38 votes

The loneliness thread

There is a tendency nowadays for public officials to characterise loneliness as a public health crisis. I agree that it's a pervasive condition. However, the human condition is not fully medicalizable. I believe we can speak about it just as who we are, according to our full experience, in our capacity as first-person narrator, as witness, as who are the closest to their own struggles.

But it can be really hard to be open, and hence vulnerable, to difficult emotions. In times of distress, our own internal communication can get jammed, and it natural that opening up to the external world may feel as if an insurmountable difficulty.

Nevertheless, the great force of nature, evolution, has given us the ability to listen and be listened to. Its greatest strength may be manifest at the time of greatest need.

Which is why I'd like to have this thread. This thread is for you, if you're feeling lonely at the time, or if you want to share your experience with loneliness, or if you would like to give support to our community members, or just to speak up, or just to listen.

Let us tune in to each other's expressions in caring consideration. We don't have to be perfect in self-expression or empathy -- this is not a contest. This is a fireside chat, a place to rest, reflect, and understand, before moving on.

Are you willing to join the conversation?

46 comments

  1. [20]
    demifiend
    Link
    I'd like to think that public officials medicalize loneliness to lessen its stigma, to make it less the individual's fault, but I'm too cynical for that. I think that the modern loneliness...

    There is a tendency nowadays for public officials to characterise loneliness as a public health crisis. I agree that it's a pervasive condition. However, the human condition is not fully medicalizable.

    I'd like to think that public officials medicalize loneliness to lessen its stigma, to make it less the individual's fault, but I'm too cynical for that. I think that the modern loneliness epidemic shares something in common with the modern depression epidemic. I don't think it's a disease affecting individuals, but a sign that something is profoundly wrong with our society as a whole on a fundamental level.

    According to this New Internationalist article, many people suffering from depression are not actually depressed. They're demoralized by life under capitalism, and their demoralization looks like depression.

    I think we have a similar problem with loneliness, especially among men. Where do we have the opportunity to meet people and bond with them? At work? At church? On the internet? None of these are good enough. Work friendships are too fragile; if one person leaves the workplace the friendship dies. Church might work if you're religious, but the church is dying in the US in part because of the image problem politically active evangelical Christians have inflicted on Christianity as a whole, and in part because organized religion rings more hollow every year. And while the internet is the only social medium that offers a measure of freedom from the tyrannies of geography and proximity, the connections we make here are all too often illusory and subject to surveillance so they can be monetized. There's also fandom, but that's just capitalists selling us our culture. It's nothing but tribalism wrapped in brand loyalty.

    I think life under capitalism has deprived us of meaningful opportunities to form worthwhile social bonds, but if you're lonely it's your fault. I don't know how to fix this. I'm not even sure it's worth fixing, because I never liked people even as a child, grew up without friends, and by the time I was an adult I had been "lonely" for so long that I no longer consciously felt it.

    After all, who needs friends? A cat is fine, too.

    24 votes
    1. [11]
      patience_limited
      Link Parent
      Curiously, that's the same NI article I sent to the therapist when I was going through hard times the last couple of years, and I agree with your analysis. I know that throughout history, people...

      Curiously, that's the same NI article I sent to the therapist when I was going through hard times the last couple of years, and I agree with your analysis.

      I know that throughout history, people maintained deep bonds over the course of lifetimes through written or visual communication. But those relationships began through face-to-face meetings, largely among members of homogenous cultures and short distances.

      There are now so many factors which encourage factionalism, consumerist atomization, destructive competition, and physical isolation that "loneliness" is different in quality as well as quantity from what our ancestors experienced. I keep falling back on Vonnegut's "wampeters, foma and granfalloons" analogy; it's very rare to find genuine interpersonal relationships of any kind, and we generally find ourselves spending time on artificial associations instead.

      9 votes
      1. Zorz
        Link Parent
        First comment on the site by the way, fitting for it to be about loneliness ;). I agree completely with everything you have already said. I'm going to however narrow the discussion down to the...

        First comment on the site by the way, fitting for it to be about loneliness ;).

        I agree completely with everything you have already said. I'm going to however narrow the discussion down to the loneliness experienced by men in the west, as I don't want to generalise too much.

        While I have suffered from loneliness, I've never really been without friends. This is where the problem, I think, lies. Men especially have a problem with genuine displays of emotion or affection in platonic relationships. While you might have a large networks of friends, genuine relationships where you can be yourself without worries might be non-existant. The reason for this, at least in my case, seems to come from how men are conditioned to behave from childhood.

        Now, I'm not going delve into how western masculinity was created, as I have no formal education on the matter. However, I do know what it entails today and how it affects our well-being. The ideal man is thought to be powerful, dependable, stable and so on. Any kind of vulnerability or weakness is frowned upon, so it leaves men with few options when struggling with pretty much anything. This leaves us with the question - how can there be any meaningful kind of relationship when you can't show your true emotion. Breaking this cycle of isolation can demand a lot of strength and courage, more than we can assume every one has, especially when already struggling. I remember reading about a study that found out that boys and girls cry around the same amount until they become nine, and after that boys become the emotional shut-ins we know and love.

