I’ve decided, possibly prematurely, that the most awful thing a human being can feel is loneliness. Imagine having no one around you to turn to in times of crisis, no one to laugh with, no one to cry with, no one to trust. The world ignores your every plea for love, and instead you are met with unwavering indifference.
This, I believe, is a human’s worst fear. Why else would we fear the death of our loved ones, of public embarrassment, of social isolation? Nearly everything we try to avoid as a species, everything we fear, revolves around out need to be connected and avoid being alone. The most tortured of souls are those who are so alone that they no longer believe in the world as a kind place. They no longer believe love or kindness exists. And then they grow apathetic to it all, beyond hope.
We thrive on communication and intimacy. It’s our literal lifeline. In times of loneliness, we simply don’t know how to function. It’s unnatural and unusual.
Now, more than ever, I fear that people are becoming lonely. We are surrounded by people and information and connection, but we avoid intimacy with others like the plague. Why? Why don’t we share ourselves with our fellow human beings? Maybe this is only an issue for young people, but I doubt it.
There seems to be an overwhelming sense of secrecy in the world nowadays. Blame technology for making it easy to share secrets or blame cultural shifts in thinking, but it’s happening. We are learning to layer our true selves with facades, masks, fake identities. We lie and cheat and withhold the truth. And we do this, paradoxically, do avoid being lonely. We are so afraid of social rejection and isolation that we build walls around ourselves. We make ourselves lonely to avoid being alone.
The beauty of this sad situation is that it’s fairly easily fixed. Once we can recognize that we isolate ourselves out of fear, we can begin to open up again. We are naturally talented at creating meaningful, lasting connections with others.
Over the last year, I’ve attempted to be the connection for many people. I have been called a “therapist” many times by my peers, partially as a joke, but not entirely. I coax people gently to share themselves with me, to let those walls down for a bit of time. It’s not always easy, but people do come around. If you truly care about someone, they will respond eventually; their need for love will override their need for self-protection. True, there are people beyond repair, but the general public is salvageable.
I implore you to do one of two things, depending upon your personal situation. If you are lucky like me to have intimacy and closeness in your life already, then you have so much potential to change another person’s life. Find a person who you believe suffers from loneliness, and let them open up to you. This doesn’t have to be a romantic affair at all; in can be between friends, coworkers, even acquaintances. I’ve had people open up to me and tell me things they’ve rarely shared after only a few days of knowing them well. You never know; you could literally change someone’s entire life. And I think that’s special enough to merit the effort it will take to make someone open up. However, if someone is asking you to leave them be, don’t push: you might end up making them even more insecure and scared to share in the future with others.
If you do feel alone, then, well, you aren’t alone. There are millions of people around the world who feel exactly like you do, but not to fear: you can find closeness again. Obviously there are often numerous and complicated psychological reasons for people to shut off from others, and I do not pretend to be any authority on that. But if you can figure out for yourself why you hide from intimacy, try to assess the situation: are you protecting yourself or hurting yourself? Are your walls in place for a reason, or are they simply inhibiting you from future connection because of a dead issue from the past? No matter how much you’ve been hurt in the past (and I’m terribly sorry about that), there’s always hope. There will always be people to share with and form connections with. If you can get someone to share with you, most will want to hear your story, too. People are mutualistic creatures; we like to give and receive equally (for the most part). Maybe it seems to scary now, but if you’re already alone, what do you have to lose? Put yourself out there and try, slowly at first, to expose those parts of yourself that will yield true connection. You may just save yourself from the depression of loneliness.
I hope this isn’t too depressing. My goal is to inspire you to help make the world a little better, and I think that’s achievable for everyone on the issue of loneliness. I think that you all understand better than most the importance of connection in human life, and you all can make a lasting and significant difference in the lives around you. You have the power to create love and connection. Abuse it.