The hardest thing to feel is loneliness. Not just to be alone but to be lonely.
When I say feel, I mean to really feel the loneliness and to know it; to acknowledge loneliness, shake its hand, offer it a glass of cheap Barefoot wine and let it sit with you, to be with you, in you.
I mean to feel the loneliness and not try to immediately unfeel it; not try to mask its odor with some other feeling like anger, competitiveness, anxiety, ignorance, stress, arrogance, jealousy, martyrdom, depression, remorse, nostalgia, hopelessness…
I mean to feel the loneliness without trying to distract yourself. Without grabbing the nearest emotion numbing drink, or inhaling a puff of musky forgetfulness. Without ordering “shots for all your ladies,” so you aren’t binge drinking alone. Without slipping a little pill down your throat whenever the loneliness starts to creep up your chest.
I mean to feel loneliness without substituting in past emotions of connection. Without remembering nights on the beach with whisky and old quilts, without scrolling through old texts of happier more emoticon-filled times, without trying to inflate an old emotion to replace the current emotion of lonely.
To feel loneliness, is to look around you and feel the ways other have connected and know you do not have that. “This is my partner Mario, Eva, Gerome. He/She’s a professor in the Queer Studies/Brain Science/ Communication department.” “Oh my partner Tom couldn’t be here tonight. He had to do an observational study on the local drag show at the Backdoor.” “My partner Tina is the one in the kitchen with the pasties.” To know that tonight you do not have a partner with pasties, that tonight you will drive home alone, get in bed alone and sleep in the middle of your bed alone.
It is not the same as the fear. The fear that you will always be lonely, that you will be an old cat lady even though you fucking hate the smell of wet cat food. The fear that you will only ever be Aunt and never mommy. This is the fear that motivates us to continue to look for our Tom, Mario or Eva. This is the fear that makes us settle for less-than-butterflies. This is the fear that drives OKCupid and Match.com. This fear has bite to it.
And it is not the same as the anxiety we feel, worried that others will think there is something wrong with us for not having a partner. It is not the anxiety we feel fearing there is something wrong with us, knowing there must be something wrong with us, believing we are broken. It is not the anxiety we start to feel 6 weeks before Thanksgiving when you know you will be going home to Minnesota empty handed again. This is the anxiety that fuels the self help book industry; that keeps us eating only raw foods for 6 weeks. This is the anxiety that makes us think the problem is me and I must fix me.
It is not as same as the exhaustion, as the road weariness, as the soreness in your heart and in your jaw that comes from being lonely. It is not the story we tell to our girlfriends about that guy from Tindr, no not that guy, this guy, the one with the band who you are just shocked didn’t work out AGAIN. It is not the fourth date in a week with some white dude with a beard, whose family is either from Iowa or Pennsylvania, but who seems…well…nice. It is not that desperately depressing feeling you get in your stomach when you think you’ve simply run out of tinker bell dust, that you don’t believe anymore, that the magic is gone. It is not the exhaustion that makes you queue up Battlestar Galletica on your Netflix account and buy a bottle of the fancy $10 wine on a Saturday night because this is as good as it gets.
Loneliness is none of that. And feeling loneliness is almost impossible. As humans, we are designed to want to connect, to pair, to be with someone else. And if we can’t, we will do and feel just about anything else instead of feeling like we are missing that essential connection. When we miss love. When we fail to connect, our brain desperately tries to recalibrate, to distract, to replace, to ignore.
But what we actually need to do, what is most human, although most difficult is just to feel lonely, to let it hit you like a ton of emptiness on your ride home from that weird party, to let yourself feel it and then to do one of those slow gushing soundless cries as you listen to Aerosmith wail Dream On in your parked car on your dark street
You need to do this, you need to feel loneliness, to sit with it, so you stop chasing the anxiety and running from the fear, so you learn to sit in stillness with pain for a moment, so you learn that you can, that you can sit with pain, that you are that strong. Not that this is fun. It is not. You will not feel wise. You don’t reach an epiphany about how none or all of us are alone. You will not feel better for sitting as loneliness stings your skin. You will sit and feel like shit and cry. But the point is you sit and you survive. You stop running and you live.