Loneliness is often assumed to be distinctly different from being alone. Too often I hear people professing to be alone, but not lonely. However, as I’ve often heard, you’re never lonely if you like the one you’re alone with. It’s the kind of wisdom that everyone nods enthusiastically in agreement to, but most don’t fully experience it either. It’s part of how we wish to present ourselves to the world. Composed, grounded, passionate, significant, and most often, independent. The sad truth is that most often that appearance is nothing more than that. Just an appearance.
I think loneliness sets in when we grow to realise that there is no one that truly knows us. The desire to be understood, appreciated, and anticipated feeds needs that can’t be fully articulated, nor ever completely fulfilled. Those desires are needed to fill the cracks that life creates while we pursue charms and goals believing that those same cracks will be filled by such a pursuit. We’re too distracted to realize that we create those cracks in moments of distraction.
Like my mathematics teacher once told me, “You’re the image of perfection, but just the image.” With role models like that it’s a true wonder that I didn’t fall to the wayside seeking affirmation from people in authority, given what he should have represented in my life. My inner voice, albeit muffled at the time, was still stronger than his sarcasm. It was stronger than the attention seekers around me. The more I grew familiar with that inner voice, the more resolute I became about not needing to fit in. I looked in the eyes of those that should have provided the moral and emotional support needed to be considered an asset to society, and all I saw staring back at me were the needs of those that wanted to be accepted.
It didn’t appeal to me. The neediness, the wanting, the desperation for inclusion or acceptance. It all seemed too desperate to be appealing, and so I grew naturally averse to it. I didn’t need to believe in myself, or in my ability to rise above it. In fact, I didn’t even consider either of those aspects about my life. All I knew was that I didn’t want to be part of it. And that was enough to guide me through the ruts and the roads that I needed to take. A firm belief in what I didn’t want for myself always stood me in good stead. I looked at others and saw how empty their lives were in the absence of that affirmation and validation that they courted so religiously, and I realized what a fake life they had.
Substance, at least the substance of your life, is always most prominent when tragedy or loss finds its way to you. It’s not necessarily the loss of a loved one, or similar tragedy that visits, but it could be as simple as a huge expectation being trampled into the dirt. When failure questions everything that you thought you had a grip on, or when betrayal shakes loose the handhold you thought would always be there for you, that is when the true substance of you comes to the fore. The more substance there is, the greater your resilience, the less substance there is, the more violently your world is shaken.
The one we’re alone with most is also the one we tend to know the least. When we don’t see ourselves as beings independent of others, we grow incapable of being without them. Worse still, we grow intolerant of ourselves because having to embrace the stranger whose flaws are grossly unattractive causes us to wretch almost instinctively. We know our flaws better than anyone else. Couple that with not knowing or accepting ourselves fully and you’re left with a scenario of having a stranger inside us whose ugliness is more pronounced than their beauty. Little wonder it is then that we are so fixated on complying with expectations or committed to soliciting affirmation and validation, because the acceptance of others is the only thing that numbs the disgust we hold within.
Sure, you’re never alone if you like the one you’re alone with. Problem is, you need to accept the one you like before it’s possible to like them for who they are. The less you accept, the more likely you’ll be to blame the state of your being on circumstances apparently out of your control. Too often we confuse fulfilling rights with meeting expectations. It’s a shame that most never live to figure out the difference between the two. An even bigger shame is the one who is a slave to the latter while believing that they have it nailed.