“No man is an island. Islands are generally cohesive masses of land surrounded by bodies of water, with their own climate and eco-system, rendering it quite unlikely for them be sentient or in any way gendered.” – John Donne in a pedantic mood.
“Oh God Tim, stop writing about negative emotions. It’s fucking depressing.” – You.
“I’ve started this entry with way too many quotes.” – Me.
I was going to work my way through the remaining deadly sins I haven’t covered yet, but thought I’d take a detour to write about loneliness. Partly because it’s an interesting topic, and partly because I think it shares something in common with boredom, and what a great idea to tread such similar ground two posts in a row.
Loneliness is surely a symptom of our biological and sociological need to exist surrounded by a decent number of other people, due to safety in numbers, a wider and therefore more robust gene pool, and recognition that a one-person game of Cards Against Humanity is basically just reading. No longer living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle means that loneliness is now less life-threatening (two-person trapeze acts notwithstanding), and only really affects our sense of well-being, and more directly our likelihood of procreation via tandem genital action. We’re constantly surrounded by people, and even let technology take the difficulty out of interaction, which seems like a sufficient substitute, but (as any episode of Black Mirror or indeed any entry of this blog, will tell you) ultimately damages your ability to do the same thing in the real world, while also making you less inclined to. Social media may seem like a good simulated antidote, but it’s very much like walking with a limp after breaking your leg. In the short term it alleviates the pain, but you’re doing more harm than good overall, and you really should see a doctor please, your foot’s gone black.
There seems to be an antiquated image of masculinity attached to the idea of loneliness, through the prism of ‘solidarity’ and the ‘lone wolf’ archetype. This seems to have come to prominence, not only through Wolf from Gladiators (remember how great he was because he was angry?), but also through 80s action movies, where ‘one man’ must do everything he can to stop the evil baddies, because being alone is great, and needing assistance is weak and lady-like. Just look at the jacked action stars from those days up to now. Are we expected to believe they got to where they are totally on their own, instead of with the help of several personal trainers, dieticians, friends, family and steroids? Sure, a ‘one-man army’ sounds impressive, but it’s probably very unfulfilling emotionally. I imagine John McClane would have loved to have someone to pick glass out of his feet for him. But sadly, he’s a real man, which is why his relationships with his wife and children were so healthy.
These crazy movie characters were out on their own because they were portrayed as being special, unique, misunderstood ballistic geniuses. And that’s certainly a road to loneliness, feeling like we’re all snowflakes, that can’t be put into a box. As kids we were always told how special we were (or I hope you were, unless I was the only one, in which case I actually am special. Oh wow, this is a lot to take on. Doctrine? Oh I don’t know, be good to each other, love thy Neighbours, even if it is a terrible soap, it needs your support. Umm, sacrifice a child every so often, but only a really shit one, like one of the ones that wipes its nose on its school jumper instead of a tissue. And worship me every day, I’m desperate for approval. But if I ever have a son, he’ll just be a regular guy probably, don’t start ignoring me). The only alternative of course is an admission that we’re all largely the same, but the basis of most art is to communicate what feels like a unique experience, only to have people recognise their own seemingly unique experience in said art. If people just accepted they were the same anyway, maybe no-one would bother. You’d go to draw something, write something, sculpt something, say something, and come to the conclusion that anybody else could do it too, so what’s the point?
And isn’t that another sort of loneliness? The feeling of being lost in a crowd, not being seen? And what about our loneliness as a species, resulting in SETI, and science-fiction wherein we make contact with aliens. We want to find another species out there, so we can feel comforted by the fact that Reljax from the planet Grenknork also gets sad sometimes and wonders whether anyone actually reads his blog.
I guess the way to combat loneliness is to force yourself to talk to others, even though loneliness can feel self-perpetuating. Talking to friends and family etc. helps me, even if that is just on Facebook – it’s better than sitting and wishing.
In recent memory I would say the most loneliness has hit me was after the break-up of a long-term relationship a few months ago. We lived together for a while afterwards until I found somewhere else and moved out. With the help of my parents, I moved my stuff out over the course of a day, us ferrying my belongings from the old place to the new in two cars over several trips. With the last car load full, I said goodbye to my ex with a confusing feeling of finality, and finished moving out. With too many books, not enough clothes, furniture and odds and ends unloaded into my new bedroom, and my parents having helped as much as they could, they left me to reorganise this new piece of land.
For a long time after they’d gone, I was in my bedroom, where I am now, feeling more alone than I had in at least a few years. I didn’t know what my life would be from that point on. Who would I tell about my day, or about that interesting titbit I heard while listening to a podcast? Unpacking all of my belongings just reinforced how many of my hobbies were purely solitary; reading, playing music, stand-up comedy.
I don’t even have a good, satisfying ending for how things got better, but they did. I’d already started writing this blog at that point (see if you can spot the undertones of bitterness in my blog about Valentine’s Day back in February), and certainly having an imagined audience was useful. But more useful were actual people. Not the ones on social media, but the ones I saw in real life, as often as possible to get through it. I know, boo-fucking-hoo I went through a tough break-up in my mid-twenties, what a precious little snowflake I am. But that’s the point. I wasn’t different, I was like everyone else. Everyone understood, and I wasn’t alone.
Next time on the Bandwagon, I get off my emotional high-horse, and tell the story about another relationship, during which we had an argument on Halloween, and I stormed out dressed as Tintin.