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.


  1. I think there's also a direct correlation between loneliness and our current obsession with various forms of social media. We are desperately seeking out more people to talk seriously with, yet the medium of our search is intentionally depth-less, which in turn creates further relationships based upon a two dimensional level of complexity. The more we seek out companions, the farther away they become.

  2. I think it also depends on how you define "loneliness", I guess. Some people are very comfy with being alone without feeling lonely at all. And other people feel lonely when they are alone for more than 5 minutes.

    Some people can stay single for years and years, without too much problems. But I've also known people who jump from one relationship to relationship to another, in order to never be,or feel, alone.

    If we define loneliness as "negative state of being, as a a result of a lack of social interaction", most people can pretty much help themselves. For example: by joining a local club that shares the same interests (sport-club, music lessons, whatever...). However, for some reason, lots of people are afraid to take the few steps for an improved social life. For elderly people it might be a lot harder, because it's sometimes more difficult for them to leave the house etc ...

    Then there is that other kind of loneliness, which is more of an existential kind: Knowing the fact that, in the end, we are all alone and we will die alone. Knowing that one day we will be forced to take the big step in to the bright light, and nobody can help us take it ...

    Personally, I find the second one a lot harder to cope with, than the first one.

    Greetz from Belgium,