Saturday, February 19, 2011

Being Alone and Being Lonely

Two distinct emotions arising from two distinct perceptions of one's isolated state. Being alone carries with it negative connotations, mainly that of loneliness. Yet being alone can be quite enjoyable when that is what one desires. For example, I like to be alone when reading a book, so I sit in my green chair, alone in my room, and I read. Sitting there reading brings me into the tranquil feeling of solitude.

Loneliness, on the other hand, has little to do with being alone. Loneliness is a feeling or emotional state, not a physical state. One of the loneliest times of my life was on a packed last-train out of Tokyo; another time was in my truck just the other night as I drove around town with no one to see and no one wanting to see me.

I'm writing about this topic because I was struck by a statistic on Wikipedia. The referenced study found that 12% Americans describe themselves as lonely. Another survey found that "between 1985 and 2004, the number of people the average American discusses important matters with decreased from three to two." A couple of points about these findings strike me as interesting.

Firstly and most interestingly, I thought it quite peculiar that "discussing important matters" was a research factor in a loneliness study. Thinking about it though, I can definitely understand the importance, nay, the necessity of having one, two, or apparently for the lucky, three people to discuss important matters with. It's like the difference between friends and acquaintances--I can discuss damn near anything with a large variety of folks, but there's very few people I can (or choose to) discuss the matters I am passionate about or hold as fundamental to my way of life.

Secondly, it's pathetic that as Americans we are becoming more and more lonely, and by that I mean in the quantity of those who are lonely, and not necessarily the depth of said loneliness. 12% is a significant portion of society. Add to that the fact that we have less and less people to discuss important matters with and it's plain to see that we are socially disintegrating, and I mean that in the sense of dis-inter-grating, i.e. failing to enter meaningfully into each others' lives.

Loneliness, at bottom, is a lack of intimacy, a lack of passion reciprocated, an emptiness which one may give to but never receive from.