All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

It’s such a fine line between solitude and loneliness. It’s a tussle so subtle, that most often we’re not even aware that we’re battling it out with ourselves. See-sawing between wanting to be alone, and ending up lonely. Choosing to stay in, and ending up left out.

In the past year I’ve had more than my share of feeling the desperate need to cut back and be with myself. Maybe it was the angst of all the choices I found in the midst of. Maybe it was the fact that I could only make the right choice, if I learned to be still and listen to myself. Maybe it was essential to help me settle into the choice. Maybe it was about accepting it, but a large part of it all left me feeling very, very lonely. Like nobody really understood what was going on with me. It was a process so intensely personal, I wanted to shut myself in. At some point I realised, it didn’t matter who understood, who didn’t and why. One day the scales tipped and I found that the more comfortable I felt with the changes I was experiencing, the easier it became to accept them. The easier it became to be myself, by myself. And that’s really when the eerie loneliness turned to a wonderful solitude. The kind that lets you choose your own company above everything else. When you don’t constantly need people, frenetic socialising and some activity or the other on hand, to justify everything you do.

And yet within those phases of extreme solitude — of doing nothing but staying in, being low-key and at peace with being alone, without needing company all the time — I’ve had moments of just wanting to get out and be with someone. To cook something for a bunch of people. To go out and watch a movie with someone. To enjoy a glass of wine in a balcony in Venite. Sometimes to even drag the husband out some place nice, even if it is to sit by ourselves, with our respective books. Not talking, not doing anything together, but just being together, doing our own thing. I craved that kind of closeness, even in the throes what many deemed my anti-social phase and I was lucky I always had people to reach out to. To go out and get that drink. To have a conversation, to discuss an idea. To share a common love for something — music, a movie, a book, whatever. To enjoy silent company.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that too many things compel us to go into ourselves for a bit. It’s the safest bet when you want to cut the clutter and keep things simple. To strip down to the bare minimum — even if it means just yourself. But in our deepest, darkest, loneliest moments, where do we go to? Where do we belong? And how far do we go before we come back out of the shadows and into the light?

Today the thought came back to me, not spurred by the classic Beatles track, a bout of loneliness or the like, but by a 100-degree-fever delerium that attacks on a particularly oppressive afternoon, when I was mid-conversation with a couple of people who I realised are at various stages of distance. Various stages of friendship. Some lost, some found, some undiscovered. Some even trying hard to be forgotten.

Lying in bed, my pillow moistened with the waning fever, not wanting to move, my head swirled with the sudden realisation that right this moment, I know way too many people who have gone so far out into the dark, that they can’t seem to find their way back. Who want so bad to cut themselves off that they’ve forgotten what its like outside. In them, every so often I see a glimmer of a social person. In memories kindled, in a joke shared, in meandering reminiscence, in mindless banter. In each of those instances I have seen people wanting to come out, inching out a little, but retreating at double speed.

What’s up with that? What makes us slide down that rabbit hole? The one that forces us to be macho and prove to the world that we are okay, when we are alone? Why do some of us try so hard to live a life that in every way, goes against the grain of the most basic human nature — to be social. To be in the company of others, just sometimes? When does the elementary need to find solitude and stillness (a very vital need, might I add) turn into a heavy habit of isolation that becomes so hard to shed, one gives up altogether?

When do we choose to draw these lines? Lines that define personal space, choices and states of being. Lines that start off as lines, but turn us into islands. When do we get so caught up in keeping our space to ourselves that we forget that it is in fact possible to straddle the two worlds? Because deep down all we really want is to have the best of both.

That’s the thing about solitude and loneliness. There’s a subtle line that separates the two. You’re never really sure which side you belong. And sometimes the line is so fuzzy you can’t decide if it keeps you safe within, or it cuts you off.

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16 Replies to “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”

  1. You put what was on my mind the past few weeks so eloquently, that I just had to stop simply lurking around here & comment.

