Musings on Loneliness

Was listening to a song recently with the lyrics “anything is better than being alone.” As someone who was in a very bad relationship for entirely too many years, that line, and variations of it, always makes me cringe (however much I might like the band).

I have been told, and my observations tend to support, that if you aren’t happy alone you won’t be happy in a relationship. On the other hand, loneliness is a thing and it sucks. This would seem to create a contradiction.

So, the question is how to resolve the apparent contradiction. The simplest thing to recognize is that one can be, overall, happy even with things that suck in your life. Just like you don’t have to be Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos to be well off, let alone comfortable financially, you life doesn’t have to be perfect to be happy, relatively speaking.

Being happy, relatively speaking, does not however mean that you don’t recognize the suckiness of particular aspects. Consider folk who have lost limbs in war. While some wallow in what they’ve lost and have their misery define what they are, some others go completely the other way. Consider for instance, the case of Travis Mills, a quadruple amputee thanks to an IED in the Middle East:

You think his life wouldn’t be easier/better if he still had arms and legs? Yet, here he is making jokes and giving motivationals to others.

So, clearly the advice to “be happy alone” is not inconsistent with recognizing that being alone is…not great and, yes loneliness sucks.

But the thing to remember is, as Robin Williams said, being alone is not the worst thing. The worst thing is being with people who make you feel alone.

A bad relationship is worse than no relationship at all. And so, you have to be at least comfortable with being alone. If you’re not, you’ll tend to grab onto whatever comes along, anything rather than being alone. This is how you get into relationships with the wrong person, with someone who is outright toxic for you (might be great for someone else, but not for you). Indeed, the person who is afraid of being alone is easily manipulated by the toxic. All they have to do is hold out that lure of your not being alone and they can lead you around however they wish.

And in the end, you realize you are lonelier than you were when you were alone.

So, while loneliness is a thing, and an unpleasant one, the paradox is that you have to become comfortable with it, to make it something you can live with, something that doesn’t render your whole life unhappy, before you have a realistic chance of finding someone to end the loneliness. Without that, you might get lucky. You might stumble into someone who will be a good “fit” and, between you heal the parts of you that need healing.

You might. But the odds aren’t good because if you’re in the “anything is better than being alone” because there are too many “not right” people for every “right” person, and if the “right” person isn’t the first one…well, then it’s too late. You have to be strong enough in yourself to walk away from a relationship as soon as it becomes clear that it’s the wrong one for you.

And that means that you have to understand, way deep down in your gut, that there are worse things than being alone.

5 thoughts on “Musings on Loneliness”

  1. Being alone – socially – is not the worst thing. Being alone – psychically – is, in my experience. Although, before I continue, let me give with a couple of “cornerstone” statements on love and relationships, both of which I’ve found to be true:
    – My wife told me, some years back, that “You can never truly love another until you learn to love yourself.” Mildly debatable, as I did love her before I learned to love myself. It was loving her that taught me that it was actually all right to /feel/ again…
    – “No man can love his wife wholeheartedly without loving all women somewhat. I suspect the reverse is also true.” -Lazarus Long. (Don’t know if that’s specifically true for me, or if it’s generally true – I have been told that “women are my Kryptonite,” which I have no trouble believing.)

    Now, I did have a bad relationship – I think everyone gets at least a token psycho to help you appreciate what you get later (she was 4’9″, Italian, and got “expressive” with her hands whenever she got exercised about something. I’d just wrap her up until she’d wormed it all out and got tired, I got hit enough growing up, thank you very much.) Three years of that, and I was ready for damned near ANYBODY else! I met my wife a couple of years after.

    In the interim (and to put me in the state I was in when my wife met me…) I got the double psychic blow of A) finding out that I had a son, and B) I’d never get to meet him, beyond the fact that the ashes I was being handed were his. Ouch. It was his grandfather – my dentist, as a child – who had looked me up and come out here to tell me what was going on, and he gave me the whole story (all of which happened with his approval and cooperation.) 20SEP1996, we dispersed ashes off the end of Fisherman’s Wharf, in Santa Cruz (his mother had always wanted to go there – she’d also been killed in the same incident) at midnight. I still try to go to Santa Cruz on or about that date every year.

    But, as you can guess, a double gut punch like that isn’t easy to deal with (it took me 15 years to get to where I could talk about it with anyone other than my wife!) and I just literally shut down, emotionally. I got sent to a psychiatrist – “non-lesional sociopathy,” I think, what what they hung on me. “Likely harmless.” (As long as you didn’t start anything, I didn’t finish anything.) I spent two years like that. I wasn’t just socially alone – I was /alone/ /inside/ /my/ /own/ /head/. The enormity of truly unbelievable solitude – in some ways, it was worse than sensory deprivation. (At least in Sens-Dep, you’re going into it with both eyes open, and you know it’s going to end. With this? It just goes on, and on, and on, and …)

    So, it has finally become something I can talk openly, if not freely, about – after 25 years. But going from a bad relationship into that abyss? I would damned near have taken the bad relationship back, even if she was emotionally stunted and wouldn’t have been able to help me out of my uber-funk. At least I would have had company…


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  2. There is a distinct difference between being alone and being lonely. The Venn Diagrams of the two may overlap considerably, but they are not the same.

    There was a time in my youth that I was alone and lonely. It was in my late teens that I realized that even though I was surrounded by many people I knew and interacted with that I was lonely still because those people didn’t fulfill my psychological needs. As I got older, and grew intellectually, that I learned to be comfortable with myself being all alone and not be lonely.

    Today, one of my favorite things is to be by myself. I’m never lonely anymore, even when I’m alone.


    1. I don’t know. It’s one thing to be by oneself for a time, but there’s alone and alone. Just how “by yourself” are you? (No need to answer unless you want to; the question is meant as food for thought for anyone reading this.) Are you a monk, solitary in his cell, never even coming out to spend time with other monks? Or do you have a wife and/or family and enjoy spending time on occasion all by yourself, going out on the lake with nobody around to drown worms for example. 😉

      Solitary confinement is one of the worse punishments that can be inflicted on a person, worse in many ways than hard labor. There’s a reason it’s used as an “escalation punishment” in prisons. As an interrogation technique it’s extremely effective (just requiring more patience than interrogators usually have).

      This next bit’s going to be pretty raw. I’m a pretty committed introvert (well…maybe…as I’ve discussed elsewhere, maybe my “introversion” is really just an expression of learned extreme social anxiety). I still need occasional human contact (usually get that through ice skating classes). I’d certainly like to have love in my life (I think; I mean, I’m just guessing because I don’t know what it would be like, much like the blind person thinking they might like to experience color).

      But here we are.


  3. Since getting married in 2002 the closest I get to alone time is when my wife and daughter used to head off to bible camp for a weekend and I would stay home because I had to work, so a few hours here and there. Now, if I can get even an hour by myself it’s unusual.

    Before that, when I was just working one job, my days off would sometimes be me sitting in my apartment by myself for a couple of days without talking to anyone. I miss that. I wouldn’t mind having a little cabin out in the boonies with no internet or phone access to escape to for a few weeks every year, maybe even retire there. Alas, I doubt that will ever happen.


  4. Was listening to a song recently with the lyrics “anything is better than being alone.”

    The songwriter clearly has met very few if any people.


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