at least I don’t want to, but these are thoughts that I hear in my head, because Society)
I’m not lonely! I have 2200 facebook friends. Look at all the things I share. Look at all those likes! I have all the likes! And retweets. Don’t even get me started on retweets. I have to call them RTs because I get so many I don’t even have time for all those other letters. Look at me on Instagram! Follow me! #TeamFollowBack Connect with me! Please, please, connect with me. How am I so damned lonely?! Nobody else feels this lonely. Look at all the friends they have on Facebook. Look at all those likes they’re getting…
We are living in a time when it’s easy to feel uncomfortable being alone, because there are so many ways you can “be” with other people. So we’re never truly alone. And that makes it ever more uncomfortable when we feel lonely.
I saw someone post a photo on Facebook last Friday night of themselves with a glass of wine and the caption “Relaxing into a much-needed quiet Friday night date with myself. #DontHate”
The irony hurt. If you really want to be alone, WHY ARE YOU TELLING THE WHOLE WORLD, my brain yelled.
Then I realized I knew the answer: this person is uncomfortable being alone on a Friday night, and this is how they are trying to mitigate that discomfort.
They are seeing all of their friends posting photos of their fun nights out with dozens of people and having so much fun and internalizing all of this as something being wrong with them. Maybe they chose to be alone tonight, or maybe they got ditched by a friend, or maybe they wanted to go out and don’t really have any friends who wanted to go out with them, but, whatever the case, they were probably terrified they would slip from enjoying a night alone into being lonely on a Friday night. The first is good. The second is bad. And maybe a “like” or a reassuring comment would stave that off.
spend a lot of time on the road traveling alone. And during the day, when I’m performing, or visiting a campus, or flying, eating, writing — keeping my mind busy — I’m on the road traveling alone; I’m not lonely on the road. And I enjoy it. I enjoy the aloneness. I thrive in it. But at night, when I get back to my hotel room and plop down on the bed, I regularly toe the line between being alone and being lonely.
I am usually good at landing on the enjoying a night alone side of the line, but sometimes, usually after a particularly long stretch on the road, of if a show doesn’t go as well as I want it to, I’ll find myself stumbling onto the lonely side. It probably doesn’t help that I have this disgusting and self-body-destroying habit of having a huge pizza delivered to my hotel room and eating it by myself in my underwear. And, as I am typing that, I am reminded of this