        I don't have any perfect advise to people having problems with these things. Seeking out new people in the real world (physical connection is important even in platonic relationships, hugging and other displays of physical affection have been shown to decrease stress and anxiety), and going to therapy would be my best guesses to help with whatever issues one might be having.

        Sorry if the text is incoherent, I'm writing this on the phone.

        7 votes
      2. [4]
        demifiend
        Link Parent
        And, as others have noticed, there are gender roles to consider. I've been a man my whole life, and my experience of manhood has been that while other people rely on me, there's nobody I can rely...

        And, as others have noticed, there are gender roles to consider. I've been a man my whole life, and my experience of manhood has been that while other people rely on me, there's nobody I can rely on in turn.

        2 votes
        1. [4]
          Comment deleted by author
          Link Parent
          1. [3]
            demifiend
            Link Parent
            I agree, but I think that such a safe space for men must have room for men to complain about the women in their lives without immediately being branded a misogynist. A man should be able to say...

            I agree, but I think that such a safe space for men must have room for men to complain about the women in their lives without immediately being branded a misogynist. A man should be able to say something like, "I hate that my gf/wife/mother/sister/etc does $thing" without being shamed.

            We tend to keep our concerns and dissatisfactions and resentments to ourselves, letting them fester, because we have no way of knowing whether our feelings are valid or reasonable.

            1. [2]
              patience_limited
              Link Parent
              As to masculinity and emotional openness, I believe it has more to do with the constraints of "providerhood" than with maleness specifically. There are more than a few single/divorced mothers of...

              As to masculinity and emotional openness, I believe it has more to do with the constraints of "providerhood" than with maleness specifically.

              There are more than a few single/divorced mothers of my acquaintance who complain of exactly the same inability to express themselves or join together without punishments that are direct threats to themselves and their families.

              I say this not to shame men, but to emphasize that there's a basis for solidarity and construction of friendlier, safer emotional spaces for everyone.

              4 votes
      3. [5]
        zoec
        Link Parent
        I just read the article and yes, it's thought-provoking. If you don't mind, may I ask you, how did your therapist respond to the article? I understand the sanctity of in-session communications and...

        I just read the article and yes, it's thought-provoking. If you don't mind, may I ask you, how did your therapist respond to the article? I understand the sanctity of in-session communications and it's totally right if you don't want to write about it.

        1. [4]
          patience_limited
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          It was the topic of a couple of sessions, and the orienting principle for some new CBT tactics. I'd come in with what I believed was just a recurrence of a long history of depression, after years...

          It was the topic of a couple of sessions, and the orienting principle for some new CBT tactics. I'd come in with what I believed was just a recurrence of a long history of depression, after years of relative equanimity. It was actually about 50% work burnout, and a toxic level of job stress leading to poor sleep.

          The "demoralization" in the article was a very good fit at describing the loss of meaning, purpose and sense of connection I was experiencing. I felt alienated from just about everyone, including my husband, on a day-to-day basis, with no time, energy or desire to maintain ordinary human relationships.

          Packed up in all that was the sense of having no identity or society separate from work, and work was isolating as hell. I was rewarded and encouraged to remain a hyper-competent "army of one", elevated above my peers as a problem-solver. [I was occupying a role that previously required three people. That's not a humble-brag, I was just dumb and so desperate for a "meaningful" job that I was easy to exploit. I also got paid less than anyone who'd done the job before. Capitalist winning!]

          I was extra-resentful and exhausted by the added emotional labor tasks expected of "the girl", and resented by others for out-competing them. Teaching and helping coworkers didn't forge connections, it just fostered still more bitterness and back-stabbing.

          I suspect this narrative is still going to be resonant with the men here, like @demifiend - that sense of being held responsible for everything, and helped with nothing, is as much a failure of capitalist culture as a social aspect of the male gender role.

          5 votes
          1. zoec
            Link Parent
            Thank you for telling your story, @patience_limited. I feel that alienation (or, say, damage to relations) has another attribute that is comparable with depression: too often it remains latent,...

            Thank you for telling your story, @patience_limited. I feel that alienation (or, say, damage to relations) has another attribute that is comparable with depression: too often it remains latent, creeping underneath, and by the time you acutely feel it, it has already done much destruction.

            1 vote
          2. [2]
            demifiend
            Link Parent
            Yes, I can definitely relate. And let's not forget that we're responsible for everything, have no meaningful power to change anything, get no thanks for doing our jobs, and are the first to...

            Yes, I can definitely relate. And let's not forget that we're responsible for everything, have no meaningful power to change anything, get no thanks for doing our jobs, and are the first to receive blame when something goes wrong.

            It's as if we were gods, but we're still only human. We could just walk away and let everything burn behind us, but we don't because the work we do for others is the justification for our continued existence.

            1. patience_limited
              Link Parent
              We've been soaking in the unstated religion of capitalism - that the only justification for, and meaning of, our existence as workers is the productive labor we perform. There's a subtext to the...