    “What makes us slide down that rabbit hole?”
    The feeling that our rightful private space & time of solitude is being encroached upon by people around us. The feeling that the “social” walls are fast closing in around us – stifling us.
    When we feel that nothing helps push those walls back, we figure only a higher, stronger, thicker wall – of isolation – can stop those walls from crushing our soul to pulp.

    At some point, we get so used to the darkness withing the walls, that we finds that it hurts the eyes to peep outside. But I guess, the difference between being stranded in loneliness & simply relishing the solitude for a while is in recognizing that one need not wait for the “social” wall to crumble.. one can burrow tunnels and by-pass both walls – at ones own pace.

    1. Yes, thats exactly what I meant.. The walls are comfortable, and essential sometimes too. But one doesnt need to stay there, there are means to come out into the light sometimes. Heck, we all need it. SOmetime, if not all the time.

      And thanks for delurking :)

  2. Aha. This discussion reminded me of a friend who was going through such a strong anti-social phase once that I coined Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘I am a rock’ his theme song. Naturally he was not amsued :)

    1. I’m a rock..a lot of the time, I must admit :P
      So I can imagine how unamused he must have been. But Im curious, did he ever have non-anti-social (is that even a term) phases?

  3. you didn’t seem very anti-social when we met! But I get the loneliness that you speak of. Of understanding or feeling something only you can.
    At least things are better now! :)

    1. Oh thats because I wanted to meet you! But Ive had my phases..of not wanting to do anything that involved more than 2 people. Of not wanting to go out at all. Just staying in. Alone, all by myself and most times I was okay with it.. Phases happen, even now :P

  4. I relate to this post. Like most people, there are times/ days when I suddenly find there being so much ‘noise’ around me. Then I need to simply retract by myeslf, to find a little quiet; all this though, falls very safely within the realms of ‘solitude’. I’ve been lucky enough to not have lost people dear to me to the kind of no- return loneliness, that you speak of. I’ve seen people though, who do this. Sometimes, it is just themselves. Sometimes, I’ve seen entire families retreat into this shell of loneliness, this behavior that goes against the basic grain of human nature, like you called it. I wonder why. I think it must be a deep- seated pain that must push them away so much, to such a point of never return.

    1. Deep-seated pain, insecurities, fears, complexes — its a long list. And trust me, it gets tiring to be the listening ear. More so when the persons in question want to do nothing more than complain and crib, but not really have the balls to come out and go back to things the way they once were.

  5. Your first paragraph, it captured perfectly the way I felt a month ago. In my case, I was just tired of meeting people’s expectations. When you are a “social” being, without your realization you start conforming to a set of expectations. You almost assume a personality. No doubt this personality is close to who you are at the core but it is not all you. Over a period of time, the personality takes over and you get lost. When that happens, I head into my shell like a turtle. I have to examine if I am who I want to be. If I even like what I have chosen to become. A month or two goes by, I get in touch with “me” and then I am ready to come back out again. I am lucky in that I have friends and family that just let me be when i retreat into my shell and welcome me with open arms when I come out again.

    1. Oh yes, thats another reason to retreat.. I have known others to feel this way, though I cant say I have experienced this myself, because by default I stay away from company that doesnt let me be myself. I feel like a fish out of water very easily, and tend to deviate away naturally. But having understanding friends who accept you for what you are, with your need to cut off is so nice. Its what I wish some of my friends understood. That they can choose to retreat, but also remember that Im around when they wish to come back, so they can shed the bravado and let it go.

      1. I have some of those friends too, Its almost as if they have forgotten how to be with someone else. Rarely, ever so rarely, I see a glimpse of how they used to be but it’s gone in the blink of an eye. I wish I knew how to bring them back.

        1. Fortunately or unfortunately, its a quest I have slowly abandoned. Sometimes I find myself so rapt in trying to bring people out of their shells, being there for them, being the shoulder to cry on and the ear to listen to their woes, it gets tiring. Especially when its a lost cause, and the person on the other end doesnt want to come out. I have slowly given up, and channel my feelings blog-wards instead :)

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