This is one of my favorites, actually. I have some good friends who’ve been going through some rough patches, and I’ve been wanting to repost this in their honor.
Original post is from October 17th 2012.
Sometime back, I posted a note about what terrifies me, aptly titled, “What Terrifies Me.” A few things in it are outdated now, but this line holds as true as ever: “I’m afraid that my brief bouts of loneliness will get longer and longer as time goes on, until they swallow me whole.”
I get lonely sometimes. Shocker, I know.
I’m a fairly internally self-sufficient person. Externally is another story — I still need others to provide my food, clothes, shelter, etc — but internally, I’m usually pretty solid on my own. If I think that your rules or societal conventions are dumb, I will ignore them with very little care toward what others will think. If I feel like talking, I’ll talk, and if I feel like sitting in silence, I’ll do that too, even if the choice to do one or the other might not be the most typical or societally appropriate in a given situation. I don’t tailor myself to the greatest common denominator, and I like it that way.
For instance, I remember that during my first weekend at school in Israel, for some reason the Sabbath song sing-along morphed into a dance-along. (Don’t ask why, it’s a yeshiva girl thing; I never really understood it either.) Everyone got up and started dancing the hora. Everyone except me, that is. So we’re talking, like, 100 girls. I happen not to like dancing, so I elected to stay at the table all by myself and finish my food and sip my water. As usual, I was repeatedly invited to join in, and repeatedly declined.
Afterward, one of the girls approached me and said something along the lines of, “That took guts. I never have the courage to sit alone at a table in that kind of situation.”
It’s not so much “guts” as it is the knowledge that whenever I do something solely to please the people around me or “fit in,” I wind up hating myself for it. Even if it’s something as innocuous as dancing. I have a weirdly rigorous internal standard of honesty, which renders me immune to most of these kinds of peer pressures. Not all, but a lot. I’d rather not hate myself, so I’d rather not dance. Same goes for drinking, smoking, drugs, the whole shebang.
It took me a long time to figure that out. I used to feel bad for not dancing, used to think it was a red flag of some sort. A deficiency, a mental-socio-emotional failing. In fact, the line after the loneliness line in the “What Terrifies Me” note is: “I’m afraid that liking to be alone and hating to dance really does mean there’s something wrong with me, even though I know that’s not true.”
I am very happy and comfortable with my own self, in my own skin, making my own rules. Or at least, I’m a lot happier and more comfortable than when I’m following someone else’s. It’s not entirely comfortable, and it’s certainly not easy — it’s extra disconcerting, I think, for me to come across a new situation and not a have a system of societal/religious/cultural rules in place that will help me figure out what to do. It would be easier if I could find someone or some dogma to follow or trust blindly and completely. Not having that is stressful and scary. Not having the answers, being confused and lost and knowing it — that’s hard. You feel like you’re reinventing the wheel more often than is probably good for your nerves.
I wouldn’t trade it.
But I get lonely sometimes. Stomach-churning, bone-wrenching, heart-crushing loneliness. Loneliness that makes my insides feel like they’ve been hollowed out and my skin is cracking apart and just won’t go back together.
It’s not about romance or being single or having your heart broken. Those things don’t help, but I felt the loneliness I’m describing here long before any of that was ever part of my social life. And it’s not about not having friends or not being loved or respected or admired, because I know I have all of those things. I have my doubts and insecurities about them from time to time, but not to the degree I’m talking about.
Maybe the loneliness is about being understood, as cliché as that is. Because I know that no human being can ever fully understand another, and there’s a profound isolation in that. I used to write some form of telepathy into most of my old stories, because I just can’t stand how there is no earthly way for you to ever truly know what I’m thinking and feel what I’m feeling.
That’s why I absolutely hate lying in writing, or with words in general. Writing is the closest thing I have to telepathy, to direct mind-to-mind communication — why would I ever corrupt it or give anyone any reason at all to distrust it? That would break one of the rarest and most valuable tools I have.
Writing like this is one of the ways I cope with the loneliness. I define it, I describe it, I contextualize it, and in that way, I gain some measure of control over it, so that it’s not just this gigantic amorphous cancerous THING that can come at me unawares and eat me alive.
There are other ways to cope. Distractions are good. Watch a movie. Go to the movies. Sleep. Read a book. Write a book. Find a new favorite food. Put together an outfit you’ve never tried before. Sing. Build something out of wood or lego or bottlecaps or toilet paper rolls or cookies. Walk somewhere instead of taking the bus. Take the bus instead of walking. Go to class. Write a paper. (In high school, I’d have said, “listen to music,” but nowadays it hurts more than it helps, so I’m leaving it out.)
One thing I don’t like to do when I’m lonely is be around people. It’s partly the I-don’t-want-you-to-see-me-like-this factor, but mostly because when I’m in the throes of intense, skin-cracky loneliness, I feel dangerous. When I’m like that, I feel like if anyone shows me the slightest scrap of understanding, I will latch onto them and never let go, and that is all kinds of unhealthy for them and for me. (That’s why I don’t think people should date when they’re too lonely. Desperation and loneliness do loopy things to your standards. Learning to be happy alone is in no way inferior to being happy as part of a matched set.)
This is a hard topic for me to write about, because it’s about weakness. I don’t like to show weakness. I like to seem like I have it all together and that I don’t need anyone or anything more than what I’ve got. I’ve written about fears and depression and self-consciousness, but this seems different somehow. Maybe because I think loneliness is stupid and yet I still feel it sometimes and it’s embarrassing.
I know I’m no better than anyone else and that loneliness is part of being human, but I still feel like I should be above it. I’m not.
One last thing I sometimes do when I’m lonely is to post one of these, and watch as my friends come out of the woodwork one by one and tell me they get it. So now I pass the ball to you, and hope this isn’t the one time when you don’t understand what the heck I’m talking about.