Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

The Loneliest Days

I live alone. I’ve done so for most of my life. And I enjoy the solitude – most of the time. There’s freedom in eating breakfast cereal for dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon, watching whatever I want on TV or turning off the show after twenty minutes if it’s not to my taste.

A lot of people speculate that it must get lonely living by oneself all the time. No one to talk to or snuggle up against or just exist with in the same room so that you can look up and see them reading or scrapbooking or perusing Facebook and know that there’s someone bound to you in some way.

They ask, “Doesn’t it get lonely?”

And for the most part, I have to say no. Of course I’ve felt loneliness, many times, but most of those times have occurred when I’m in a group of people who feel a certain way or express themselves in a ritualistic manner outside the parameters of what I believe, or display affection for a partner when I don’t have that kind of outlet.

So those times can be lonely. But they’re fleeting. A wedding reception, a funeral, a party. None of these last long – a few hours at most. Then it’s off to home, whatever home is, and into the routines and habits that we all partake in. The loneliness we experienced dissipates into the daily conventions that define our day-to-day reality.

But there are times, when I’m with extended family for an extended period, that my battle with loneliness seems impossibly tough. As I’m driving away, having witnessed and engaged in hugs and other demonstrations of affection, having connected, I feel a hollowness that lingers for hours, sometimes days.

Eventually, that sadness falls away and I return to the insular self I chose to be. Occasionally, after one of those events, I’ve even asked myself whether I might not be better off staying away from such future vacations. Don’t take the good, and you won’t have to take the bad.

But that’s a harsh punishment. I would rather become part of something larger than myself and endure the pangs of loneliness afterwards than shun the joy of togetherness for the sake of a steady level of emotionality.

What it makes me appreciate is that not everyone is like me. Most people need that connection on a more regular basis. I’m either fortunate enough or unfortunate enough not to need or want that sense of community on a day-to-day basis.

Yet I recognize its value. Connections, however infrequent, must be maintained or we begin to rot in isolation. As a natural introvert, I often have to force myself to spend time with others, and I rarely enjoy social gatherings as much as my more extroverted friends. We are all in this bubble together, so we need to understand how our fellow humans think. Extroverts are loneliest when they’re alone. Introverts are loneliest when they’re in a crowd.

I’m loneliest when I see what might have been, the life I could have chosen. Regret haunts me then, if only for a short time. After it dissipates, I look back on the memories I’ve accumulated and smile.

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