If you’re anything like me, loneliness is one of the worst feelings imaginable.
It’s not being alone that ‘s bad. I often love being alone. It’s the feeling that you have no choice, that you are isolated, alienated, unable to connect.
When I first moved back to New York City to be a summer associate at a big law firm I was incredibly lonely. I had a lot of friends from college and high school living in the city but they had been here for years so their lives were full, established. They had jobs, friends, lovers, hobbies. They were happy, set, and never lonely.
That’s how it felt, at least. It’s not really how it was, though. Most of them were far from “set.” They were often sad and lonely and sometimes they hated their jobs. A lot of them didn’t even like their friends all that much. These were people they’d fallen in with but we were all young enough that we hadn’t yet built up friendships of choice; mostly these were friends of chance or necessity.
But I didn’t know this at the time. So I not only felt lonely. I felt uniquely lonely. Lonely in my loneliness.
I walked a lot when I was lonely. It used up time. It also let me discover parts of the city that I didn’t know all that well. I learned how neighborhoods were connected in a way you don’t see when you’re on the subway or riding in cabs.
I went to every free thing I could. New York has lots of free events, especially during the summer. Free movies, free concerts, free lectures.
Mostly, though, these made me feel lonelier. Everyone else had a group. It seemed like I was the only one alone. I was sure I seemed weird, that I stood out, that I was a creepy loner in their eyes. Of course, in reality, that wasn’t true. Those strangers didn’t think I was a psycho; they didn’t really notice me at all.
For a little while it felt like my best friend was a girl who worked in beer tent at the Central Park summer stage. I’d flirt with her, try to make her laugh. Hope she didn’t notice I was always alone. I doubt she really paid much attention.
Sometimes I crashed parties. Just like the big events, parties were usually a disaster because I would feel like the only lonely person in a crowded room.
I’d make up fantastic lies about myself. I told people I was an artist with a revolutionary credo. We only painted on stolen materials with inappropriate paints that wouldn’t last. The quest for permanence and legacy had distorted art so we made art that could not be preserved.
I said We, because, of course, I was part of a movement. I wasn’t this lonely guy without any friends.
I’m still lonely sometimes. But not like I used to be. And now I know I’m not uniquely lonely. Everyone feels alone. We’re all in this together.
My friend James has some good advice on how not to be lonely. I’ve done a lot of these things, from inviting strangers for coffee or drinks to organizing dinner parties to calling old friends.
For me, ultimately, it was writing that helped. Blogging in particular. I read about other peoples lives and ideas; I wrote about mine; we’d shyly meet up for drinks to see if we were as cool as we sounded in our writing. I never was; very few of us were; only a couple of the girls were. But we liked each other, a lot.
Now it’s even easier. There’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. So many ways to introduce yourself to others and to meet new people. It still takes some courage, of course. But remember a lot of those smiling, happy people you see on the internet feel like their lives are still missing something. That something might be you.