              We've been soaking in the unstated religion of capitalism - that the only justification for, and meaning of, our existence as workers is the productive labor we perform.

              There's a subtext to the New Internationalist article which hasn't been mentioned; the magazine has its roots in Marxist ideology, and the article is in many ways a modernized restatement of Marx' theory of alienation.

              I'm not a Marxist (identification and taxonomy of a disease isn't the same as devising a cure that avoids killing the patient), but it still remains descriptive.

    2. [4]
      nil
      Link Parent
      Nothing to add, really. Just wanted to let you know that I think that your analysis is flawless. If only more people would see through the smoke screen of "modern society"!

      Nothing to add, really. Just wanted to let you know that I think that your analysis is flawless. If only more people would see through the smoke screen of "modern society"!

      4 votes
      1. [2]
        demifiend
        Link Parent
        Thanks, but seeing the skull beneath the skin doesn't do much good.

        Thanks, but seeing the skull beneath the skin doesn't do much good.

        1 vote
        1. nil
          Link Parent
          It's probably no consolation, but I think I know exactly what you are talking about!

          It's probably no consolation, but I think I know exactly what you are talking about!

          1 vote
      2. tvfj
        Link Parent
        Agreed, perfect candidate for those "super upvotes" that have been talked about.

        Agreed, perfect candidate for those "super upvotes" that have been talked about.

    3. [2]
      Staross
      Link Parent
      There's some nice description of this in some books of The Invisible Committee: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/tiqqun-bloom-theory

      There's some nice description of this in some books of The Invisible Committee:

      Who Are You Really?

      The pretty, snow-blanketed countryside slips fast across the window. It won’t be long now until the trip between V. and R., which in the old days would’ve been a matter of weeks, will be over. For less than an hour, you’ve been the occupant of some seat or another in one of the twenty identical cars of this high speed train, one of so many. The regular — doubtless optimal — arrangement of the seats spreads out in an abstract harmony of gentle neon. The train follows along its rails, and in this train car, so seamlessly in harmony with the idea of order, it seems that human reality itself travels along invisible rails. A clean and polite indifference inhabits the space that separates you from the lady sitting in the seat next to you. Neither of you will have your trip disturbed by the superfluous need to even say a word, much less strike up a conversation. That would disturb your distraction, and, in the case of your neighbor, her applied study of the feminine press (“how to sleep with a guy without him knowing,” “soft flirting,” “gifts with meaning,” “is he a good lay?” “who are you REALLY?” etc.). And when her cell phone rings, the young woman doesn’t think it necessary to get up, either: “hello? ... listen, what do you mean you’re not there? ... are you shitting me? ... listen, I’ve been stuck with the kids for the past three weekends, I work all week, and it’s already a bitch finding time to live, man... no, no, no, I just can’t, that’s all... deal with it, it’s not my problem... everyone’s gotta have their own social life; I’ve already wrecked mine enough... how many times do I have to tell you: I’m going out with Jerry this weekend, and that’s all there is to it... oh yeah, is that so? With the kid putting me through his freak-outs all day, sniveling about “where’s daddy?” ... well come on, ‘cause you’re his father! ... it’s out of the question... I don’t give a fuck, you’re taking care of them this weekend... well too bad for her, all you had to do was find a little more of a peacemaker... I’m warning you, if there’s no one there, I’m leaving them with the doorman... well hell yes; I’m being completely reasonable... that’s all, then; ciao.”

      The scene repeats itself in all its banality. More — obviously — of the same. It’s like a slap in the face when it happens; it’s brutal at first — but we should’ve been preparing for it for years, after all, considering how scrupulously we’ve worked to become perfect strangers to each other: blank existences, indifferent presences, no depth. At the same time, nothing in this situation could be so easily acceptable to everyone if we weren’t absolutely intimate in this foreignness. So, that foreignness also had to become the figure of our relationship with ourselves; and really, from all angles — we are Blooms.

      If Bloom is also found in a certain book, it’s because all of us have already crossed paths with him in the street, then, later, in ourselves. This just confirms it.

      One day you pay more attention than usual to the collective silence on a metro line, and are overtaken by a deep shiver, a primal horror, coming out from behind the shared fakery of contemporary morals and suddenly plain for all to see.

      The last man, man of the street, man of the crowd, man of the masses, mass-man; that’s how THEY represented Bloom to us at first: as the sad product of the time of the multitudes, as the catastrophic child of the industrial era and the end of all enchantments. But even there, no matter the name, there’s still that shiver; THEY shiver before the infinite mystery of ordinary man. Each of us feels a pure force growing behind the theater of our qualities, hiding out there; a pure force that we’re all supposed to ignore.

      What’s left is the necessary anxiety we think we can appease by demanding of one another a rigorous absence from each other’s selves, and an ignorance of a force which is common, but is now unqualifiable, because it is anonymous. And the name of that anonymity is Bloom.

      https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/tiqqun-bloom-theory

      4 votes
      1. demifiend
        Link Parent
        Taking a look at this now. Thanks.

        Taking a look at this now. Thanks.

