Loneliness versus Aloneness
I’ve been obsessed with remembering my childhood from the age of 7 – 10. I think it’s because I was the most content at that age. I hadn’t yet gone through puberty, that time when suddenly everyone else’s voice is louder than your own. Once that happened, my equilibrium was thrown off.
Back then, my sister and I would play with these two brothers down the street, W and K. But we only played with them if we needed an occasional diversion. It wasn’t a requirement. We also had two friends who were girls – D and F – each one (respectively) about the same age as my sister and I – and we would see them, too, but even less often. Maybe once every few months.
But somehow I was still content. Content enough with my family, my room, our animals, our house, my imagination, the grass, the clouds, time. I don’t know how I filled my time but somehow (without gadgets except Saturday morning cartoons when chores were done) I was fine. No after school soccer practice, no constantly revolving stream of extra-curricular activities. Nope. Pretty much nothing except my imagination, a few people, and nature.
And I want that feeling back.
Of course, I can’t totally get it back. I have a house now, kids, a job, bills, but I think it’s possible to get closer to that feeling.
Loneliness is a word with a lot of shame, but the problem is if you can never admit that you’re lonely (just like if you can never admit you’re an alcoholic), it’s hard to change. So I’m admitting it. For the past – I don’t know… 25 years? – I’ve been lonely at least some of the time. Not all the time, but sometimes, and I haven’t always filled that void with the healthiest of options. And the reason I can say this is… I know I’m not the only one. Ok maybe some people have all their shit together 120% of the time, but the reality is we’re all human and that feeling happens sometimes. So what do you do with it? Eat too much? End one relationship and begin another the same day? Become a people pleasing workaholic?
Loneliness is akin to boredom. If you’re bored, you want someone to play with (whether you’re 9 or 49). But the truth is, if you’re bored then you’re probably also kinda boring. You want some new gadget or person to amuse you. Maybe it’s a new boyfriend, maybe it’s switching jobs, or the town that you live in. Sure I can get a new job, a new town, or a new spouse, but can I try out new parts of me? Can I learn Spanish? Can I go square dancing? Can I start delivery pizzas and run into my students who will look shocked when I show up at their house? Can I start talking to strangers in checkout lanes at the grocery store? Can I do a social experiment where I eavesdrop on people in Walmart not because I’m a creeper but because it’s fun to watch people when they don’t think you’re paying attention?
When I was about 25, I was living in Denver and I decided that the reason I wanted to be in a relationship was because I was “bored being alone.” I told myself: “I already know myself really well and the only way to grow as a person is to be in a relationship.” What a crock of shit. Ok, maybe you do grow as a person in a relationship, but seriously. What I’ve learned since then is that if you are going into a relationship because you’re bored, then eventually you’ll get bored again once the novelty wears off. So you might as well learn how to not get bored on your own. Boredom leads to loneliness, but curiosity about you and your world turns loneliness into contented aloneness.