Without ever having lived in NYC, I once wrote a term paper about the paradox of loneliness there. Two years later, I now feel qualified to weigh in on the discussion I’d heretofore only examined from afar.
The common belief about our city is that it’s isolating and unforgiving. Mark Twain in 1867 called it “a splendid desert—a domed and steepled solitude, where the stranger is lonely in the midst of a million of his race.” Dylan, The Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, and countless others have similarly echoed this theme throughout time, that urban phenomenon of romantic, melancholic isolation.
I think this sentiment is particularly poignant for recent college grads. For many, their school years offered constant contact, familiarity, and friendship, while the juxtaposition of New York stands stark and bleak by contrast, offering none of the comfort and community to which we’d become accustomed.
Though universal and expounded upon in literature and music through the decades, this pervasive urban loneliness is not something we bond over with one another. It’s a shameful hunger of the heart. No one flaunts loneliness. No one advertises vulnerability.
You just keep going. Cram your planner with lines and lists, long hours, late nights. Then Pilates, lunch dates, liquid brunches—don’t stop to let it linger, and it can’t creep up.
How strange a revelation then, while paused on a park bench, to realize that for all the time we spend surrounding ourselves with others to keep it at bay, we are nonetheless eternally alone.
I will never see myself through another’s eyes. I’m the only one on Earth who will ever know me through and through. And when I die, I will die remembering only my own experiences. All those memories so carefully and meaningfully collected and arranged—everything in my life that ever mattered most. The child in the meadow who painstakingly picked all those buttercups, never to be shared. For what, then? Kept only to myself, they’ll die with me. We are all inherently alone.
But if there wasn’t beauty in this—the sound of silence—it wouldn’t be written about, agonized over, set to melody, and played on repeat.
Moreover, there’s a delightful freedom in this realization—we are indisputably, utterly alone; why, then, ever dwell on fear of judgment? Everyone is only judging based on a reflection of themselves.
For all the time I spend worrying about not looking my best, not having worn the right shoes to this party, not being able to find the right words, or what I think others may say about me after I leave, all this self-indulgent agonizing is so trivial when I stop to consider that everyone else is consumed with worries of their own.
With this realization comes another one—happiness is not dictated by circumstance, as I’ve always believed. I am alone in this; thus, no one and nothing dictates my happiness. Happiness is a choice.
It takes a little bit of pain to create something beautiful, to transcend. It takes a little bit of loneliness to connect.
The 6th Avenue Heartache means you’re alive. It means you are thoughtful. It offers a hungry kind of acuity.
It means you have depth and warmth and something to give.
It aches a little. Let it.