Oscar Wilde proclaimed “it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person”.
It seems to be the standard to believe we require companionship to complete who we are, emphasising on the security it provides. It is also less unpleasant than the constant inner conflict we endure when alone. I have drawn the conclusion, you can never be truly fulfilled by companionship or yourself, until you embrace discovering oneself alone. As Alain de Botton once said, “the best guarantor of ending up in a good relationship is the capacity to be alone”.
Loneliness is not easy to endure and it never fully leaves you, making you restlessly long for connection, communal intimacy or escape. It is burdensome and suffering, where “one’s inner scream becomes deafening, deadening, severing any thread of connection to lives”, as Maria Popova puts it.
After a failed relationship, British Author Olivia Laing relocated to the USA and found herself at the mercy of daily, bone-deep loneliness that was all-consuming:
“Loneliness is difficult to confess; difficult too to categorise. Like depression, a state with which it often intersects, it can run deep in the fabric of a person, as much a part of one’s being as laughing easily of having red hair. Then again, it can be transient, lapping in and out in reaction to external circumstance, like the loneliness that follows on the heels of a bereavement, break-up or change in social circles.”
“Mortality is lonely. Physical existence is lonely by its nature,stuck in a body that’s moving inexorably towards decay, shrinking, wastage and fracture.Then there’s the loneliness of bereavement, the loneliness of lost or damaged love, of missing one or many specific people, the loneliness of mourning.”
“Like depression, like melancholy or restlessness, it (loneliness) is subject too to pathologisation, to being considered a disease. It has been said emphatically that loneliness serves no purpose… Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think any experience so much a part of our common shared lives can be entirely devoid of meaning, without a richness and a value of some kind.”
Experiencing such turmoil attached to loneliness is unproductive, which society has linked to failing at a fulfilling life. Yet the restlessness and anguish associated with being alone can trigger great creativity and presence, discovering what it is to be alive.
To break free of that personal imprisonment (thus bringing about societal change) through loving, trusting and relying on oneself, we are then able to achieve solitude instead which liberates the spirit: “loneliness might be taking you towards an otherwise unreachable experience of reality”. Simply put, solitude is reached when you accept “the fact that loneliness, longing, does not mean one has failed, but simply that one is alive”. Laing adds:
“I don’t believe the cure for loneliness is meeting someone, not necessarily. I think it is about two things: learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many of the things that seem to afflict us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted”.
“Loneliness is personal, and it is also political. Loneliness is collective; it is a city. As to how to inhabit it, there are no rules and nor is there any need to feel shame, only to remember that the pursuit of individual happiness does not trump or excuse our obligations to each other. We are in this together, this accumulation of scars, this world of objects, this physical and temporary heaven that so often takes on the countenance of hell. What matters is kindness; what matters is solidarity. What matters is staying alert, staying open, because if we know anything from what has gone before us, it is that the time for feeling will not last.”