When you feel like you’re alone, it’s not the aloneness you’re afraid of.
You know how to spread your arms across cool sheets at night. You know how to drive with the windows down, letting the cadences of your favorite songs move through you. You know the tranquil peace of slowly setting yourself into a warm bath. You know the strange charm of walking around by yourself, gazing upward and imagining the stories of the city.
You know it is only ever in solitude that we extract the most important truths about our lives. Without the expectations of others around us, we get to see who we most essentially are.
You know what it is to be alone.
It is not aloneness that gives you that pinching and panicked feeling.
It’s loneliness—which sounds the same, but is actually different.
Loneliness is what happens when you convince yourself that you’re no longer worth connection. Loneliness is what happens when you misbelieve that love is something you get when you’re good enough, something you receive when you play by the specific and unrelenting rules of those you’re most invested in receiving it from.
That type of connection, though?
It’s not connection.
Connection is the free-flowing state of sharing presence with one another, and more people would want to connect with you than you’d probably assume. Connection is recognizing that even when life hands you a season of aloneness, you are never completely disconnected.
You are part of every person you’ve ever loved.
You are a part of every place you’ve ever been.
You are cared for even if those who care are no longer present in your day-to-day life.
You almost always have at least one person who will care enough to stay by you, even at your worst.
We all assume that because we live in such a hyperconnected society, we should be less lonely than ever. We not only can keep in touch with everyone we’ve ever known, but we can witness every detail of their lives unfold before us. No human beings prior to this ever experienced society in such a way.
That’s exactly the problem.
What we gain in “connection,” we lose in context.
People used to move on from old towns and groups and friends, catching up now and again, but generally reserving the intimate details of their lives for those who grew in alignment with them.
This is healthy because it gives us space to find new identities instead of being stuck trying to appease all the different ones we constructed, that have come together all at once, to witness how we are today.
We feel most alone when we are strangers to ourselves, and in a world where everyone is watching, we are more pieces of what they would want us to be than the whole of what we want to become.
We don’t know where we fit because our ideas of ourselves are bound up in expectations. We have different faces for different people and somewhere throughout the constant pressure to be something else, we lose something.
Our true selves.
Our real selves.
The selves that know we are permanently and fundamentally connected.
The selves that know we don’t need 100 friends to be fulfilled.
We don’t even need 10.
Life is not a popularity contest.
It’s not about who is best at what and how much so.
It’s about that real connection, which is the willingness to show up exactly as we are and realizing we’re being met exactly where we are.
When we have this type of authentic connection, we end up discovering a sense of unity that we could never piece together from staring at vignettes of someone’s life. We begin to understand that those creeping doubts, subtle fears, deep curiosities — they’re universal. For how different we are and how much our experiences may vary, there is no human experience you can have that someone else has not had at least a similar version of.
Coming to this realization is simple, but hard.
We have to truly see through the guise of what we thought connection was in an effort to foster it in reality.
We have to truly let go of trying to appeal to every person imaginable in an effort to come home to ourselves.
When life hands us a season of being by ourselves, we have to find the courage to sleep alone and eat alone and dance in the kitchen in our underwear and lay in bed at night and wonder if we are going to be okay.
We do not earn connection.
In the words of Mary Oliver, “You do not have to walk on your knees / for a hundred miles through the desert repenting / You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves.”
Try to find love for the moments that life has given you to be alone.
Try to find love as you remember that you are already a piece of something far bigger than you, from where you came and where you will return.
Try to find love in the fact that maybe you’re being given an opportunity to be introduced to yourself so that you might be able to introduce that person to someone else.
And maybe that was the piece that was missing all along.