A pool full of children, their joy inversely proportional to mine. I’m being a grump, sitting in the shade, trying to smother their fun with my eyes.
Loneliness is a feeling I’m unused to. I grew up in a large family, complete with loving father and doting mother. A struggle for conception meant I was considered a wonder. I’ve never been the type not to have friends and now, being young in London, there is an ever revolving cast, some around for a few hours, others for a few years. They seem to be slowly stacking up, the people I care about, friends begetting friends. They also create webs of their own, becoming friends with each other, some even falling in love. I’ve always felt rather in the middle of it all, really. In the most comfortable of ways.
But now I’m alone. Lacking the fly-by friendships you find in hostels. Feeling none of the camaraderie found in a destination truly exotic. An apartment on the riviera, all tourists and no travelers. Everywhere I go, unintelligible languages clatter, taunting my lack of comprehension. People are coupled or grouped, looking for the safety of the beach, the comfort of overpriced restaurants and busy streets.
We are all social creatures at heart, yearning for love and acceptance, even if sometimes we guard our solitude with an iron first. Yet enforced loneliness brings the wonderful benefit of introspection. Company makes it easy to shroud our problems in chatter and drinks. When you’re alone, you have nothing but thoughts crashing around your skull. Insecurities and anxieties rising to the surface like chunks of driftwood, lapping at the shore, refusing to be buried by the sea.
Ayn Rand’s politics are terrible. But in The Fountainhead, she beautifully exposes a disjuncture between the social and the antisocial. Between Roark, her solitary architect, whose thoughts are pure, his honesty brutal, an integrity incompatible with company; and Toohey, the puppet master of high society New York, manipulating everybody, pulling all the strings. Cast as empty and external. Being pulled into the game himself, losing to the actor within, becoming every man and no man at all.
And this is what being over social can do. Interaction is acting. You mirror, subconsciously altering your body language, accent and mode of speech. Omitting certain views and emphasizing others. We want people to like us, this all makes sense. But it can blur your vision, weaken your grip on what you believe and where you want to go. Toohey is Roark’s straw man, justifying his emotional brutality and the icy contempt with which he views the world. We, of course, should look towards balance.
But this means killing the actor within us, or at least shooting him in the foot. Socializing is normal, being alone is suspect. This makes an emphasis on the latter important. An emphasis on time to yourself, where you have no image to maintain, no part to play. No lies to peddle.
I’m sure you love your friends as much as I do mine. But escape them once in a while, run away from everybody. You’ll love them all the more when you return.