Loneliness and Our Connection to Others

A personal reflection on loneliness and balancing solitude and relationships.

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Cairns on Peaks Island
Peaks Island Cairns

There was this article posted in The Guardian that demonstrates the soul baring desperation that underlies loneliness, even in the midst of all the accoutrement of adulthood and family and work. It got me contemplating loneliness and considering my own relationship to it. Read the article, it’s good.

A warning: I’m about to spelunk into some serious naval-gazing.

I’ve lived for a number of years in relative solitude and had grown fairly accustomed to the sense of loneliness — to the point where I even fought internally against the concept of a long-term relationship and had to come to grips with the entirely wonderful idea that someone could be in my life unto marriage, that someone would be there every single day, loving me, forcing me to temper my long suffering loneliness into an entwinement that yes, would entail compromise and the sacrifice of idealistic, boyish visions of self-sufficiency.

Why had I so deeply resigned/consigned myself to perpetual loneliness? I think it was a manner of coping with who I was as a person. Even as a lad, I’ve always had “eclectic” tastes, meaning that I can be somewhat withdrawn, stubborn, and judgmental, and as I grew older, I refused to capitulate to the demeaning standard of bullshit that popular society deemed acceptable.

Given my personality, therefore, I had determined that I was destined for eternal loneliness, and thus sought for reconciliation with my natural state of being. Creative writingwithout a capitalistic purpose–had become an entrenched part of my existence (though my professional development has since necessitated some trimming of that sort of writing). An affection for mysticism has been part of this eclectic tendency. I like the philosophers of Zen, Sufiism, and holistic integralism of various Bohemian sorts. I fell in love with the passionate, drunken spirit-mind writing of Dostoevsky, Winterson, RumiDelillo, Pynchon, and whomever I happened to be reading at the moment. I found succor in running and hiking and reading and playing my djembe — activities that required no other to manifest enjoyment. I further discovered that going out to bars and clubs wasn’t about looking for sex or a soul-mate or any other person at all — it was about finding myself, and enjoying myself, and inviting others to come along for the ride.

Along this journey, from stubborn, eclectic individualism to marriage and a career, I’ve discovered that loneliness can be productive and beautiful, even as it dredges out a hollow in my heart. But I also rebel against the notion that artistic creativity is only produced from independent pursuits, and that things of beauty can only be created, Phoenix-like, out of despair. [Think of all of those poets of modernity, who killed themselves, seemingly out of creative consummation.] Rather, I think that what is created from the harmony and dissonance of relationships is simply different, and must be appreciated in it’s own context, apart and distinct from that which is a creation of loneliness. Times have changed, I believe, in the artistic sphere. Call it the Age of Aquarius or call it what you will, but there are too many talented and interesting individuals out there vying for attention for singular artists to dominate any one field in the manner Shakespeare, Picasso, and Davis once did. In some sense, the reality that has always been everpresent yet understated is becoming more definitive of our formal social reality: we are all artists, creating every single moment anew out of the materials of what has come before.

This freedom, this burden, of creative synthesis and production means that we all must become comfortable with the sense of loneliness and detachment from the hustle and bustle of everyday surface society. Otherwise, we will be unable to define ourselves, and we will become lost in the flotsam and jetsam of the concerns of others. Finding yourself necessitates two paradoxical movements:

  • stepping away from society and social media and other outlets* (self-knowledge and spiritual understanding)
  • stepping into society and social media and other outlets (knowledge of others and sharing)

*a definition: by social media and other outlets, I mean any mechanism by which we can connect to other people, whether Facebook, the pub, or speed dating

A balance must therefore be discovered, a balance that is difficult for us to achieve. A balance between being comfortable with loneliness, and being comfortable compromising with others in ongoing relationships. A comfort with solitude, and a comfort in being around others. A comfort with poetry, and a comfort with Twitter. A comfort with knowing ourselves, and a comfort in constantly redefining ourselves.

The hardest thing, perhaps, is to truly know yourself in a crowd of people who don’t know themselves. Or maybe the hardest thing is to truly know another person when you don’t really know yourself. Or maybe it’s all the same problem, and the solution lies right before us.

Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

One thought on “Loneliness and Our Connection to Others”

  1. Socrates, one of the more framous intellectuals to ever confabulate humankind, believed that an unexamined life was not worth living. This fatuous statement has encouraged many individuals, at least those whose minds have an affinity for abstract thoughts, to devote a lot of time to pondering the “meaning of life.” They seek to explore the opaque vistas of speculative and philosophical ideas. They too frequently take pride in their esoteric and superior minds, as if that marks them as in any way superior to the more pragmatic common herd who usually don’t give a fig about such lofty thoughts.

    In my book, “Common Genius,” I lay out the hypothesis that the Great Thinkers, the overly revered philosophers, other than those devoted to the physical sciences, have on balance done more harm than good in the last several thousand year struggle to make our lives more comfortable. It is revolutionary thought that the common people have actually come up with all the labor saving, health improving, increase in leisure time and freedom which we have increasingly enjoyed over the past millennium. It is actually a hurtful concept to the many educated people who have spent precious hours of their lives studying the philosophers. They are invested in the “knowledge” they have so laboriously acquired, jealously guarding the superiority this higher understanding gives them, and become emotionally committed to the irrational and unfounded belief that such theorizing is useful.

    One of the self-serving ideas these intellectuals put forth is that everyone else is driven by consumer capitalism–a preoccupation that suggests an unaware and vaguely dissatisfied populace that tries to fill the emptiness of their lives with shiny new products. That is of course a straw horse because most common people may thoroughly enjoy the trinkets our prosperity allows, but they are not thereby rendered into zombies. You go to any wedding, ball game, convention, funeral, baptism, christening, Christmas party, etc. you can witness the happy conviviality of the common people.

    And, of course, all that consumerism is fueled exclusively by the production these same people create. It takes creative workers, designers, managers,engineers, and scientists to produce all that stuff being consumed. It is in that “productive” arena that most people find their true satisfaction and the wherewithall to sustain their personal and family life. Most of them are aware that it is not he who dies with the most toys who wins, but perhaps he who has enjoyed the most friends. On your deathbed, do you want to achieve final peace from Socrates or from a few loved ones? If it’s the former–you are an intellectual– doomed to forever look for salvation in mere ideas rather than work, family, and positive creativity.

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