It seems like the words alone and lonely are interchangeable, but they are not.
We strive for human connection. We want to be in physical proximity to other humans, usually of the opposite gender. We want the emotional connection, conversational connection, being-in-the-same-room connection. Sometimes we want to share emotional intimacy and physical intimacy. We are lonely when we don’t have a certain amount of those forms of connection.
We can be surrounded by people (and not alone), yet be very lonely.
Being alone can be a positive state of mind. If we are comfortable with ourselves, we like being in a room or home with nobody else in our space. We seek balance between being alone and being in the presence of another being. If we have emotional connections with people, we are often satisfied that we are not alone, just a little lonely.
This thought all started with a text conversation with a friend who lives 500 miles away about not having someone in our respective towns to be with us when we don’t feel good. That made me realize that for all the people I know in the area where I’ve lived for nearly thirty years, I have not one single person I can call and ask to come over and just sit with me when I feel bad. Or give me a ride to a doctor’s office. How the hell did that happen? What I do have, fortunately, is a friend I can text when I need some kind of emotional support or encouragement … specifically that female friend I was texting with. I am lucky to have two such friends, but the other one lives even further away.
For all the connections Americans now have with social media, especially Facebook, we are also a very disconnected society. We are so busy that we often don’t have time to develop the kind of friendships we had in our youth. We move from address to address and never really get to know our neighbors. We might work in a lively setting full of people but our primary connection with them is work and we go home alone.
It might also seem at times that everybody-but-us gets paired up. Our single friends get married or partnered and they don’t have as much time for us as they used to. Or we get into a relationship and don’t have time for our friends who aren’t in one. Those of us over the dreaded age of 50 have fewer single friends and if we are single we feel out of place in a party of three. In my case I was married to someone who wasn’t very social (she seemed to be when we were dating but that changed almost on the very day we got married), so we didn’t develop ‘couples friends’.
I know I seem like I’m whining about being alone. It’s Easter Sunday, a day that takes me on a happy memory journey to my youth, and I’m sitting at my computer alone, feeling a little lonely.
But I am alone by choice. If I had not moved, today would be like the last seven or eight Easters … twenty minutes of taking pictures of the dogs with funny costumes, followed by arguing about house projects or disagreeing about wall colors, food, people or money.
I do want to live alone but I do not want to be lonely. I will not seek random, physical hook-ups to satisfy the immediate desire for connection (as tempting as that is). But I will do what I can to develop more meaningful local friendships. The goal: to be alone but not lonely.