“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and — in spite of True Romance magazines — we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely — at least, not all the time — but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”
― Hunter S. Thompson
Loneliness, defined as an unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation. The key word here is perceived.
Loneliness, defined as social pain — a simple mechanism that forces us to seek others. The key word here is pain.
A perceived pain, for even one who is surrounded by others might end up feeling lonely. Some might say that’s what real loneliness actually is: feeling alone when you are, in fact, surrounded by others.
Today, when we’re all connected via invisible waves of technology, there are but two great tragedies: one is to be lonely alone, the other is to be lonely among others.
I often wonder which is the selfish option of the two?
Why Do We Feel Lonely Among Others?
I’d often go to parties and write stories in my head. I’d think about the same scene, over and over again.
It would be in the most crowded and loudest of places that I’d realize that, while I knew almost everyone, no one knew me. Not the real me. If they’d known who I really was, they wouldn’t have asked me to go to such a crowded and loud place to begin with.
Later, as smartphones became more popular, I’d reply to comments and e-mails. I spent one New Years Eve doing just that, while my girlfriend kept asking me what was wrong.
Nothing. That was the point.
Loneliness isn’t about something being wrong, whether internally or externally. I repeat. It’s a perceived pain.
Loneliness is like a dream from another life. You wake up, and you can’t help but wonder if it really happened or not.
Who’s to blame for this?
Who knows? Who cares? Who’s asking?
Maybe it’s the fact that we all live crammed inside concrete boxes, one on top of the other, and we stare through glass-windows at what looks like a curious TV show; the lives of those who share our space but not our lives.
I don’t know who my neighbors are. I don’t know their names, their hobbies, their passions. I don’t know what they do for a living. They’re perfect strangers, as perfect and strange as the people who live half a world away, whose existence I can only speculate about.
But maybe it’s all about technology. About the social networks that occupy most of our free time. Perhaps it’s all about the fact that we don’t seem to matter if our photos get less than a hundred likes.
Maybe it’s the social networks that show us all the highlight reels that we could ever want, and we then compare them with our behind the scenes. The result? Self-loathing, fear, and self-doubt. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Maybe it’s the social networks. Maybe it’s our addiction to success. Everybody wants to conquer the world these days. And making real connections with people requires a lot of time and energy and patience, and we’d much rather use those resources to hustle our way to the top of the world.
You feel like no one knows you because you never let anyone get close enough to get to know you.
Maybe that’s it.
Maybe we crave to be known more by those closest to us, not to meet more people.
Who knows, right?
Sometimes I wonder if the world is so complex that it gives us a chance to become different than anyone else.
A multitude of one. The only one.
Something like the Highlander. We try real hard to present the world a face. That’s it. That’s who we are. And thus we destroy our edges, our peculiarities of character, and we incorporate them into a self that is supposed to be easy to understand.
We don’t feel real anymore.
This simple fact, that we have to present the world a redacted version of who we are might contribute to our loneliness.
You are a different person at home than you with your best friend. You are a different person offline than you are online. You talk differently at work than you do with your loved ones.
You develop multitudes. You become a bunch of different people, all inhabiting the same body.
The social complexities of modern life demand that of you.
My first big dream, when I was six or even younger, was to be able to talk to anyone about anything.
You’d be shocked to know the kinds of things I can discuss with different people. Some are intellectual, some philosophical, and some are… well… let me put it this way, my girlfriend’s always “amazed” by the knowledge I have about the criminal underworld.
I have never done anything illegal, but I somehow ended up talking with a lot of people who did.
How do I reconcile these differences?
I don’t. I can’t.
It seems that no one will ever know the real me. All of me. Or, better said, no one’s ever going to know the real me and like it.
Loneliness Is the By-Product of Wearing a Mask
“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
― Nathaniel Hawthorne
When pretending to be someone you’re not, even when you’re just showing the world one aspect of your personality, it’s easy to feel misunderstood. Those who like the simplified version of you, you’re afraid won’t like the complicated and messy version of you, and this makes you feel alone.
You become a universe of one because society demands of you that you become much more complex than you’re willing to be.
We’re neither perfect nor do we have the chance of ever becoming perfect. Not me, not you, not even those we most admire on social media.
But we are presented with a bunch of options, and we’ve got to choose.
You’re either an introvert or an extrovert. What about being both, depending on the day?
We’re all different people depending each and every single morning, depending on what happened the day before.
We are not nouns, but rather verbs.
We change, we adapt, we overcome obstacles, we learn, we develop new skills.
Sometimes, we even change our minds.
For such a complex social structure, it sure seems that society is often rigid to the point of making us as fragile as possible.
How often you do speak your mind? How often do you engage others in meaningful conversation?
A friend of mine once told me that he gets himself stupidly drunk every night because he feels that what he wants to say is not important, that what he wants to say doesn’t matter, and so the alcohol helps him not give a damn anymore.
This is the paradox of modern life.
The sense that you are not allowed to be yourself breeds passivity.
The Opposite of Loneliness
Apparently, the best the English language can do to provide the answer is “popular.”
Ironic, isn’t it?
If you’re loved for who you pretend to be, doesn’t that make you ask yourself if they’d hate you for who you truly are?
I believe the opposite of loneliness is a complicated answer. There’s no real word for it.
It’s being all by yourself, in an empty and quiet room, and finding yourself. And you must do this again and again.
The opposite of loneliness is a bit of self-awareness, a bit of courage, and a lot of hope. The hope that someday, somehow, you will find someone who can handle the beauty of such a complex you.
If we don’t take the time to go through this process, we become someone who doesn’t even know who he or she is.
You need to spend at least some time alone, so you can reconcile all the aspects of your personality. Sometimes, you might need to write down all that you are, to all the different people in the world.
None of this is easy, and none of it feels like an antidote, and the truth is that loneliness is something that never, ever feels okay. You get used to the pain, you might be able to find a bit of comfort in the fact that you are constantly challenging the aspects of you that you don’t understand.
Who knows? Who cares? Who’s asking?