Aloneness v. Loneliness

I closed myself off, because I like to think that I don’t need anybody. It was never an issue before. I was busy. I was constantly surrounded by family, friends, my peers. I had work, school, activities to keep me occupied. I was in a city – don’t be open, keep your guard up, don’t invite any interaction that might slow down your day. I craved even brief moments of solitude. Too occupied, to the point that I couldn’t breath and enjoy life I was so “overcommitted.” 

I feared boredom. I feared being stuck in a waiting room with a dead cellphone and absolutely nothing to entertain me. I feared having nothing to do, not being of use. Only now that I feel completely alone, do I realize how closed off all of that made me become.

Peace Corps will definitely teach you how to be alone. For that, I am grateful. I used to feel judged if I ate in a restaurant by myself, now I do it all the time. In my hometown, I never would’ve gone to an event alone, but in my community now I do it all the time. People will always look at me as an outsider, even though I prefer to be a wallflower. 

But recently, it’s gotten to a point where aloneness starts to creep into loneliness. I have friends here, I have people I could spend my time with. But I didn’t need to, I didn’t want to need to. I wanted others to need me. This feeling, I must admit, is new to me. And it’s not a completely sad feeling –  it’s just interesting, novel. 

A part of the boom-bust cycle that Peace Corps is. “The one year slump.” During my interview, I asked the former PCV if he experienced this and he said months 9-12 were the most difficult for him. I’m clocking in on Month 11 so not too shabby. And it’s not all sad, it’s hopeful. If I’m at the bottom now, I know I can get through the rest of my time here.

The New York Times has a column and podcast I absolutely adore called Modern Love. Their newest article seemed to drop at just the right time. In “My U-Turn From Isolation to Intimacy,” Michelle Fiordaloso writes about how only after her only son outgrows cuddling, she realizes how much her daily life is lacking in affection. From the title, you would think in the end she falls in love with someone to remedy her loneliness – but it’s not that at all. It’s a car crash that changes things – comforting the other driver, a hug from the mechanic. It’s these little instances of touch – whether physical or not – that can make oneself feel less isolated. A smile exchanged with a stranger, eye contact at the checkout counter, petting a dog. Fiordaloso concludes,

“I am not unseen and untouched. In fact, people seem to be noticing me more than ever, or maybe it is I who is looking up more, well aware of the risk of not seeing someone who’s right in front of me….

The kind of connection I have learned to cultivate since the accident is not something to tide me over until the real thing arrives. It is the real thing.”

This hit me so hard. I, too, have closed myself off interactions such as these, because I was too busy and didn’t need another distraction. While not all of that has completely fallen away (I do still have a job), a lot of it has and I’ve realized how conditioned I was to living that way. I like to think myself a kind person. An empathetic person. But part of that requires you to be aware and present to the people around you. How can I show kindness and affection to every person that crosses my path on a daily basis? To all of this I will try to be more open.

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