    4. [2]
      zoec
      Link Parent
      I think, if the socio-economical machinery imposes this loneliness upon us, then our self-care takes on renewed meaning of bodily resistance. In resistance we need both vision and action plan, and...

      I think, if the socio-economical machinery imposes this loneliness upon us, then our self-care takes on renewed meaning of bodily resistance. In resistance we need both vision and action plan, and nurturing authentic relations with both ourselves and our fellow beings can, I believe, be part of the action plan. In these times it's so important to remain humane, and this in itself is a worthy goal in life.

      Edit: This reminded me of a line from The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

      The most fatal thing a man can do is try to stand alone.

      2 votes
      1. demifiend
        Link Parent
        When shit gets real, everybody stands alone. I've learned at an early age that you can't count on anybody to have your back.

        The most fatal thing a man can do is try to stand alone.

        When shit gets real, everybody stands alone. I've learned at an early age that you can't count on anybody to have your back.

        2 votes
  2. [3]
    rodya
    Link
    I've been lonely since middle school (around age 12 or so), and the desire to not be lonely has really been my main motivation ever since. The insidiousness of loneliness is that it robs you of...

    I've been lonely since middle school (around age 12 or so), and the desire to not be lonely has really been my main motivation ever since. The insidiousness of loneliness is that it robs you of the things you need to overcome it–your social skills atrophy and you fall into depression, both of which make it harder and harder to connect with other people. The other difficulty comes from trying to find friends when you really have none, it's insanely difficult. And the things that try to combat this like meetup groups or college orientations often just make the loneliness worse, at least in my experience. The whole thing feels so blatantly false and manufactured, you end up paradoxically feeling most alone when surrounded by others. I understand this is something you have to just deal with initially, but it's so very hard when you desperately want friendship and are only given it's facsimile. I ended up skipping the majority of my freshman orientation and hiding in the library to read. I had no friends or even any acquaintances that year.

    I personally am in a better place right now than I have been for a long time. I'm still alone, and I still spend every evening listening to The Cure and looking out my window at the cars racing by below. But I do see people, and I do get enough socialization that I don't feel that I'm going insane. I'd like to build stronger friendships and true bonds of camaraderie, but as a 20-something directionless youth it's hard to when I don't know what I'll be doing or where I'll be living three months from now.

    I have no idea if any of this is coherent, I started writing and then kept jumping back to add things I thought were interesting / relevant.

    14 votes
    1. zoec
      Link Parent
      @rodya, thank you so much for speaking up. We don’t have to be cohere. You’ve already conveyed a lot of heartfelt thoughts and feelings. I think you’ve made a good point about self-reinforcing...

      @rodya, thank you so much for speaking up. We don’t have to be cohere. You’ve already conveyed a lot of heartfelt thoughts and feelings.

      I think you’ve made a good point about self-reinforcing loneliness. I guess we can say it induces certain cognitive biases. But that’s not all. There’s also overwhelming emotions. It goes on and on...

      Especially when it started so young, when we learned the blueprint of life, when we took things in like a sponge but were rather powerless in choosing our environment and relations. It then becomes a pattern, engraved.

      It’s very late here and I’ll checkout soon. Just let me say, wherever you’re going, you’ll be carrying the seeds of true friendship with you, that is, all the inherent goodness in you. We all do. I hope you’ll be one day planting them where they’ll grow and flourish.

      4 votes
    2. Pilgrim
      Link Parent
      Do you think there is a difference between loneliness and solitude? I've definitely been lonely in a crowded room and also felt great freedom in days of solitude. Is loneliness really about a lack...

      Do you think there is a difference between loneliness and solitude?

      I've definitely been lonely in a crowded room and also felt great freedom in days of solitude. Is loneliness really about a lack of social interaction? Or the need for a confidant when one isn't readily available?

      The whole thing feels so blatantly false and manufactured, you end up paradoxically feeling most alone when surrounded by others. I understand this is something you have to just deal with initially, but it's so very hard when you desperately want friendship and are only given it's facsimile.

      I have found throughout my life that one must fake it to make it - in all things. We crave authenticity in our relationships but that has more to do with our internal perception than any external measurable quality of authenticity.

      2 votes
  3. [5]
    IdiocyInAction
    Link
    I have always felt somewhat lonely, from age ~12 onwards I'd say. I think my case is more due to an individual difficulty with connecting to people, rather than some societal thing (Note: I do...

    I have always felt somewhat lonely, from age ~12 onwards I'd say. I think my case is more due to an individual difficulty with connecting to people, rather than some societal thing (Note: I do believe there IS a societal loneliness epidemic, but it is unrelated to my problems). The problem with loneliness like that is that it is a feedback loop; let's say you have difficulty making friends in school, are bullied or a generally socially maladjusted, then you will fail to learn certain social cues and skills and come off as abrasive, further accentuating the problem. I have also wondered whether I am on the spectrum sometimes, but the symptoms don't really align (even though I still believe there is something neurologically wrong with me).

