The Thing About Loneliness

June 10, 2018


No one knows what it's like to be you. Except for you, of course. If you have a partner or spouse, especially one who's empathetic, they come the closest to understanding what it's like walking in your shoes. But spouses love to assume they know what your thinking. They don't. Usually. It's a party of one upstairs.


I'm going to go ahead and assume I'm not the only person who can feel alone in a room full of people. That's always a mystery to me. If you're the cynical type, like me, maybe you tell yourself this little story at parties. 


Look at this group of people, all of them acting like they don't have social anxiety and that they actually enjoy talking about the weather. Is it really worth bonding over a mutual disdain for our newest bad-guy, Trump. A fine use of three hours. I'm sure I'll never see this person across from me again, so how useful is it to know they also have concerns about public education? I'd feel less alone right now if I were dancing all by myself in an empty house. 


For me, there is something about connecting with people on a superficial level that emphasizes what I actually need--real connection. Deep connection. The sense that someone, though they may not agree with your perspective, they see your perspective. You are known. Even better, they care about your fate. You are loved. Those people are rare. Maybe it's because building that kind of friendship takes time, intention and trust.


We could analyze modern society and complain about our busy lives and how we lack the time. But the truth is we don't have to churn our own butter or hand-make our bread anymore. We have more time than we've ever had. Think about how many hours you play that mindless game on your touch-screen. Or watch that TV series. Or scroll through social media. Even if you are willing to grant that media is social, can we agree it's not personal or relational?


I've tried to teach my kids there is no such thing as on-line friends. When they tell me they have a new friend they met on a video game I remind them about dangerous adults and then tell them they can't call someone a friend unless they know what that person feels like and what they smell like. You gotta get THAT close to someone to really know them. They need to speak to you in their body-language while keeping eye-contact before you really know what they're saying to you. It's weird to have to teach a child that. It seems like something humans would know instinctively. Maybe we do. Maybe that's why crowds of people are feeling alone together.


The thing about loneliness is that we all feel it sometimes. Some of us more than others. The cure is making yourself available and vulnerable to the people around you. 


My dad gave me great advice when I was a teen. He said, if you ever find yourself alone at a party find someone else who's alone and ask them a bunch of questions. He said people love talking about themselves. Soon the two of you will be having such a lively conversation that others will join in. You'll have a crowd around you in no time. He was right. This works.  


See, people just want to be known. So ask questions. Don't stop at surface inquiry. They don't have to answer a personal question if they don't want to. But you've given them the opportunity to be known and connect. And it's given you something to do other than complain about the newest bad-guy who makes you feel like a good-guy. Even if this person doesn't reciprocate and ask you questions (because they're the self-consumed type), at least you've been distracted from the empty void that being immersed in a group of strangers creates. And at least you know who you don't want to be friends with--the self-consumed type. 


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