How not to be lonely

Loneliness is very much a modern plague and has terrible, health-undermining impacts on people. Some of it can simply be attributed to the amount of time we spend working and the consequences of being exhausted from that. People are often quick to blame TV, streaming, computer games, the internet and anything else involving a screen. I’m doubtful about that – I’ve formed some powerful, life-changing relationships through the internet. Turning to screens for comfort and distraction strikes me as being a symptom more than a cause.

Relationships aren’t things that happen by magic. They depend a great deal on what we’re willing to give of ourselves, and I think that’s where a lot of people get into trouble. Relationships require you to be emotionally available and honest, to be willing to be vulnerable and to make the time for someone.

Along the way I’ve run into so many people who were clearly averse to doing some or all of those things. People for whom investing time and care in other people seemed too much like work. People who wanted the freedom of being unaccountable. If you feel uncomfortable about people caring about you, then you aren’t going to have much of a relationship with them. If you want to be able to disappear off for days, or weeks on end without checking in, you can hardly expect people to invest in you emotionally and just put up with not knowing what’s going on. A person cannot keep everyone else safely at arm’s length and realistically expect to have substantial relationships.

Of course there are many ways in which we can have fleeting, superficial contact with other humans. We say hi to the person at the checkout, we nod to people we see each day when commuting and so forth. In face of desperate loneliness, these small points of contact can offer some relief. But not much. Being around people doesn’t ease loneliness in the way that being involved with other people does.

I think there’s an emotional immaturity around wanting the unconditional care of a parent from people who are not your parents. The desire to have care and affection bestowed by someone to whom you feel no obligation in return is something I’ve seen repeatedly. Casting other people in the role of your mother (more often than making people into fathers, in my experience) and then feeling free to also punish them for being too mothering/smothering is a pattern I’ve seen play out a few times now. I have no desire to be cast as mother in the life of someone who wants to be a perpetual teenager cliche, acting out, demanding freedom and expecting unconditional love.

Unless we are willing to face each other as equals, with equal responsibility for the relationship and comparable investment on both sides, loneliness is inevitable. We should not be looking to other adults in our lives to replicate the relationships we had with our parents, or step into the role if that’s been lacking for us. People who cannot or will not give of themselves are bound to be lonely. If you’re waiting for someone to come along and offer you unconditional love, that’s the essence of your problem right there.

It is of course possible to be alone without feeling lonely. Not everyone wants or needs a great deal of contact with other humans. What’s on my mind in writing this is the people who talk about being lonely but also don’t seem to recognise that their unwillingness to give of themselves is a key contributor to all of that.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “How not to be lonely

  • Martina Ramsauer

    Thank you for these very important thoughts:)

  • alainafae

    How synchronistic, just had a conversation about this yesterday! These people who, out of psychological immaturity, wish to be pursued, adored, treated as special but yet balk as soon as any sense of obligation to return arises. You make a keen point that bears out in my experiences as well, that it has often been people who have not had positive or fulfilling relationships with their parents that expect unconditional love from their relationships without commitment of anything in return. Perhaps failure to integrate the pain from those childhood needs not being met is where the inability to tolerate having to reciprocate in relationships comes from. Or even if the parents were wonderful that this person has never gotten “off the apron strings”, so to speak, and has yet to come to terms with becoming an adult that’s expected to be responsible & fair in how they contribute to relationships.

  • OrderInTheQuartz

    I have one small quibble with this: I’m definitely the sort of person who needs to disappear for days–and on occasion weeks–at a time, but I also have some very deep and amazing friendships. Quality not quantity.

    It is possible to have very balanced and profound connections with people who likewise share a need for space and distance at times. We very much appreciate each other when we talk or get together. But we also understand and respect our individual needs for alone time.

    Honestly, I could not sustain a “friendship” with someone (corporeal) who wants a ton of contact. I would burn out and have to firmly close that door. I’m on the Spectrum and that no doubt has an effect. Deities are a different matter. I seem to have much more innate energy for regular contact there.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for sharing this. Inevitably a post is too small a thing to cover everything it might. I think if people match their needs to other people’s and connect accordingly, that’s got to work. If your need for distance doesn’t make you feel lonely, then there’s no issue at all there.

      • OrderInTheQuartz

        Well said! I’ve been in a very unbalanced friendship in the past (reliving a pattern of childhood parentification). Over time it has grown much easier to know the difference between what works and what drains, and choose accordingly.

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