    I just find it hard to make meaningful friends (I am currently at university) . All the people I know sort of use me only for help with university assignments, since I do quite well academically, but that gets tiring very quickly and sort of erodes your trust in people. Every social gathering becomes a game for me to pretend to be something I am not, which I have become quite good at. I get enough socialization that I don't feel like a complete hermit, but that's about it. I always wonder whether this is due to some faults of mine or merely circumstance; I haven't figured that out yet, but am leaning towards that I just don't really have the ability to form meaningful relationships.

    I have always been of the opinion that you should make the best of things, so I try to find hobbies which allow me to spend my time meaningfully without other people. This has become sort of incoherent; I am sorry for that.

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      patience_limited
      Link Parent
      I believe that forming meaningful relationships is a skill that you can learn and practice; it isn't built-in out of the box, and it can atrophy from disuse. My default state is reading in a...

      I believe that forming meaningful relationships is a skill that you can learn and practice; it isn't built-in out of the box, and it can atrophy from disuse. My default state is reading in a corner; being around people takes energy. It's not that I always want to be alone, it's that people are quickly exhausting. I can build up a tolerance, like any exercise; like any exercise, it's usually healthy even if it's painful at the time.

      There's a misconception that friendship is in the same realm of romantic fantasy as "soulmates". You will not find friends who share every taste, interest and belief, but you can form satisfying friendships through overlapping subsets of interest and shared effort. What most people want is someone who can be trusted to accept an authentic self, who'll give aid without judgment, has a common concept of "fun", and will respect and protect ones interests.

      It's OK to say, "I can't do your homework for you", if you feel you're being taken advantage of - that's an authentic expression of what you believe to be an exploitative relationship, effectively saying, "I trust you enough to complain about this." Perceived insincerity is poison to bonding with people - if you're suffering, say so.

      6 votes
      1. IdiocyInAction
        Link Parent
        Thanks for the advice! I don't expect a soulmate; my best friend was very different from me and not at all a soulmate, but sadly I lost touch with him quite a long time ago. I simply find it...

        Thanks for the advice!

        I don't expect a soulmate; my best friend was very different from me and not at all a soulmate, but sadly I lost touch with him quite a long time ago. I simply find it difficult to meet people who share my interests; probably due to a big part that I am just not a very sociable, approachable person and due to me not liking social gatherings. I do recognize that this is mostly my fault though.

        Well, the problem with the homework thing is that I have quite a hard time saying 'no' to people. I am working on that though.

    2. zoec
      Link Parent
      Oh, I don't feel that you had a "fault". You were just speaking about your true experiences as who you are. We each has their personal quirks and unique experiences, and it doesn't have to be...

      Oh, I don't feel that you had a "fault". You were just speaking about your true experiences as who you are. We each has their personal quirks and unique experiences, and it doesn't have to be anybody's fault :)

      I agree with @patience_limited in that forming meaningful relationship can be practised. On this I recall the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger. He wrote that friendship is a virtue, and the happiness, the eudaemonia we feel in the relationship come from its virtue. As a virtue, everyone can practise it; there's no inaccessible virtue beyond human experience.

      I don't find Seneca's style all that resonating, but one thing he said caught my mind. Why is friendship good? It's not because our friends can come to our aid when we're in need. It's because we can do the same for them when they are in distress. In friendship, we're allowed to become our best selves.

      2 votes
  4. [2]
    meristele
    Link
    I find that I feel most lonely when I doubt myself, not the other way around. Something about the hunger for a kind word, a hand tousling hair, a smile that reaches the eyes - I crave it when the...

    I find that I feel most lonely when I doubt myself, not the other way around. Something about the hunger for a kind word, a hand tousling hair, a smile that reaches the eyes - I crave it when the downward mood cycle starts. And it's easy to be told you have value, but hard to accept without that kinetic warmth of personal interaction.

    I doubt myself less frequently now. I am much less lonely than I used to be. But I still get lonely here and there. I think... I gave myself permission both to be lonely and to value the friends I touch as they are, rather than how I hope they would be to me.

    6 votes
    1. zoec
      Link Parent
      You've expressed so beautifully both your emotions and your insight. I stand by this!

      You've expressed so beautifully both your emotions and your insight.

      I gave myself permission both to be lonely and to value the friends I touch as they are, rather than how I hope they would be to me.

      I stand by this!

      2 votes
  5. [2]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. zoec
      Link Parent
      I am so sorry to hear that. I believe the "fix" is always a process. It takes patience and courage. But I think everyone can do it and achieve their own desired way of being, and the source of...

      I am so sorry to hear that.

      I believe the "fix" is always a process. It takes patience and courage. But I think everyone can do it and achieve their own desired way of being, and the source of that ability is within everyone. It's just that each is destined to find it in their own way.

      I hope you'll be getting better soon.

      1 vote
  6. [3]
    zoec
    Link
    The idea of this post was formed vaguely after reading the Daily Tildes thread about site activity. A hunch feeling: "there could be many possible causes, but... are we getting more lonely?" So I...

    The idea of this post was formed vaguely after reading the Daily Tildes thread about site activity. A hunch feeling: "there could be many possible causes, but... are we getting more lonely?" So I thought, why not have a conversation about loneliness?

