In Defense of Loneliness

There is something to be said for loneliness.

To be clear, loneliness is not merely the act of being alone. Loneliness can be experienced in a crowd– in my experience, more often so.

There is a theory that I’ve come across a few times in the endless labyrinth that is the Internet. The theory goes that God– or whatever other ethereal being one chooses to install into this particular tale– created humans as two halves of a whole. It follows, then, that these half-humans are to wander the Earth until they each find their designated half. This might sound to most reasonable people like BS, and that’s because it is. As a member of the infamous Millennial generation, one of the frustrations that I struggle with is the feeling of disconnectedness from those around me. While there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, the truth is that for the most part, life has become such a solitary experience that even those connections made between one and the outside world are tinged with an inescapable sense of ‘separateness.’

The funny thing is that, despite our obsession with calling out how we have lost our ability to connect with each other, we have not recognized how blindly co-dependent we have become. It’s unclear to me whether or not this desire to be part of a half is caused by the crushing fear of loneliness that society imposes, or if people would truly rather distract themselves with a whole other human being rather than deal with who they are, but either way, I’m calling bullshit on it. For years and years I have watched my friends fall in and out of what they called love-  but what I perceived to be trivial connections that had somehow become exaggerated in their minds. I mean, let’s face it, these people were tweens or, at their oldest, twenty-somethings. How could they possibly be ready for anything so beyond their scope? And yet this absurdity continued throughout my high school years and into college.

While in high school I could claim that they just didn’t know any better, in college it became difficult to justify why people–especially young women my age– sought to constantly make themselves part of an incoherent unit rather than a stable whole. While my female friends deemed me unsympathetic when I wouldn’t react to their relationship problems with the typical “I’m sure it’ll work out” or “You two are meant for each other,” I couldn’t bring myself to fake it. The truth was apparent to me– if it’s not working out, it’s probably because one or more of you is not ready.

Before coming to Canada, I went to school for a semester at a small Christian college in the US. At this– and as I found out later, other– schools, there was a phenomenon known as “ring by spring,” in which the number of young couples getting engaged increased almost exponentially just before spring. It was interesting to me that people tacitly accepted this without question, but it soon became apparent that the pressure on young people– especially good young Christian people– to get married in their early twenties was significant. I could go into lengthy detail about the additional pressure, especially on young women, to procreate before their thirties, but I won’t because it’s beside the point.

My point is that at times the choices we make seem fuelled by not a desire to be or to become, but rather not to be. Let me be clear, I am in no way against marriage or commitment or relationships. What I am against is the fear and stigma that society has perpetuated around being alone. According to society, only the unwanted, damaged, or otherwise defective are cut out to be alone, and everyone who is alone is, by default, lonely. But is either of those really a bad thing?

Being alone allows for rumination, critical moments of assessment of the self and others, and can bear fruit to great ideas. Loneliness, that which so many people are familiar with and terrified of, is a necessary evil and part of the human experience. In fact, I am convinced that the more people let themselves feel lonely, the more they open themselves up to self-discovery. The lonely are those who are more compassionate, more partial to those who suffer in any way. Allowing oneself to feel is a key part of being human, so why do we reject certain emotions and not let them work their way through us? Loneliness creates strength. Once we learn to be alone, that is when we can truly be with others. So, let’s tell our kids that it’s okay to feel like no one wants us sometimes, let’s tell our teenagers that it’s normal to feel like the only person on the planet who feels the way we feel, let’s tell our college students that we don’t have to undo the puzzle that is another human being in order to be considered whole, and let’s tell ourselves that it’s not selfish or pathetic to feel completely alone. Because loneliness, like death and taxes, is the common denominator we all share. In being lonely, we are not alone.

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Lana is currently a third-year BBA student at Brock University. She was born in Ethiopia, but has lived in Burundi, Sudan, Kenya, and the United States as well, before coming to Canada for university as a Permanent Resident. She is 21 years old and her interests include drawing, reading, writing, yoga, music, and kickboxing. Some issues that are of great interest to her include travel, humanitarian aid, mental health, art, philosophy, and history.

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