If you have any experience in personal growth circles, you’ve probably encountered the idea that there is a difference between being lonely and being alone. It boils down to something close to this: loneliness is painful; aloneness is about solitude and is frequently quite desirable.
Both of these conditions fill up my life right now. I seem to be running in pretty equal measure between loneliness and aloneness.
I am living alone now. I do not have a romantic relationship. I have very few close friends. I have no established friendship community. This leads to some frightful periods of loneliness.
On the other hand, I also relish my alone time. The artistic side of me savors the freedom to explore without restrictions, explanations, interruptions, and compromises. It sometimes feels liberating to be so free.
I spent the better part of the last three years taking care of family business in another state. For much of that time I resided with and cared for my elderly father during the last years of his life.
When I was 650 miles away from home, I lost frequent contact with all but a few people in town.
Meanwhile, relationships change. Needs and wants change. Careers change. Three years turns out to be a long time.
When I returned home there was very little of my old life left to resume. It is time to rebuild.
A GREAT IRONY
As I thought about it, I became aware that nearly any situation I could find myself in would have pros and cons. This is the great irony. It’s a variation on greener pastures. We move toward one set of goals or circumstances to fulfill our hungers, and then another set of needs clamors for our attention.
For example, right now I have an over-abundance of lonely days. I can go several days without talking to anybody. I have a difficult time even thinking of places to go to find social stimulation or connection.
The loneliness I speak of — the loneliness I feel — is not just about companionship. It is missing out on sharing at depth with someone. I call these deep pool friendships. They can be platonic friendships or romantic pairings, and they involve deep feelings of trust, kinship, and affection.
I could go off the deep end with this and suffer in a full-fledged pity party. Yet I don’t. Why? I also know this to be true:
Socializing and especially romantic love take massive amounts of time and energy to sustain. If I were in a relationship or had a very active social life, I would most likely be craving my alone time. I would feel suffocated and possibly annoyed at all the compromises I felt obligated to make. While it may be a happily fulfilling relationship, I would nonetheless be missing creative alone time.
EVERYTHING COMES WITH A COST
This is my main point: It helps me greatly to be conscious of this principle, especially when I am feeling sorry for myself.
There are at least two sides to everything. To take one route means choosing not to take another route, at least for the time being. So rather than feeling devastated or abandoned or any of the other stories I could concoct about my loneliness, I should be mindful of the big picture.
I may still feel lonely, but knowing that it is a choice I make helps me get through the rough spots.
On the occasion of my 66th birthday — sh-sh-sh, don’t tell anyone — I have decided that this following year will feature my quest to change this lonely state of affairs. Stay tuned as I explore this.