|Photo from http://www.futurity.org/society-culture/loneliness-can-be-infectious/|
Two weeks ago I sat in my living room with twenty-odd other people and my dog, and we were all connected – linked by a golden evening glow, beautiful music and good will. I believe that somehow, we are still linked together, but what I feel today and felt yesterday, and the day before that, is my estrangement from the people around me. I bask in a glow of oneness for an evening, and feel disconnected for days after that. This may be the descent of the metaphorical balloon I live in, and I've floated back down to earth after being up in the clouds for a while. But I am encountering disconnectedness in others too, so in this post I'm going to explore this unpleasant sensation with you.
Am I some odd neurotic freak in a world everyone else finds harmonious? Or are many of us secretly, slowly bleeding inside as we smile our greetings and exchange our small-talk pleasantries? Is my isolation something only expats feel, a byproduct of living in a foreign land? This is something I am aware of every day. I am not German, and have never felt German. But I feel less and less American, too, the more time I spend away from the country of my birth. The few Americans I see here don’t appear lonely, but then we don’t normally talk about these sorts of feelings. When they don't mention these feelings is it because they don't feel it? Or is this a subject people would rather run away from - something like the plague? Do only freaks feel lonely? The article the above photo comes from states that loneliness is a condition we should be concerned about. It says that ..."societies seem to develop a natural tendency to shed these lonely people," and that loneliness is catching, like the flu (or the plague), so we'd better try and cure it before it catches us.
In my case, I often choose to be alone because I prefer my own company to the group that's currently on offer. But then I sometimes feel like a freak, as if there's something wrong with me for preferring to be alone. I ask myself why this is, going through a round of questions.
Is it because I am a confessing Christian in a culture of agnostics? Am I weird because I claim to have a life with Jesus? Does this make me someone others would rather avoid? But I feel it around Christians too. They stand there in the same church services I go to, lifting up their hands in worship. What do they feel? I often feel nothing.
Is it because I'm a pretty brainy person? Or maybe I'm not intellegent enough for the people around me and they're overwhelming me. Or because I maybe have bad breath? That'd keep me away from others. Or maybe I stink! Maybe I need to buy a different brand of deoderant. Or maybe it's because I'm to the left of the political scale in an ever-more conservative world. Or maybe I'm too conservative. You get it. There are lots of reasons to feel alone.
The glow of the house concert I played in started to fade a few days after our evening together. Easter, which was wonderful, came and went, and then I went over to see my friend Linda (as usual, I’ve changed the names of the people I’m writing about). I had invited her to come for dinner over Easter, but she said she needed to be alone – she had too much to work through after having been at a conference with some “friends”. Linda was once close to Melanie, one of the women at the conference, but something happened between them years ago, and now Melanie has practically nothing to do with Linda. Linda later latched onto Sybille, who is also one of my friends. But Linda’s neediness was too much for Sybille that Easter weekend, and she somehow rebuffed Linda. Sybille and Linda are in a tangle of female relationships that I, an outsider, would characterize as a mess. I would rather be on the outside of a clique, all by myself, living on my little island with Peter and Toffee, our dog, than enmeshed in this mess.
My evening with Linda was also spent with Sybille. Linda had invited both of us before the conference, and we had all anticipated a friendly evening of female companionship, a nice meal and a film. The evening reminded me, though, that my choice not to get too close to either of these women is also a lonely way to live. It was Sybille’s birthday just after Easter, and Sybille invited Melanie to go to the movies with her, but not Linda. It goes almost without saying that I wasn’t invited – I have chosen to be on the outside of this circle. So far on the outside was I that I completely forgot that Sybille had turned one year older. This is a sort of faux pas in the German culture, where birthdays are even holier than Sundays – even for the churchgoers! The evening was a mess. Linda told me she had been uninvited to Sybille’s party. I commented that I had never been invited in the first place, but that was okay with me. What wasn’t good was to forget Sybille’s birthday. Sybille said that was okay, but she sat there, not saying or explaining anything, except to comment that there is a price to be paid when one chooses not to get embroiled in relationship tangles. I stewed in that comment as we watched the movie I had brought along – “Larry Crowne”. We all sat together on the couch watching a dumb movie. If an outsider had walked in on us, we may have appeared to be close and having a wonderful time, but we weren’t. We were all isolated from each other. Not even the movie was able to bring us closer.
Fortunately, I was able to speak to both Linda and Sybille separately after that unhappy evening. We all know that Linda has a rejection complex – Linda too, and she talks openly about it. She even goes to therapy to hopefully overcome it. Still, when in a group, even when no one is excluding her, she can manage to feel rejected. And at that conference, Linda felt ignored. She reacted by trying to cling all the more tightly to Sybille, who couldn’t take it anymore, so she told Linda, more or less, to get lost. But Sybille says she and Linda will continue to be friends. Linda told me she wishes Sybille would have told her exactly what it was about Linda’s behavior that was so annoying. I feel confident that they will work it out and draw close together again.
And me? I’m still on the outside of the circle, at least of that circle. I hate cliques. I hate exclusive behavior. But I want to belong, too. But to what? To whom? Only to the things or people that make me feel more alive. I'm also choosy, exclusive in my own way.
Like Linda, I also have an issue with feeling left out. Do most of us? I choose to leave myself out of exclusive cliques, instead spending time with this individual one day and someone else another day. And I spend a lot of time alone. I am a writer, after all, and writers need time alone. I enjoy my own company a lot, at least during the times I don’t feel lonely.
How many of us writers feel alone? And lonely in that alone-ness? Or do other writers and people feel their connectedness, while I cultivate my own little island in a German world, reading, writing and speaking English most of the day, feeling my separateness?
I think I’ll make a phone call or two – and then I’ll feel connected again. I’ll call a friend I speak English to, and then a German, connecting those parts of my brain. And I will remind myself that I am not alone, no matter how I feel, just as I am 100% American, no matter what I feel. What do you do when you feel alone? Or am I alone in this?