I consider myself an expert on loneliness, though I don't say that with pride or satisfaction. That's just the way things have been for me. Our family moved around constantly while I was young, so I spent a lot of time by myself when I wished I was with others. Both tendencies followed me into my adult years--moving a lot and spending a lot of time alone--so I've had plenty of time to feel loneliness, ponder loneliness, and learn to dislike loneliness a great deal.
I don't regret those times at all. Through loneliness I've learned the beauty and wealth and necessity of solitude, and I've learned to be able to do many things on my own that many people would love to be able to do. I'm not bothered at all by sitting alone at a table in a crowded restaurant, and I'm not afraid to leave a negative situation just because I might be alone. I never allowed myself to be dragged into a negative relationship just because I was afraid of being alone. I never dread being alone, and I often look forward to it, for I know just how healing it can be.
I didn't marry until I was 38, either, so I had an awful lot of time to learn about loneliness.
Here's much of what I learned. I can't tell it all because I'm not sure that I'm fully aware of all that I've learned.
My loneliness depends on my perspective. I can be alone and be lonely, or I can be alone and enjoy the quiet time and the chance I have to reflect, meditate, be introspective. When I'm with myself, I can listen to whatever music I want, watch what I want on TV (or turn it off when I want), and eat whatever I feel like eating. There was a time when I would have traded all of these freedoms for anything, but I also finally reached a point before I met my wife at which I appreciated these freedoms, and did my best to take advantage of them. I can see being alone as lonely, or I can see being alone as enjoying solitude. It's up to me.
Loneliness is very real. It's a very strong feeling that can be very debilitating, and it's difficult to live with. It affects a person to the depths of his or her being, for in loneliness one sees oneself as being rejected by other people who would rather be with someone else--anyone else, we tell ourselves. Somehow we're unacceptable, undesirable, unlovable. We have plenty of time to be alone to tell ourselves all these negative things about ourselves.
And how many people are afraid to leave destructive relationships or marriages because they're afraid of being alone?
In hindsight, one of the most tragic things about my loneliness was that much of it was caused by my fear of rejection. I've learned when I was moving away or when someone else was leaving that they really wished they could have spent more time with me. But I never picked up the phone to say "Hey, let's get together" because I was afraid that they would say no. My loneliness was bad, but it was worse when I was spending time alone after being rejected. But much of my loneliness, I now know, could have been averted by a simple phone call now and then. I could have gone hiking, could have gone to movies, could have had more people over for dinner, could have done a lot of things with lots of people. Instead, I sat home alone.
And by calling someone else, I might even have helped them feel less lonely.
Loneliness is one of the most feared states in modern life. Perhaps
this fear has come about because so many of us have a vague awareness
of a surging river of loneliness deep inside. Much of our activity and
busyness is designed to keep that river within its banks.
Maybe loneliness has received a bad rap in today's world. Maybe
loneliness is one of the ways our inner being communicates with us,
letting us know that we need to take the time to get back in touch with
ourselves. Could it be that the emptiness we feel in our solar plexus
(and try so hard to avoid) is a friendly reminder that something
(or someone!) has gone missing--we ourselves!
When we are lonely, it's usually a signal that we need to spend
some time with ourselves. The next time you get this signal,
try taking some time alone.
~Anne Wilson Schaef
You try being alone, without any forms of distraction, and you will see how quickly you want to get away from yourself and forget what you are. That is why this enormous structure of professional amusement, of automated distraction, is so prominent a part of what we call civilization.
If you observe, you will see that people the world over are becoming more and more distracted, increasingly sophisticated and worldly. The multiplication of pleasures, the innumerable books that are being published, the newspaper pages filled with sporting events--surely, all these indicate that we constantly want to be amused. Because we are inwardly empty, dull, mediocre, we use our relationships and our social reforms as a means of escaping from ourselves.
I wonder if you have noticed how lonely most people are? And to escape from loneliness we run to temples, churches, or mosques, we dress up and attend social functions, we watch television, listen to the radio, read, and so on. . . .
If you inquire a little into boredom you will find that the cause of it is loneliness. It is in order to escape from loneliness that we want to be together, we want to be entertained, to have distractions of every kind: gurus, religious ceremonies, prayers, or the latest novel. Being inwardly lonely we become mere spectators in life; and we can be the players only when we understand loneliness and go beyond it.
. . . because beyond it lies the real treasure.
We choose solitude. We think loneliness chooses us. People fight loneliness because
they think it is a statement about their self-worth, instead of a choice they have made.
You might be lonely because you've defined only a few unavailable or select individuals
as worthy companions: your ex-lover or ex-spouse, your adult children, someone who
is dead, or someone of your "class" and accomplishments.
You are lonely because you are a discriminating person. There are lots of people
available to be with if you are willing to seek them out. Loneliness doesn't choose you,
you choose loneliness in preference to the alternatives. There is nothing wrong with your
preference--just recognize it and adapt to the circumstances that result. . . .
The difference between loneliness and solitude is your perception of who you are
alone with and who made the choice.
Loneliness is black coffee and late-night television;
solitude is herb tea and soft music.
My life is spent in perpetual alternation between two rhythms,
the rhythm of attracting people for fear I may be lonely
and the rhythm of trying to get rid of them
because I know that I am bored.