Tennessee Williams once said, “When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.” It always surprises me when I learn I’m not the only self-proclaimed loner on the face of the earth. As it turns out, this population is steadily rising every day, and global pandemics certainly don’t improve matters.
I remember eating school lunches in bathroom stalls and wishing my adolescence away so that I could skip on to more congenial times. Times that didn’t involve imaginary friends, empty bus seats in my vicinity, or me being the last one standing without a partner in an odd-numbered classroom.
And don’t even get me started on birthday party invites.
I’m an adult now, so luckily I don’t have to rely on fantasy friendships anymore. That doesn’t mean life doesn’t feel unbearably isolating at times. I think maybe we all fall somewhere on the spectrum of loneliness. Even those of us who are in dynamite relationships risk feeling misunderstood and disconnected. Ninety percent of the time I feel like an unclassified specimen of the human race. I see families joining hands singing kumbaya and lifelong friends playing leapfrog, but I am always on the outside, watching enviously from afar.
Imagine if we all felt this way, like the uninvited outsider. Imagine if we all felt like an anomaly unworthy of the love we crave.
That’s why I decided to write this piece, to let my fellow onlookers know that contrary to your preliminary beliefs, you are not alone. In fact, you’re in very good company.
Upon realizing this for the first time myself, I’ll admit my shoulders slumped ever so slightly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s refreshing to discover I’m not the only one who feels so piteously alone, however, now I realize I’m not nearly as unique as I thought I was. We’re all going through some sort of existential crisis or feel utterly baffled as to where our jagged piece of the puzzle is meant to fit in with the rest.
I’m not going to pretend to know the formula for aborting loneliness, but I will keep reaching out to those who feel it stronger now than ever. Sometimes it helps to know you’re not the only one with the imaginary friend or the empty bus seat next to you. It helps to know we’re all trying to make sense of the riddles of life and get by one arduous day at a time.
Making new friends in the climax of the COVID-19 crisis is not an easy feat. We are not able to socialize like we once were, and this has caused many of us to spend more time than we’d like looking inwards. Perhaps what we should be doing is befriending the one person who has needed it most. The person who has been sorely neglected over the years: ourselves.
When we leave this juncture, we will want to be ready. Like a phoenix rising from the smoldering ashes, we will want to have done the grunt work and faced ourselves with scars and all. We will want to know that we were sturdy despite civilization collapsing around us, to lay the precious foundation for our goals. Goals that involve nourishing our bodies with food that fuels. Goals that involve getting ourselves out in the fresh air hiking mountains or getting lost in eternally sunlit forests. Goals where we’re inhaling wisdom from as many books as we can.
What would happen if we filled our own empty bus seats? If we were our own partner or our own best friend?
There’s no reason why we should have to wait for anyone to be there for us. Once we show up for ourselves, the rest of the world has no choice but to follow suit. And if we all do this, our dreaded feelings of loneliness may very well face extinction.