self awareness and needs
I asked people what makes them feel lonely. Here are some of the answers: Moving away from home and not seeing my family for 3 years. Not being able to get into a relationship with someone I actually want. Having no friends in a new city. Going through a breakup and realizing I didn’t have anyone else to tell about my life. Losing deep friendships gradually or abruptly.
Everyone worries about transience (people we love will leave us), or distance (people we love will be far away). The core fear is that, really, the only constant that follows you forever is you. Sure, family and friends may be around but there is truly a certain loneliness that comes with crafting your own life. Growing older and being in control of the direction it takes. Pursuing your own dream. Finding and creating relationships. Asking yourself honestly what you want to make out of this brief, vibrant time here. That’s scary. I wish I could just ask somebody… to tell me what to do, what is good for me.
I realize I’ve been talking way too much these days, constantly asking people what they think. Asking questions to which, deep down, I already know the answers. I recognize these decisions are mine and mine alone. So I’d better get to know what I need rather than asking everyone else for reassurance or validation. I am trying to make peace with being alone in order to figure out what I want without noise, mimetic desire, instruction.
Being alone reveals the self. And seeing the self is the only way to understand and honor every other relationship you will ever have. I think of that famous Bell Hooks quote often: knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.
I also think we have to admit to ourselves fundamentally what we need from our relationships with other people. So much unhappiness originates from disguising and ignoring our needs — e.g., saying you really like being alone in order to masquerade independence or agency, when actually what you really want is to be with other people. Saying you don’t want romantic love and affection when you actually do. Saying you don’t care when you actually really really care.
If you’re always wearing a permanent mask, trying to disguise your needs, you can surround yourself with people all the time and still never let anyone truly, intimately, see you. I said this to A the other day: vulnerability is showing another person the way your specific boundaries collapse. It’s letting someone jump into your abyss and trusting they’ll be there on the other side. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it because some people really do feel like magic. And you must recognize it when it’s in front of you.
Anyways, this is my thought spiral for today. Isn’t it funny how humans are so different — some of us need to gather the courage to be alone. Others need to be brave enough to accept love, to really feel it. Too anxious; too avoidant. Pick a day and I’ll be on either end! There are so many ways to distract yourself from being alone, and there are also too many ways to hide from real intimacy. Like that beautiful line from Heather Havrilesky’s column, Ask Molly: Everyone teaches you to fight or flee, manipulate or hide. Learning to stand still and be loved is the hardest thing of all.
All our lives we learn to walk that fine line between self knowledge/sufficiency and dependency. Self and Other. Being alone is looking in a mirror; being with others is opening a door. You need both to see the world clearly. Every piece of writing for me is an honest attempt at seeking both. I am writing this to you, but I am also writing this for me.
By the way, if you’re interested in this topic, J and I wrote about loneliness last year in an old substack post here.
I will be hosting a salon with my friend and incredible co-host Kasra (who writes bitsofwonder) on vulnerability online and in relationships. It’s my first time hosting a salon, so really excited and kind of (very) nervous. Would love to meet you if you sign up (huge thanks to readers who already have!)