I saw an article the other day about how loneliness is as bad for you as cigarettes or something. My cigarette intake these days is about half a pack a year, but I’m terribly lonely — and have been for years.
For some reason it feels shameful to say that out loud: there’s a stigma attached to it, like perhaps if I was more _______ I wouldn’t feel this way. Perhaps there’s something wrong with me.
The last time I remember being not lonely was in 2011. That summer I graduated college and moved south to take a job in a town where I most certainly did not belong. After a year or two I moved east hoping to find a place that felt like home, but then my marriage went to shit so I moved north again and now more than ever feel untethered.
I have dear friends all over the country — Florida, California, Tennessee — and they tell me “You’re always welcome here with us” and that means to world to me but: I live here. And it’s not the same. I don’t want to sit at home on Friday nights and text people in other time zones. I want to go bowling and buy a pitcher of beer and not have to drink it all myself.
So I do all the things a person is supposed to do to engage in their community: meet people in your profession, become involved in a church, organize a group of other lonely people to get together for dinner a few times a month, play basketball with the guys from meetup dot com.
But we’re all so busy with jobs and school and relatives that finding time just to see another human face takes quite a bit of logistical maneuvering. We make small talk over coffee on Sunday morning and then leave and I go home alone to wash laundry and watch TV.
(I assume that other people are going someplace warm to eat food with people who love them. Are they? I don’t know.)
How many months (years?) of forced social interactions does it take to develop the comfortable familiarity and deep intimacy of friendship instead of the stilted effort of acquaintance?
I feel like I’m constantly starting from scratch, trying to generate meaningful relationships from nothing while those around me have been rooted for years. And when you’re 30 years old with no hometown, no relatives within a day’s drive, no roots in a town that you’re desperately trying to make into home, it’s hard to see anything beyond the loneliness that has become far too familiar by now.
Read a dozen essays and you’ll find a dozen different culprits: blame it on social media, blame it on consumerism, blame it on the decline of religion in America. I don’t know.
I just know that I am untethered, and have been for some time.
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