It’s a very personal sign of what you need from love and friendship
’Tis better to have loved and lost than never than never to have loved at all — Alfred Lord Tennyson
I have two aspects to my personality that are often at odds with one another. I wouldn’t describe them as being in opposition, mainly because I don’t subscribe to the belief that our characteristics are anything other than a mishmash of inherited or learnt traits, constantly battling it out for attention. The idea that it all has to fit together neatly is patently ridiculous. We don’t make sense, even to ourselves.
But for me, loneliness is one of the most complicated areas. I’m very happy in my own company and always have been. I value peace and quiet, need time to reflect and think and am rarely bored. I can occupy myself extremely well. The horror I’ve witnessed some people experience at the prospect of a morning on their own, for example, is incomprehensible to me. For them, loneliness is the absence of another person being around. For me, not at all.
As mentioned above, if people’s personalities were in any way designed and put together to function efficiently, it would follow that I’m just not bothered by other people. That I could take or leave them. But, that’s simply not true. In fact, I value deep and meaningful bonds with others above anything else.
To me, someone who shares your view of the world is an absolute gift. So is someone who is curious about others, who cares how they feel and what they think. I could listen to someone like that talk all day, precisely because they could listen to me talking all day. Mutual respect is wonderful, and sometimes even exciting. I can never be bored with that level of conversation.
But most interactions aren’t really like that, are they? They’re superficial and shallow. They’re talking just for the sake of it. Or worse, they’re all for show. For making useful connections. They contain nothing more than social niceties and pleasantries and their purpose is for saying the right things, at the cost of ever saying anything you really mean.
If your personality draws you to keeping up appearances you are going to feel completely at home in most social situations. But for people like me, they can be alienating. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been out somewhere, having a terrible time, and longed to escape and go home. The lure of that comparative, peaceful solitude is almost too much.
And this is something that I feel is widely misunderstood. People try to talk me out of spending time on my own because they imagine it’ll make me unhappy. That there’s no other way to experience it. What they can’t seem to conceive of is knowing what you’ll enjoy and what you won’t. Sure, there’s always times when you’re pleasantly surprised by a night out. But again, none of that means that I’m not capable of enjoying my own space.
So, with such apparently contradictory characteristics at the heart of my personality — what does loneliness specifically mean to me? What does it tell me about myself?
It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot over this Christmas. More so than usual. I’m about to have to make some big and life-changing decisions. All good, and I’m excited about what’s potentially ahead. But they are decisions I will have to make alone.
I’m single and everyone’s seemed to want to bring this up these last few weeks. I’ve barely been able to have a conversation about anything else, in fact. But what has struck me time and time again about the nature of these comments, is how I just couldn’t want love on the terms they’ve described. I’d get little from it.
I could never be with someone just to avoid being lonely. I don’t want a relationship just to appear ‘normal’. I don’t want to have to settle just because I’m ‘not getting any younger’. I don’t want security. And it’s not something I should feel obliged to do.
But I do want to love and be loved. To feel a special connection, to know someone intimately, to share my life’s journey with someone I can trust. That’s all. Am I wrong? Am I so hard to understand? The lack of desperation on my part isn’t a failing — it’s just part of who I am.
To me, a love of your own company and a love of another person are not mutually exclusive. They can both be — and have been — essential parts of me. I can compromise, absolutely. But I can’t deny one or the other its existence within me.
It’s just that there are times when one side of me will come forward more than the other. With the combination of the changes ahead and a constant commentary on my love-life, I’ve felt a lot of pangs of loneliness lately. Times when I’ve wanted to reach out to someone who cares and hated the fact that there’s nobody there. Often, it has cut deep. It’s brought up a lot of feelings and memories from the past.
But it’s useful. It’s a reminder. It tells me that, just because my life is a particular way at the moment, it won’t necessarily always be. I’m not just one type of person — there’s another version of me ahead, in my future. It tells me that I should remember to nurture the different aspects of my character. That just because I can be content on my own, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a huge capacity for love, warmth and attachment.
I need to use all these feelings wisely. Loneliness — like grief or anger — comes from our very core. It’s unavoidable when it hits you and suppressing it only delays the inevitable fall-out. To experience loneliness long-term is corrosive and damaging. It can either propel you into an unsatisfactory relationship or make you withdraw because the painful feelings become all-consuming.
It’s important to listen to what your loneliness is telling you. Pay attention to the particular moments you feel it, the patterns, the differences in severity of the pangs. It’s telling you what’s wrong in your life. What you need to fix. But it’s also telling you who you are. It’s nuanced. For some people, they might feel it when they’re surrounded by others, when they’re particularly happy, when they have something they want to share with someone else.
Me — I feel it when I want to see the world through someone else’s eyes. When my own reality has become tiring or difficult for me. When I’d like to lessen the burden a little. In other words, when some of the downsides of being on my own start to show. I’ve known having someone to turn to in the past. I loved without holding back. Tennyson was right — to have loved and lost is a lesson to us all about how precious love truly is…however much it hurts when it’s over. It remains part of you.
To feel loneliness is to understand yourself on a very fundamental level. It’s unique to you. It may make you feel sad, it may make you feel fragile. But don’t let anyone else sway you or pressure you into rushing in to anything that doesn’t feel right. All the connections you choose to make in your life — be them around love or friendships — play a part in shaping you. But ultimately, loneliness is a very personal feeling. Deal with it in your own way.