I don’t doubt that the COVID-19 situation this year has forced many of us to confront aspects of ourselves we were previously able to hide behind a mask. In some ways, this has been tragic and, unfortutely, traumatic as well. That isolatation has deprived partners from space away from their abusers at home, making a bad situation even worse for them. In other cases, it has made domestic violence much more apparent as people reveal an uglier side to themselves, frustrated by the prolonged contact. It’s truly devastating and it can be hard to comprehend the sort of horror that takes place in the home unless you’ve been unfortunate enough to suffer from it yourself. I suffered it myself, at the hands of my sister’s abusive boyfriend, and it was enough for me to contemplate life without any of my family in it. Took me a few years to follow up with that and come to terms with it, but I’m glad I did.
That’s not the full topic of this post, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that because we all-too-often see the idea of a ‘relationship’ being the solution to a problem: not wanting to be single, feeling lonely and unhappy, seeing other people in happy relationships, etc. In reality, this sort of ‘solution-based’ relationship puts the onus on the other partner to make you feel happy or loved; not yourself. And for every person who hates their single life, there will be at least one other person who hates their married, or committed life, and struggles to see their way out of it and back towards independence.
Now I’ve explained where I’m coming from, let’s move on.
For a long time (up until the last few years) I’ve considered myself a lonely person, or a bit of a loner. It sounds like a label to identify by and, if I were to call myself a loner enough times, it surely would become an identity. What I really mean when I say it, though, is that I don’t feel like I have the capacity to provide myself the comfort, the fulfilment, the happiness, that I feel lacking in. There’s a psychological undercurrent to it of course, based on my childhood, but I’m ultimately disempowering myself and also signalling that I don’t really have that kind of positive feeling to give out either. There’s an absence of it and I’d like it if someone else shared some with me.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs love, support, acknowledgement, recognition… and there’s no harm in asking for a proper big hug or a shoulder to cry on when you really want one. If you’re not afraid of asking for that kind of support then more power to you; it’s a brave move to be so open with your vulnerability that way.
Eventually though, that continual desire to receive this energy from other people (as opposed to finding it within yourself somehow) is going to result in a self-fulfilling prophecy where you are convinced that you are lonely, or a loner, purely because you’ve taught yourself to believe that.
I have to say that I’m endlessly grateful to my closest, bestest friends for pointing out to me that it does’t really have to be that way, so it was about five years ago that I started learning the difference between lonely-ness and alone-ness (deliberate mis-spellings for emphasis).
I seriously enjoy being alone, and to understand the difference there was hugely empowering to me. It’s truly a liberating distinction that unlocks so many opportunities that were previously unavailable because of the expectation they had to be done ‘with someone’ or with a group. Maybe out of a desire to be romantic, or to share with someone, or just because society finds it weird if you don’t.
Most of the places I’ve travelled to for a holiday have been alone. A week in Croatia, a few days in Mykonos before my best friend turned up, a weekend in Istanbul and in Verona, etc. This of course necessitates dining alone, and it feels great to ask for a table for one and then watch the world go by with a nice meal and a good book, maybe sharing a few stories with the waiters and waitresses there. Beyond that, a trip to the cinema by yourself can be quite refreshing too. There’s not really a limit to it once you can stop worrying about what other people really really aren’t thinking about you.
The difference here is that there is a source of happiness and comfort in the aloneness, and it is self-sufficient. It doesn’t completely remove feelings of loneliness, as there can still be underlying reasons for that emotion, but in and of itself it can be hugely enriching, maturing, and enlightening.
So how does this pertain to the lockdown period we’ve found ourselves in since March? I have to admit that I’ve felt pangs of loneliness every now and then, and I seriously miss the social chit-chat at the pub after work, or meeting up with close friends to chill out. At the same time, I’ve discovered enough in myself over recent years to give me plenty to engage with and enjoy while I’m alone at home. As much as I’d love to dip my feet in more social things, like the dating scene and such like, I still feel quite comfortable riding this out by myself until I’m comfortable that it’s safer for me to do so. It’s a great feeling to have.
That said, I do have to take care with how I feel about this because one aspect of depression is a tendency to disconnect and isolate, so some level of self-awareness is required to tell the difference between cutting myself off and hiding from the world, and just enjoying my own company.
I started off the post talking about relationships, and not in a positive way either. It’s taken me a long time to establish this mindset, and properly ingrain it into my thinking process, but it also feels great knowing this, understanding that using another person as a solution to loneliness–a relationship as a means to an end–isn’t really a good or balanced foundation to authentically build a connection from.
The lockdown has been a great way to cement that in place for me and when all is said and done, it will definitely have had an impact on how I enjoy life from here on out.