Alone..Or Just Lonely?
By Stephen Doherty
Loneliness is not lack of company,
loneliness is lack of purpose.
– Guillermo Maldonado
I got divorced sixteen years ago and have lived alone during that entire time. I have a very comfortable 2-bedroom apartment that has served me exceptionally well. It’s been a second home to my kids and a place of tremendous peace and solitude for me. I can honestly say that, while divorce is incredibly painful and disruptive, I have never felt one day of loneliness during those sixteen years. Being alone is simply a reshuffling of who, when, and where. To me, loneliness is an outcome of a deliberate and willful disengagement from things and people that give us meaning and purpose. I’m not wired that way and I think way too many people default to loneliness out of fear and a warped societal stigma on people who are “alone.” I have found quite the opposite. Only when you are free of others’ thoughts, expectations, and beliefs, can you allow yourself to be wholly and utterly YOU.
I saw a little blurb by Keanu Reeves that perfectly captures the difference between being alone and being lonely. “Someone told me the other day that he felt bad for single people because they are lonely all the time. I told him that’s not true, I’m single and I don’t feel lonely. I take myself out to eat. I buy myself clothes. I have great times by myself. Once you know how to take care of yourself, company becomes an option and not a necessity.” I couldn’t have said it better better myself.-
Be a loner. That gives you time to wonder, to search for the truth. Have holy curiosity. Make your life worth living. – Albert Einstein
Let’s be clear about something. I’m not suggesting that companionship is less preferable to being alone. I love companionship and I love sharing this extraordinary world and my life with family and friends-which I do regularly. I’m merely trying to remind people that peace and happiness comes from within first and branches out from there. Some of the loneliest people I know are married or surrounded by “friends” who keep them from being alone, but hardly from being lonely. Once you have discovered who you are, you will understand that you, alone, are complete. You do not need some external being to fill in a missing piece, for you have no piece missing. When you enjoy your own company, you become impervious to loneliness. You are enough to be happy and content. That’s when external companionship becomes a bonus, not a necessity.
Our culture makes it very difficult to be alone and not be seen as lonely. Everywhere we look in movies and ads we see romance and smiles. Happy couples permeate our landscape and imply an inadequacy to being alone that emotionally cripples way too many people. To quote Rocky Balboa, “Life ain’t all sunshine and lollipops!” I cringe when I see the reality of our society and culture. Over 50% of married couples get divorced. Loneliness driven depression is becoming a chronic societal plague. Why? Because too many people buy into the nonsense that by being alone we simultaneously adopt the stigma of loneliness. I find this sad and dispiriting for those who refuse to look inward for the cure and too often default to negative or destructive relationships versus peaceful solitude and self-love.
My thoughts today were not intended to impugn marriage or relationships-far from it. There truly are few things in life that aren’t enhanced by sharing them with someone we love. A tender touch and a soft voice in my ear will always weaken my knees. My purpose in writing this was simply a reminder that absent that romance, life is still a wonderful adventure that need not be diminished by being alone. The plague of loneliness is driven by a lack of purpose and self-reliance. It is further fueled by a Madison Avenue depiction that the rest of the world is joyous, in love, and trouble-free. Being alone is not devoid of benefits or meaning. In fact, it is often the best teacher in discovering who we are and why we’re here. Embracing it, not fearing it, is the key to not just surviving it, but reveling in it and growing from it.
At the innermost core of all loneliness is a deep and powerful yearning for union with one’s lost self. – Brendan Behan