    But then I was rather anxious and afraid that I might not be up to it, whatever that meant. I feared that nobody would show up. I also worried that I might have written in a wrong tone. But nevertheless I gave it a try. And I really appreciate all your heartfelt testimonials and meaningful expressions. It's a surprise.

    Like many, I tasted loneliness when young, not having siblings, within a family structure that promoted emotional isolation. I even felt I got rewarded for loneliness. I guess part of the reason I became an overachiever at school was to fill the void left by loneliness. It might "work" for a time... until it didn't. Then I got burned out. And I kept filling the void with questionable things. And it got worse...

    But I'm also fortunate and I am thankful for all the help I receive. I started to believe that it could be possible to interrogate loneliness and learn its meaning. There is this void, and everyone has it. And knowing this made me a more understanding and giving person. And I'm still learning it.

    Let's keep on :)

    P.S. I feel it's totally fine to be "incoherent". When you write with your being, coherence doesn't matter.

    Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting...

    (Virginia Woolf: Orlando)

    4 votes
    1. [2]
      patience_limited
      Link Parent
      To some extent, I've found that it's more helpful in the long term, both to myself and others, to be as open and emotionally honest in online discussion as possible, while exercising due caution...

      To some extent, I've found that it's more helpful in the long term, both to myself and others, to be as open and emotionally honest in online discussion as possible, while exercising due caution about the forum. I'm very grateful that you created a space and fostered the discussion - it's an undervalued skill.

      Tildes remains a very selected population. I'm guessing that most of the people in this thread are already inclined to live too much in our heads, and spend an amount of online discussion time that's a couple of sigmas outside the norm.

      If you seek to interrogate the origins of loneliness, it's a prime study group - the road here is paved with defective social connectivity through work adaptation, ASD and obsessiveness, intolerant IRL communities, and all the other factors that lead to Internet refugeeism.

      2 votes
      1. zoec
        Link Parent
        I agree with your idea about openness to emotions. Perhaps more openness may help us all get a step beyond taking refuge, and even making the RL a little bit nicer... One can hope!

        I agree with your idea about openness to emotions. Perhaps more openness may help us all get a step beyond taking refuge, and even making the RL a little bit nicer... One can hope!

  7. [4]
    ThirdSquid
    Link
    I feel loneliness a lot. I don't think my self esteem is frankly very great at all. I've had several bad relationships and the last one was pretty abusive to me as well. The fact that I'm...

    I feel loneliness a lot. I don't think my self esteem is frankly very great at all. I've had several bad relationships and the last one was pretty abusive to me as well. The fact that I'm questioning my gender identity right now doesn't help me either.

    And I look around and see all these people around me with their happy relationships and people who love and care about them and I'm just really sad because I've never had anything like that and I don't think I will ever have that. I feel unlovable and it makes me extremely lonely.

    At this point, my ideal relationship would just be one where the other person cares about me and puts in the same amount of effort as I do. But that's never happened. I'm constantly taken advantage of. Maybe That's what I deserve?

    Anyways, I'm getting off topic. The point I'm getting at here is that my huge lack of self esteem in this kind of area and my horrible past experiences leads me to feel extremely alone all the time because I feel like I'm worthless and unworthy of being loved.

    So yes, loneliness is a huge thing and I feel it every day weighing down on me constantly. That's my experience I guess.

    3 votes
    1. [3]
      patience_limited
      Link Parent
      I'm sorry to hear that uncertainty about your gender identity is troubling you; that's a difficult and complicated area that calls for professional assistance, as soon as possible. I found it was...

      I'm sorry to hear that uncertainty about your gender identity is troubling you; that's a difficult and complicated area that calls for professional assistance, as soon as possible. I found it was really important to spend some time separating things that dissatisfied me about my assigned gender role, from things that dissatisfied me about my physiological gender, and came to the conclusion that challenging the role was the right way to for me to proceed.

      It's never beneficial to compare your life with those of others who appear "happy" - all you're doing is making yourself unhappier while speculating in a vacuum of reliable information. One of the areas where therapy has been beneficial to me, has been excising absolute words like "never" and "always" from what I permit myself to consider possible; I will say I've never yet met a person who couldn't become lovable.

      When I hear words like "deserve", " worthless", "unworthy", it reminds me of the extremely depressed spot I was in a couple of years ago - cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation were tremendously helpful. I'll also note that some psychotropics were involved to climb out of the rut.

      Self-esteem is such a fragile phenomenon - it doesn't take much to demolish it. It's hard work to maintain resiliency against a constant onslaught of intrusive traumatic memory, commercial undermining (I've had whole days of anxiety about whether or not my breath was offensive enough to keep people at a distance, and a cupboard full of defensive purchases), bad economic conditions, cut-throat competition, physiological exhaustion, licit drug use (caffeine and alcohol are lousy for social anxiety), and a whole host of other damages.

      There's no one right answer to all of this, just a suite of tools and practices that aren't magic solutions individually, but have cumulative effect.

      3 votes
      1. [2]
        ThirdSquid
        Link Parent
        Thank you for the nice words there. I really appreciate it. I'm still trying to figure out myself and I want to try some new things on that front to see how it feels soon. And I know it's stupid...

