Submitted by: Big Little Wolf
We live in a land of put-on-your-happy-face. We set the mask in place in the morning, then greet the world. If we want smooth sailing – and a chance at “success” – we maintain it.
Can’t breathe in there under that mask? Suck it up! It’s euphemism time, and that means presenting a chipper tone and your best bright-white smile. If you slip, you may be forgiven if you confess: “I’m a little tired today” or even “I’m a little down.” But that’s as far as it goes. We’re expected to hide our true feelings, especially loneliness.
Granted, there’s a time and place for everything. Don’t spill your emotions to a client, a boss, a nosy colleague, and don’t do it over cocktails on a first date – not if you’d like a second! But we’ve set aside so much authenticity in our culture, including our right to a full spectrum of feelings – and that isn’t progress.
Following divorce, we often cut ourselvesoff so we can lick our wounds and heal. Sometimes, friends walk away leaving us even more isolated, as we process waves of changes in self-perception, unsettling financial futures, and plenty of worries about our children. It’s hard enough shifting from couple status to single status; the personal and social elements that further isolate us can be devastating.
Without human contact isolation leads to loneliness.
Coping with job loss involves a special kind of isolation, and a lot more than trying to stretch a dollar across an indefinite period of unemployment.
We lose social acceptance and our network of co-workers. Self-esteem plummets. We may pull away from friends in embarrassment, or due to lack of funds to fully participate in a world we used to inhabit.
And if job loss and marital problems hit at the same time? Is divorce inevitable? Job loss during divorce? Empty nest, too? Then it’s double whammy, triple whammy.
Coping with the loss of a loved one? You’ve got a long process of grieving ahead, and loneliness. I’m not here to compare the pain of losing a spouse to death versus to divorce. But in divorce, you often carry blame and stigma, which adds to the isolation.
Whatever the reason – excessive isolation plays tricks on the mind. It eats away at the spirit. We get lonely.
Solitude is not isolation, though it’s root (soli) means alone.
In my harried universe, solitude is good. It’s a rare commodity, and furnishes reflection time, focus, and productivity. Especially with the demands on my schedule as a solo mom, constantly trying to cobble together a living like so many others in our country. In my case, I’m handicapped by the three O’s: Overqualified, Overeducated, and Over… shall we say 45, and leave it at that?
Alone is not a dirty word any more than loneliness is. It may be a choice, a gift we give to ourselves. Unlike solitude, “alone” has no particular connotation except being by yourself. At times, we choose it, to do as we please. Then it’s terrific! A day off from the usual hectic demands. But when we don’t choose it, or if it lasts too long, then we’ve just taken up residence in Lonelyville.
Loneliness is not a dirty word. And it’s a natural emotion in turbulent times.
With too much time alone, or even solitude, I feel disconnected. Loneliness sets in. So do other, darker feelings that lead to depression and withdrawal, which in turn leads to more loneliness.
Most of us know what it is to feel lonely in a crowd. Some of us know what it is to feel lonely in a couple. I see the word “one” sitting at the center of “lonely” – as if we can’t help but confront our solo state when all we want is to feel connected.
Loneliness is not shameful
Why are we ashamed to admit we’re lonely? If we always wear the mask that everything is “fine,” how can we let others in, and wouldn’t that ease the loneliness?
And if we are lonely, must we blame ourselves? Can’t we look at contemporary society, and recognize how it reinforces isolation?
People need each other
Get off the island!
In “isolation” I see the the word isle. We strand ourselves on an island, hoping for rescue.
Get off the island!
Leave your house, your apartment, your room! Chat with the dry cleaner, your neighbor puttering in the yard, the woman who makes your latte at Starbucks, the guy at the laundromat. Connect to your online communities. Step outside yourself and back into the world where you are forced to talk, to listen, and to give.
In the meantime, stop blaming yourself for feeling lonely. We all want to share our lives, to trust and experience intimacy, to be part of families and caring communities. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; it’s the most natural thing in the world.
These days, Big Little Wolf (”Ms. Big”) reflects on life and her Daily Plate of Crazy, where she writes essays on everything – sometimes serious, sometimes fun – whatever strikes her on a given day as interesting, unusual, entertaining, or of concern.