Valentines Day. For most, it is a day of joy and happiness when you exchange funny and thoughtful gifts with your spouses, loved ones, friends and family – only, for me it is a painful reminder how alone I am.
The english language has given us two words to describe being alone: loneliness to describe its’ horrow and solitude to celebrate its glory. I, like many no doubt, am stuck in between these two concepts trying to resolve the Jekyll-and-Hyde -duality that reigns within.
I am a man of solitude. In most days my own company is the only kind I need. I keep busy with books, games, work and sports. Messages from people become less of a joy and more of an annoyance I try to screen through so I can continue doing whatever it is I am doing. As a software developer I am accustomed to living “in the zone” of productivity. This mythical zen like focused state of mind where interruptions means you have just wasted 15 minutes to an hour of productive time at least to claw your way back to the zone. Due to this desire to feel productive and be productive my responses and replies to people can be snarky, unkind of downright rude. That, in the end, sends a very clear message that I want to be left alone and most people unfortunately, acquiesce.
Because then there are other times.
I am also a man of loneliness. I crave human contact but can’t take much of it. I tire in the constant barrage of social interaction. Considering the Information Age we live in and the constant feedback we receive through our digital lives, the irony is not lost on me. Real human interaction is hard to take when most of your interaction with people is through the filtered lens of Facebook, Twitter, chat applications or some other such. Yet at the same time talking to a real person and feeling that connection is more rewarding experience than anything you feel via cyberspace.
To a lonely person, every interaction, every message and every small deed that shows that that person noticed you and wants your company is a drop of water to a man dying of thirst. You wait by the phone for the replies to your messages and check for new ones almost obsessively. And when the reply is absent, it is a devastating feeling. To a lonely, being ignored when you took the time, effort and drew from somewhere the strength to come out of your shell is like a slap to the face. You feel destroyed, abandoned and hurt because your friends are something who are always supposed to be there for you and appear to have abandoned you now at your greatest hour of need.
Yet most of the time, all of this is just an illusion. Later you slap yourself for your silly thoughts. For your overreaction. For your obsession. But it stays with you. You feel bad for berating your friends even if only in your head. This in turn makes you wary to contact your friends again since you don’t want to bother them with your insignificant company. You think “they’ll contact me if they want to”. When they do contact you you are elated but also wary: are they talking to you out of obligation? Feeling sorry for you? Are they really interested in you? For the most closest of friends, these questions are quickly resolved and all that remains is the joy. When the person contacting you is, say, a new potential dating partner, the questions stay. You try your best to keep them at bay but they do stay and same vicious circle begins again. With strangers or recent acquaintances the paranoia of being abandoned is even stronger and the courage required to ask “Are we okay?” multiplies by a thousand.
Thus, the circle is complete. Loneliness breeds social anti-patterns that alienates new potential friends and sometimes even old ones. Very few people are willing to look under the surface and ignore these anti-patterns but instead take those negatives and slap them to your face as a brand that you are anti-social creep whom no one wants to be with. Your clumsy attempts at interaction are viewed as pathetic instead of a brave attempt by someone who spent hours formulating the perfect message while at the same time wondering what you did wrong when they refuse to answer to you. Even “No, I’m not interested” is kinder a response to a lonely person than utter silence. With an answer “No”, you know where you stand. With silence you are left with your darkest fears to live with, unable to move forward. Questions run through your head. Was he/she not interested? Maybe she got so many messages that she missed mine? Should I message to her again, even though I don’t want to seem like a clingy creep? Should I wait? Was it *that* bad?
The most ironic thing is that the lonely and people of solitude are propably the best kind of friend and a date you could hope for. They are attentive, interested in you and contain hidden depths of thought and form that they are eager to bring out if only they are asked about it. That’s important. To actually ask. Since most lonely people are accustomed to the thought that their interests, hobbies and thoughts are not very interesting, they need that extra push to be encouraged to share their deeper self with you. They have been keeping that part of themselves so well protected, it is also a very intimate and vulnerable part of them. So when a lonely person starts to talk about their deeper thoughts with you, feel privileged since he/she just opened a door that most people see shut, barbwired and riddled with “keep out” signs.
I am a man of solitude. I am also a man of loneliness. Stuck in between those two sides of the same coin, I battle with myself. I want to feel human contact but I also fear it. I dare not admit it or I alienate those few people who have become close with me and scare away the strangers even faster. I don’t consider either side of me a sin or a fault. It’s the battle between the two that haunts me.
Until it doesn’t.
Deep breaths. One message, interaction and a day at a time.