        Thank you for the nice words there. I really appreciate it.

        I'm still trying to figure out myself and I want to try some new things on that front to see how it feels soon.

        And I know it's stupid to think I'm worthless, but it's my feeling with myself. I wish I could get therapy, but I really don't have the means for it right now.

        Plus trying to get therapy for both my horrible image of myself and my gender identity at the same time is going to end up way more expensive than anything I could hope to afford right now, especially with no insurance and on a college student budget.

        But thanks again for being supportive!

        1 vote
        1. patience_limited
          Link Parent
          There's absolutely nothing "stupid" about feeling worthless - part of the difficulty is not punishing yourself or judging the dissonance between what your rational brain says and how you feel...

          There's absolutely nothing "stupid" about feeling worthless - part of the difficulty is not punishing yourself or judging the dissonance between what your rational brain says and how you feel about it.

          As to costs, does your college have a student health service? That's usually no or low cost, and if that isn't helpful, there are community organizations, especially those that help with gender issues. See: https://itgetsbetter.org/get-help/

          1 vote
  8. [4]
    notnamed
    Link
    I've been thinking a lot about loneliness recently, specifically putting aside the thoughts of societal loneliness and depression to try to focus on coping mechanisms that I can use to help myself...

    I've been thinking a lot about loneliness recently, specifically putting aside the thoughts of societal loneliness and depression to try to focus on coping mechanisms that I can use to help myself first.

    I think I probably share a trait with a lot of folks here in that I have long used the internet as a way to broaden my social circle - and indeed, the internet is the vast majority of my social circle, if you count friends that I now stay in contact with primarily through the internet. I have internet communities of people I've known for well over a decade - longer than any of my romantic relationships - that hang out in chat rooms, WhatsApp group chats, etc. Folks I've met in person, folks I've known my whole life, folks that I've only ever interacted with online. I'm usually meeting up with an internet friend every couple of months.

    I'm starting to worry that I've habituated myself to satiating my loneliness with online interaction. There's nothing wrong with interacting with people online - a stigma I've been pushing back against for my entire connected life, which is most of my life - but I'm wondering how much baby I threw out with the bathwater in pushing back against that stigma.

    I find myself more often feeling lonely and actively avoiding my online communities, actively avoiding interactions with friends who are far away, because I feel too lonely to be a human in their e-presence. Part of this is anxiety, depression, and things not related to the core loneliness issue, but what I'm trying to get at is that I wonder if the stigma against online friends had a kernel of truth in it. That I'm losing something by using technology to create my connections. That by habituating myself in this way, I've cut off something very important.

    I'm not good at making friends in my city, by which I mean going out and meeting people at random groups, striking up a conversation at a park or in a bar, things like that. Do I need to make a much more concerted effort in this area? Is that kernel of truth that physical presence, physical touch, looking directly into someone's eyes, carries the psychological weight to banish loneliness that technological connection doesn't? I can feel just as anxious and lonely when I'm with people as when I'm alone, sometimes, so I'm not sure yet. I don't even know what that concerted effort would look like. But I've been thinking about it a lot.

    3 votes
    1. [3]
      zoec
      Link Parent
      I think physical presence is really, really wonderful and important. This is not at odds with the "loner with people" effect that we feel so often. I don't know, maybe it's the presence of a...

      I think physical presence is really, really wonderful and important. This is not at odds with the "loner with people" effect that we feel so often. I don't know, maybe it's the presence of a trusted person that does the magic.

      It's interesting to read about your infrequent face-to-face meetups with internet friends. Do you think this can go more often?

      One of my best friends is one I've never met in person. We don't exchange messages every day, but in chunks when we're free, writing to each other like old-style pen pals. We also exchange hand-written letters and handicrafts. I feel that there's a kind of surrogate realness with those rough, physical objects, and we attach great emotional weight to them. We'd love to meet in person, but we're also content with the kind of space we've mapped out and with which we're comfortable.

      1. [2]
        notnamed
        Link Parent
        I think it's interesting that you characterize my description of meetups with internet friends as "infrequent;" while I was writing that I actually thought that was a somewhat-high frequency. :)...

        I think it's interesting that you characterize my description of meetups with internet friends as "infrequent;" while I was writing that I actually thought that was a somewhat-high frequency. :) It could be more often for some friends; others who are a continent or more away, probably not.

        Thank you for sharing your story about your best friend - I love the idea of exchanging messages like old-style pen pals, especially cherishing the hand-written letters and crafts. I can definitely see the value that can be imbued on physical objects to impart realness to the relationship you have. Maybe I should ask for addresses and send out Christmas cards this year. Do you do anything like that, with a schedule or rough cadence, or do you generally keep up with folks when you have things to share with them ad-hoc?

        1 vote
        1. zoec
          Link Parent
          We set out to do some gift exchange for festive days but then ended up with an ad-hoc non-schedule :)

          We set out to do some gift exchange for festive days but then ended up with an ad-hoc non-schedule :)

  9. [2]
    fairewinds
    Link
    I've grown up in a more oriental culture before moving to North America when I was around 18, and although I've suffered from loneliness before my move due to family issues and personality...

