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.