Human animals are gregarious by nature.
However, individualism has corrupted our ability to look out for one another. We do not care about others therefore no one cares about us and we become lonely.
Although we’re aware that our behavior is against nature, we can’t help but recoil at the mere mention of loneliness, something that is far too close for comfort for an increasing number of us.
Although loneliness is a universal predicament, it remains smothered in shame and only talked about in hushed tones if at all.
To admit you are lonely is embarrassing as it implies you are bad company.
And yet, even the most approachable of people can go through it for various reasons. Sometimes, being lonely is the result of a drastic change of environment, a relationship, or illness.
In my case, it’s all three. I immigrated to the US in 2013 and married someone who prefers his own company and whose social circle is actually a dot: me. When depression felled me, I became loneliness not just squared, but cubed.
Not that I even lack people skills. A friend once said I’d socialize with a lawnmower and my work has always required going toward others, be it as a journalist or as a tour director. And it’s not that I don’t enjoy my own company either, but from one day to the next it became all I had.
This is how I became a so-called “loner”, quite by accident.
“Loner” is a loaded word.
Whenever some random shooting is the work of one person, the term “loner” is all over the less scrupulous news outlets. Its indiscriminate use does anyone who is isolated a great disservice as it conflate loneliness with the inability to socialize.
Did the shooter go haywire because they didn’t know how to maintain relationships with others?
Loneliness can be the result of unsatisfactory relationships: You can be lonely while surrounded by people.
You can even be lonely in a marriage as has been my case but being lonely doesn’t make you de facto dangerous even though bad journalism often implies it might.
With most loners, the worst thing you have to fear is that we’ll talk your ear off when we meet you, or hug you very tight for longer than is appropriate if we happen to like you a lot. Or do both at the same time because we’re so delighted to see you.
Because we tend to keep our assorted lonelinesses under wraps as we’re loath to be seen as unlovable, no one really knows how much anyone else suffers.
Instead of opening up about how lonely we are, we hope no one will ever find out and we thus become trapped, unable to escape our singular state.
If only we owned up to our respective people deficit, we’d solve loneliness right away in a great big “me too” moment.
To thrive, most of us need our peers around.
In 2019, “around” is a broad concept that can go from having someone check in with you daily by text to a friend popping in for a cup of tea several times a week.
For example, I’ve been living between two continents and four countries for the last ten months so I rely heavily on technology to curb loneliness. While having a cup of tea with someone occasionally happens, it’s a little different. It might involve synchronizing our solo sipping, cup in one hand, smartphone in the other.
This isn’t uncommon. Those who care about us and whom we care about aren’t always in the same location, especially in countries and on continents where distances are enormous.
But even pixels and data packets can alleviate loneliness, comfort us, and provide support. They brought me back to life and continue to sustain me even though hugs often remain the stuff of dreams, my personal holy grail.
When loneliness becomes an ache so great you could howl, a hug can make all the difference. To have someone hold you is everything, especially when you feel you’ve become invisible. Much as I adore my cats, there’s no replacement for human warmth and a pair of arms squeezing you tight.
Each of us is the antidote to loneliness. Being aware of others and harnessing our shared humanness with small, simple interactions is all it takes to make loneliness history.
Be it a smile, asking someone how they are and listening with intent, a kind word, or a hug, there’s always something we can do. And it starts with acknowledging and naming the problem before committing to doing our bit.
And as the Irish are fond of saying, strangers are friends you haven’t met yet.
So who will you connect with today?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.