    I've grown up in a more oriental culture before moving to North America when I was around 18, and although I've suffered from loneliness before my move due to family issues and personality predispositions, I feel like spending time in different cultures opened my eyes to why occidental countries are more prone to depression and loneliness.

    However, I'm not saying that I know the absolute truth or anything, it's just some things I've personally noticed and I hope it can help others to hear it! So here goes:

    To different degrees, eastern cultures tend to emphasize individualism less, and following a societal code more.

    Both approaches have their pros and cons, of course, but I've noticed that focusing less on individualism gives groups of people a stronger sense of belonging. It keeps families more tight-knit, school/work-mates are closer to one another since they have more in common, etc. That is, it sets up the expectation that everyone is "in it together" and that they'll all look out for one another. It also motivates everyone to keep conflict at a minimum and encourage forgiveness amongst each other, so the social structure doesn't fall apart. Also, with the proper parental guidance, it forces kids to learn a lot of social skills early on in life, as well as how to interact with others and how to keep themselves and others socially healthy.

    When you have friends and family - like it or not - that you know will be there for you - like it or not - when you're expected to interact with said friends and family and share, at the very least, general topics or hobbies with them... it's hard to feel lonely.

    It's also easier to combat depression with that setup, too, because (a) you'll have at least one or two people who you're close to that you can share your troubles with, and (b) they'll have learned how to empathize with you, and you'll have learned how to get things off your chest in a healthy way. Not only that, the people around you will be an obligatory 'escape' for you from the endless spiral of life's troubles and other sorts of 'mental beasts'.

    That is: I think the best medicine against loneliness and depression is being obligated to have some sort of social brotherhood in your life, where everyone is involved with the others, keep an eye out for each other in, and educate themselves on how to deal with others properly and mitigate conflict.

    I hope this will help someone! I'd love to hear your thoughts about this, too.

    3 votes
    1. zoec
      Link Parent
      I totally agree with the importance of social support. I believe the social is where humaneness is. A person's self-sufficiency ought not to be at odds with relations between fellow humans. As for...

      I totally agree with the importance of social support. I believe the social is where humaneness is. A person's self-sufficiency ought not to be at odds with relations between fellow humans.

      As for cultural differences, I feel that my perceptions are kinda different. For context, I'm Chinese. My upbringing was some kind of "worst of both worlds" of individualism and collectivism. I felt like an outcast in a tribalist world. I felt my archetype to be Antigone -- but without a conformist but loving sibling. My brush with European culture felt like the reverse. I met people who are both self-sufficient and open and supportive to peers. I met leaders who led by example, by working "in it together", rather than by authority. For the first time I hugged a friend.

      I don't mean to say that these snapshots were somehow representative of the cultures. They weren't. A "culture" is not a monolith. But I agree with you in that travel and diverse cultural experiences is eye-opening. It helps us recognize and reconsider our cognitive biases. For me this happened to be mostly positive.

      I think I'm fairly lucky and I met a lot of amazing people from many different backgrounds. But I know things could have been much worse, as a result of intolerance, racism, etc.

      3 votes
  10. [2]
    eyybby
    Link
    I was thinking about writing a post about this in itself and I might yet, but I'll put some musings here. I have been thinking about this recently too. After a long stretch of severe depression,...

    I was thinking about writing a post about this in itself and I might yet, but I'll put some musings here.

    I have been thinking about this recently too. After a long stretch of severe depression, coming out of it but still feeling isolated, lonely, to now feeling the most confident I can ever remember. I think a lot of the reason why I feel confident now is due to how I tackled my loneliness feelings. I think it all comes down to vulnerability.

    When somebody makes themselves vulnerable to you, you never respond cruelly to them. You're sensitive to the position they've put themselves in and are receptive to them. It makes you feel more comfortable around them. It makes you feel safer. The reverse is true too. If you make yourself vulnerable to people they will respond in kind. You will feel safer. You will feel more confident. You will be validated.

    This is what I'm crediting my (potentially fleeting) current confidence to. Practising vulnerability for lack of better phrasing. Opening up to people about my half-baked thoughts. Acknowledging I have emotions and I want to talk about them. Feeling the fear of taking a risk and doing it anyways. Be the person who offers a hug for no reason. We're all human. We all want these vulnerable moments with each other.

    3 votes
    1. zoec
      Link Parent
      Thank you for sharing your personal insight. What you write about vulnerability really resonates with me here. For me, I think "vulnerability" is not merely the willingness to take risk. It's also...

      Thank you for sharing your personal insight. What you write about vulnerability really resonates with me here.

      For me, I think "vulnerability" is not merely the willingness to take risk. It's also a relaxed stance, where my "surface area" seems to expand and my mind becomes more receptive.

      I don't worry about your "fleeting" confidence. I think it's natural that emotions pass and go and moods change. It's all in the flow, there will be ups and downs, and in our gentle resilience we'll experience the full range of what it means to be human.

      1 vote