Moments way before this one stung with my loneliness. My entire adolescence, the wake of disappointments in college, the year I moved to another city and it didn’t work out. I was a foreigner even after I’d changed my address. I am not lonely in this time. A lot of people are. Quarantine, as a verb, means to isolate. Humans are designed to connect, and isolation complicates that.
This essay is about my best practices as an extrovert forced into loneliness at so many points. These are my notes on what I’ve learned, and at the very least, I hope it eases the bite of right now.
Around 22, voluntarily marooning myself in the rustbelt city where my first job was, I thought, “fuck, how am I still the loser alone all weekends? Didn’t I outgrow this girl? Didn’t I outgrow this phase?” The answers to all of these are no. No, I was never a loser. No, I am blessed to carry the women I’ve been with me to meet the women I am becoming. And no because I never asked myself, “What is absence? What is presence?”
I’ve been absent in crowded rooms. I’ve been absent in the arms of other people. I’ve sat in move theaters where my soul left my body and waited in the parking lot. There’s a shut out of the senses and attention. Everything warps inward. All reception is dried up. I’ve gone absent in my own company. In empty cake pans, bags of chips, growling stomachs closing unfed days, and hours ticking by on the elliptical. I ducked out of my life in full calendars where I stayed so busy I was always distracted. I sought the attention of people I never intended to date because I just wanted to be wanted, and when they wanted more, I just left my body. Absence is hollow, an echo the present body hears as their words bounce back to them. I think those were actually my loneliest moments: the ones where I was present and I could feel the other person far away. We cannot barrel through the conscious of others. We can’t disarm them for themselves. Presence is an inside job.
Presence is more than the heat of a warm body. It is a body that casts light and spells and adds value. We hoard people, casual acquaintances. We curate social media profiles, enviable to the untrained eye. The dopamine hit of a like, a follow, a view– it is validation. But it is so temporary. It’s like having a fortune in monopoly money, worthless when it comes down to it. Presence is intentional. Presence is sincere. It’s eyes are not averted by a screen or pretense, some glazed agenda obstructing connection. Presence is palpable.
For me, to be present is to humble myself enough to not perform or posture but show up fully– whether it is just myself or others. I began to ask myself what I like, what I don’t like, what to I desire. A lot of adulthood building tolerance: to crappy jobs and people we don’t like and small airplane seats and your favorite almond milk out at the store. And those are the fortunate inconveniences. We grow so used to tolerating that our lives become things we muddle through. Just as much we can stand. That’s a numb existence.
I stopped being numb and started showing up for myself. The thing no one tells you about the avoidance of you is that your actions and truths and grit and pus and gold– you cannot escape yourself. You also cannot be taken away from yourself. Showing up for myself wasn’t the transfiguration of current me into another idealized person. It was dousing myself in the grace to be flawed and worthy all at once.
I summoned the nerve to curate a life that I liked. A life I show up for. This does not include me finding my dream job or the love of my life (because I am the love of my life and I have many other loves of my life. I’m very lucky). Rather, I chose what I could control. I moved. I still work a paper pushing job where there are good days and bad days, but it is a job and for that, I am grateful. I cannot change people, but I changed whose feedback I listened to. I released the obligation for everyone to like me. I released the people who were never mine to clutch with such tight fists. And I took it back to basics. Live a life that is manageable (enough things to feel accomplished in one week but not enough to overwhelm). Try to clean your living space at least once a week. Bathe daily. Brush your teeth. Feed yourself regularly. And breathe– deep and heavy and a lot. When I’m really stressed, I pause, shut my eyes, and take a few deep breaths.
I asked myself what I was really looking for in those other things. A lot were thing I should have been giving myself: comfort, love, belonging, joy, pleasure, purpose. It is both easy and lazy to saddle any person or area of your life with the work of fulfilling you.
Now is when I ask you what you hid behind that’s now exposed you to such grief. Was it the job that became your name? Were they the beauty treatments that masked your wild? Was it the income where you tethered your worth? Were the outings and the pictures filling the void that now howls? Was it all the arm’s lengths you kept people at only to understand how desperately you crave connection? You know that’s crazy? You are still living and you without all of these things.
Reader, you are not broken. You feel lonely. Your chest is a heavy thing you lug all day long praying for something to unlock it. You are your key. This is a brutal life. Misfortunes descend on good people without warning or explanation. But of all the things distant from you right now, don’t be one of them to yourself.
So how do you do that? You sit with it: the grief, the loneliness, the worry that underneath all that stuff you aren’t enough. It prickles and stings. Loneliness is like wearing sopping wet clothes all the time: heavy, cold, cumbersome. Your hurt longs to be heard. Listen. Talk. Seek the ears of people you trust. This grief is collective, but so is the connection. And there are few connections fewer than allowing another person to behold you in a vulnerable state. How people respond to you in the rawest of selves is a comment on how they show up for you.
Outside of people, ask yourself: what shows do I like? What movies grip my attention? What do I find hilarious? What foods am I psyched to eat when I get out of bed? What movements am I doing when I feel joy in my body? Whose thoughts compel me, and what am I interested in? Allow yourself to reintroduce you to you, the you who has always been trying to break through the person the world told you to be.
Right now can still really suck. I don’t know if you’ll feel less lonely after this, but I hope, you’ll be more awake. You deserve to be shown up for, Reader, and that starts with yourself.