As Eric Klinenberg has pointed out: This is the dark side of being single. We’re not supposed to talk about it. When i mused about my longing for community before, somebody wondered if i was jetlagged. I think we’re stuck in the single-couple dichotomy. If i think that the only way for me to overcome my loneliness is to couple, then, as a singles activist, i am unlikely to admit my loneliness. And, that, ironically, contributes to loneliness because we’re stuck between admitting to it and being viewed as a traitor to the cause.
This is also the first social causes of loneliness that i have identified. As a single person, i am stuck with the normative strategy of addressing my loneliness: I should couple. The corollary is that if i don’t want to couple, i must like my life the way it is. There is no room for something else. The possibility that i enjoy being single and would prefer having deeper connections that do not involve coupling is off the table, so it seems. Similarly, if i can manage to live a happy life as a single, people might think that i can manage a move by myself, too. No help required.
Yet, this is why i am puzzling about this: It seems to me that i have been quite open about wanting to find a third way. Of longing for community and friendship. I also have some deep friendships that continue to evolve and are very nourishing. Strangely, they are all long-distance. Why have i been unable to create such connections here in San Francisco? A friend of mine attributes this to chronic busyness. I am sure that’s a part of it. And, yet, being “busy” is also a matter of priority. Why isn’t anybody making a connection with me a priority?
Asking this question is tricky because it’s really easy for me to fall into self-blame, self-judgment. There must be something wrong with me – and that’s why people don’t call me or email me or hang out with me. Or it’s my own fault because i don’t call or email or hang out. That is suffering, as the Buddhists call it: The mental layer that i add to the pain of loneliness. I am learning to look at the pain without adding this layer, as challenging as it is, because, again, i think there’s something going on here that’s important for us to look at if we want to live more life-affirming lives.
Another reason why this question is challenging to answer: I enjoy my solitude, most of the time. Maybe it’s part of being a writer that i thrive on observing the world around it without being fully a part of it. And, yet, solitude becomes loneliness when it’s no longer out of choice – when i am alone by default because i didn’t make the effort to set something up or i don’t have the energy to go to a dance event.
Maybe the answer lies in that corollary i mentioned: Because i choose to be single, i must be just fine, thank you very much. Or maybe it’s something more, uhm, sinister? I have a sense that i am different than many of the people in the groups i’ve gotten involved in. I have spent 13 years in corporate America. I wear different clothes. I have raised a child. I don’t have a degree in psychology or a degree from an alternative place of learning. I don’t believe in homeopathy. Although again this is a line of thinking that can easily tip into self-blame, i wonder if there is something here that makes it less likely that people want to connect with me.
I don’t know. It remains a puzzle to me. What i do know is that i am experiencing cultural trauma: I live in a country that overvalues individualism and the idea of pulling oneself up by our bootstraps. And it’s deeply couplemanic. Isolation is a symptom of this society’s cultural norms.
I am noticing a strange reluctance to post this. Maybe i am just suffering the depression-like symptoms of hypothyroidism. Maybe i am ungrateful. Maybe this’ll offend people. Maybe i should just open myself up more. Maybe i should work harder to grow my sense of self-worth. And that is another topic i’ve been thinking about a lot: How my self-worth might not be as independent of others as some people might want us to believe. I have definitely experienced the ease of holding onto my sense of self-worth when i am with others who mirror my worth. And how it leeks out when i don’t have that social mirroring. That’s something for another post, though…
So, i want to publish this in the hopes that you can see beyond my personal pain. That pain is simply symptomatic of the larger social issue: We don’t have time to build and maintain relationships that can support and nourish us. Why we don’t have that time is what i find so interesting… And that’s what i’ve been puzzling over…