Soul Crushing Isolation

It's a Sunday afternoon around 2:00 p.m., the weather is quite warm and taking in the view outside of my apartment window I see myriad people walking, chatting, shopping and otherwise enjoying a pleasant summer day. I, however, have only just summoned the enormous strength of will required to leave my bed. It is not that I am lazy or unfit or even enjoy loafing in bed for extended periods of time - rather, I know that being awake means being alone. At least in my dreams there are people, there are even conversations - only in that sublime state of unconsciousness do I have what might be loosely termed "a social life." When I eventually do rise and begin my day, I know that it will be hour upon relentless hour of being alone. During my waking hours I work, go to the gym, watch movies and, most often, read.

The latter is quite understandable - reading is more or less my job, I am a doctoral candidate in (and this I do find wonderfully ironic) the social sciences at a large research university. While I find my research quite interesting, my work only tends to increase my loneliness. I have neither an office nor teaching responsibilities - I am well supported by multiple fellowships that require me to simply complete my doctoral research. This is an enviable position in which to find oneself, well at least in the eyes of many of my colleagues. Conversely, in my case, it simply serves to preclude anything resembling interaction with others and heightens my almost hermetical existence.

I recently noticed how books have become my primary interlocutors. While an intriguing situation, it has also made me somewhat concerned. If an author is making an argument I think is erroneous, I find myself arguing out loud or responding (again, verbally) with a sarcastic remark. When I finish reading a book (roughly every other day), I have feelings of sadness knowing that this "person" that I have just had an enjoyable mental discussion with is now out of my life. This new "status quo" has increasingly made me apprehensive as to the subsequent development of my own emotional/mental state. Other than books I fill the emptiness with a panoply of essays, articles, short stories, and poetry - alas, without anyone to discuss them with. Often I will have discussions with myself - arguing multiple different particular interpretations from conflicting standpoints. It helps to pass the time.

In an hour or two I will go out to a restaurant to have dinner - something light, probably Indian or Thai, with a glass or two of red wine. I almost always eat out as the experience puts me in the company of other people. There is an illusion of sociability and the possibility, the hope, the unrequited desire of a conversation - even if it is a perfunctory chat about the weather with a waiter or someone else in the service industry. I'll bring my cell phone with me and place it on the table next to me - but that frisson of excitement when a text arrives is generally accompanied by the disappointment when I discover that the much anticipated ring is simply signaling the arrival of an advertisement or some other impersonal message. I'll read through dinner - having become an expert over the last couple of years at propping up books against salt shakers, vases, water glasses or whatever else is on the table.

Later in the evening, I will return home to my empty but immaculately clean apartment (when you are alone, there is always time to tidy up. Perhaps I will do some writing or watch a movie until I fall asleep only to know that the next day will bring with it the same pattern, the same repetition, and increasingly the same feelings of envy, emptiness, and bitterness as I recognize this is the sum total of my existence. Perhaps the dissertation I write, the articles I publish will leave a positive mark on the world after I am gone; yet, I will have failed to leave an emotive mark through any real close friendships or relationships.

I will continue to try to fill the gap - visit art galleries, attend lectures, even watch sporting events - but, per usual, by myself. Concerts (classical) I particularly enjoy - until the intermission - that awkward 20-30 minutes when everyone is chatting, having a drink, etc. and I find myself desperately re-reading the discussion of that evening's repertoire in the program for the third time while quietly seething with jealousy.

I often wonder how things turned out this way and if they will ever change. I have always been somewhat socially awkward and bookish, but I never expected that at 31 years of age I would be looking at the next 40 years as what in my mind is resembles one of those stretches of deserted highway in the back country of Utah or Montana. Yet, there I am and nothing appears likely to intervene to improve the situation.
UW2012 UW2012
4 Responses Aug 8, 2010

Oh dear, UW2012, let's get clear here. The only thing that can 'intervene' in the situation is you! <br />
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As someone who has spent a lot of time alone I have come to appreciate that I create the circumstances I find myself in. Yes, there is a part of me who wants to be around people more, but there is also a part of me who prefers solitude (and that part normally wins out).<br />
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Well and truly into my middle years, I am currently in the midst of another extended period of time wherein I have no close friends and few acquaintances. Sometimes, like this morning, I find myself starting to think negatively about that and I then have to utilise a number of strategies to pull myself out of the doldrums. I mean, I have a choices. Choices about the situation I'm in right now, and about how to label the situation, and about how to respond in the future.I mean, if I really wanted to be around more people I could just make different life choices and I would be around *lots* of people (and, experience has taught me that when that happens I *so* want to be alone again!). <br />
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Of course, when I am ready for that social adventure once again that is what I will do. I'll go out there and be proactive in meeting people. I'll label every person who pays me no attention as "scared" or "confused" or "anxious" or "hesitant" or "lonely too". I'll stop being the 'seeker' of attention and start being the 'creator' of attention (by giving some to others). I'll stop being jealous of other people's relationships (after all, I know only too well how smooth these can look on the surface whilst being horrendous behind closed doors) and really, truly, fully remind myself why others might be jealous of me (don't just count your blessings, bathe in the sense of privilege they give you - perhaps you have forgotten or have never know how it is to be not just lonely but lonely *and* poor *and* sick *and* ostracized *and*...)<br />
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As for your talking to book authors (or even the protagonists in fictional works) all that tells me is that you are highly verbal, or linguistically intelligent and that this is a necessary part of how you process your thoughts. Isn't it a joy to be able to put your situation into words? How lucky you are to be both that intelligent and that educated.<br />
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I smiled when I read of your talking to books. I have done that and more. I even got through one period of isolation during which I was quite sick (and my options for change were thus limited) by inventing an imaginary friend. I was 40+ and it's the only time I've ever had an imaginary friend! But you know what? 'He' got me through that situation and I remain greatful that I have an imagination that let me come up with such a solution. After all, the fact that I knew he was imaginary was proof that I wasn't losing my mind! (I have worked with people who have seriously lost touch with reality and even then, life ain't always so bad)!<br />
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I could go on, but even though I am alone life calls to me - there are some things you can enjoy best in solitude and I am going to indulge in some of them! :-)<br />
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Take care UW2012, this too shall pass.


I am sorry to hear that you are having such a hard time. The good news is that your finally putting yourself out there to make friends by joining EP and sharing your story with us all. Something you need to remember is that everyone at some time in their life feels lonely. The goal is to find a way to change that around, and then having the courage to follow through with it. To me, it seems like you are already doing that by reaching out to people here on EP. Having said all that, if you ever want to chat please feel free to send me a PM. <br />
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Oh, and I was thinking, since you do like to read so much, why not join a book club where you live? I think that would be a wonderful way to get out of your apartment, meet new people and at the same time, get back to actually living your life. Just an idea is all. TTUL. :)

Welcome to EP. There are a lot of people on here that can relate with you.