I am in a hotel room in Philadelphia going over some notes in preparation for a talk I am going to give in the morning. Although this is not a new experience for me, suddenly, I feel very sorry for myself to be here alone. It’s almost dinner time. Is it better to order from room service rather than face the embarrassment of requesting a table for one in the good restaurant nearby?
Why do so many of us assume people will look at us alone at a table or buying a single movie ticket and wonder what’s wrong with her that she’s alone. Doesn’t she know anyone who wants to join her?
Men don’t seem to be as vulnerable to this situation as women. Maybe because it’s assumed that they are alone by choice or business reasons explain it. True, more business women are on the move, but women still seem to feel more lonely in almost any situation on their own.
Where do these feelings of loneliness come from and why are we so reluctant to acknowledge the feeling? Some aspect of it can be traced to the fact that from the moment of conception we are not alone — we are part of another human being. When we emerge from that dual existence infants need the care and attention of another human being in order to survive. Long years of nurturing set the pattern for our future need for connection, with friends, lovers, children, and yes, even pets. The first step we ever take is away from our mother, or mother surrogate, with a feeling of joy and excitement, only to quickly return for refueling. In one way or another, it becomes the pattern of our lives — the pull towards independence and autonomy, the need for some refueling, connection, reassurance that we are not alone. The fear of being without the possibility of connection makes us anxious, which has been referred to by some psychologists as separation anxiety.
For most of us being lonely is a transient state. It makes us sad, uncomfortable or encourages us to find ways to deal with it. For others, it is more intense and a way to deal with it can be toxic — food, alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, withdrawal.
Fortunately, there are positive ways to deal with loneliness, too. One is to recognize its part of the human condition and our time alone can also offer time to be alone, to be free and self-sufficient, to fantasize, to be creative, time to compose a piece for this class.