This is for all the lonely people

January 19, 2016

It is 9:30 on a Monday evening and I’m caught in a swirl of jackets and scarves as I leave a lecture on the origins of the Bible. After a two-hour presentation on the history of the holy book that guides my Christian community, all I can think about is how little I feel a part of it.

I spent the majority of the Q&A debating whether or not I should ask for a ride home or just hoof it to BART and go back by myself. There were people I recognized in the audience. People who live near my house and know who I am. But I came to this lecture on my own, so I should probably leave the same way.

“We didn’t drive in,” she says when I muster the courage to make my request. “But even if we had, there wouldn’t be an extra seat.”

Her answer spills out quickly as she turns the other direction, pony tail swinging while she catches up with the her cadre of friends. They grab hands and hunch over phones, five paces, a few giggles and a world ahead of me.

city-sidewalk-at-night-dan-sproul

Even if we had. Even if she had driven into the city that evening, she couldn’t have taken me home. There wasn’t room in the car full of friendship. Not for me.

I pace down the pavement behind them and ponder the weight of being empty.

How is it possible, I wonder, to feel so left out in the midst of a community? To be wary of attempting connection—so gun-shy from constant rejection that I’m afraid to ask for a ride?


I wear my loneliness the way I wear the weight that I gained over Christmas:  with a deep sense of shame that I try to hide until I can fix it. The longer it is here, the more used to it I become, but I never stop feeling ashamed. I never stop wishing things were different or that I could go back to the way it used to be, the way I used to be. The one thing I do stop is trying to fix it.

This is just how it is, I tell myself. This is how it’s going to be from here on out. I grab a pint of ice cream and a Redbox and go home to curl up on the only piece of furniture my in the studio-style living space. You have every night all to yourself, I reason. Every night. You may as well enjoy it (though I really don’t enjoy it at all).

Darlene Cruz returns some DVD's at the Red Box movie rental vending machines outside Tony's Finer Foods on 4600 W. Belmont. October 6, 2009 (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune) ..OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS,  NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT.. 00311803B REDBOX ORG XMIT: CHI0910061848406841

Truth be told, I am a bit of a wallower, but I’m really not a quitter. After a day or two of self-indulgence I’m back on my feet and trying to fix things again. I go to the gym and eat handfuls of kale. I text every friend I can think of and try to muster a connection:

Hey there! I’ve missed you! It’s been super busy, but I’d love to catch up. Anytime you’re free just let me know and we’ll work something out. My schedule’s super flexible.

It has been busy, but not as busy as I imply. I don’t want to seem too needy, though when I say “anytime you’re free” I really do mean any time.

Sometimes people text back. Sometimes we actually get coffee. Sometimes it gets rescheduled five times before both of us give up.


More often than a reply to my proposed coffee date, the response that I get is a three-word question I’ve come to dread: “How are you?”

I have principals about giving canned answers to unintentionally insincere questions like “How’s it going?” and “How’re you doing?” Most of the time the inquirer means well, but doesn’t really want to know the honest answer, especially if life has been hard, which in my case, it has.

Acceptable answers to how it is going:

Alright
Excellent!
Great!
Okay
Busy
Fine

Less acceptable answers:
So-so
Rough
Not so good

The answer that promises to end your conversation
Lonely.

Loneliness isn’t supposed to be a thing you struggle with unless you’ve recently relocated or are out of the country, away on business or in a long-distance relationship. Social media is covered with candid (and not-so-candid) snapshots of people hiking, laughing, playing and drinking with sisters, soulmates, babies and boyfriends. We don’t expect that people are lonely and so we don’t know how we’re supposed to respond when they say that they are. We say “I’m sorry,” like we do when someone has died or been fired from a job. We speak as if there’s nothing to be done, and then we live as if that were true.


I have moved eight times in the past six years, which is less than some but more than most. I’ve been homesick and nostalgic, and at times I’ve longed for roots that were deeper than those I had made, but I have never known loneliness the way I have since moving to California.

This in itself is a really difficult thing for me to own and admit. I want to think that I’m likable enough to be worthy of love and belonging, talented enough to be an asset to a community and strong enough not to need any of this relationship business at all. But the truth is that I’m not. I am not as worthy or necessary or strong as I thought. I am one person in a sea of people and I seem to always be swimming alone.

lonely-crowd

When I moved to California, it was as a single woman with a deep-seated hope that she could mend fences with someone she loved more than she’d thought was possible. Sure, there was graduate school, which she (that is, I) had planned to attend, but really, who moves halfway across the country to go $40,000 into debt completing an arts degree that might have been fully funded elsewhere ?

The girl moved. The fence-mending didn’t happen. Graduate school did. There was a roommate and there were colleagues and co-workers and classmates, and at times there was even community, but none of that is here right now—on a Monday evening in the corner of a basement apartment, huddled by a space heater and yearning for a sense of belonging.

MW-CE349_sad_st_MG_20140520131516

 

Maybe it’s California, or maybe it’s just me, but it seems that there has been precious little forgiveness for the relational errors I’ve made since moving. I do not burn bridges on purpose. I am not a mean or difficult person. In fact, I am far less difficult than I have been at other times in my life, but none of this seems to matter. There are just not enough chairs at the table and so I am somehow always left standing.


It is entirely possible that I need to do more—to throw more parties, initiate more conversations, network at more events or throw myself up on some dating websites. But I am so tired of striving for acceptance. I don’t think that I can work at it any harder.

Part of the reason I blog is out of a need to feel connected and a desire to reach someone (anyone) and help them to feel less alone. If you’ve ever been lonely—ever found yourself searching for a table, praying for a seat, longing for a corner or waiting for someone (anyone) to initiate a conversation—then you know the place from which I speak. You know the longing to be seen and the shame of not being enough.

If you’ve never been lonely—never known the feeling of fearfully floating like an untethered buoy at sea—then you won’t understand and you probably won’t see. Perhaps the biggest benefit of being lonely is the solidarity you feel with everyone else who has been or is in the same situation. It is a bond that goes deep, this fear of being forgotten. Of being nothing and no one of importance.

lonely-on-boardwalk

A part of me knows that this is only a season, that in a mouse-click, a moment, a chance encounter or a single conversation I might move from isolated to accepted and from outcast to embraced. One dinner invitation. One phone call. One single opportunity to build bonds with a community that has the time and capacity to genuinely build them back. It really is that easy.

So then, why does it seem so hard?

Maybe because we forget. Because we get so caught up in the joy of our own connection that we forget what it was like to be forgotten. We forget that we were the stranger, the foreigner, the person outside of the circle.

Lonlieness

This blog post is for the forgotten. This blog post is for the unseen. For those who have known a deeper, longer, more painful sort of lonely than I can even begin to imagine.

I cannot promise that you will someday have all that you long for.  I wish that I could. I wish that you could promise me back and we could assure one another that eventually it all will make sense—that there will be reason for our suffering and purpose to our pain, that these seasons are temporary and teaching and we will come out on the other side better for having lived through them.  But I cannot say these things.

What I can do is share something I know to be true, and that is that you are worthy of love and belonging right now, this very moment, exactly as you are. The fact that you do not have those things does not mean that you do not deserve them or you are somehow inherently flawed. Wherever you are and for whatever reason you are there, know that even in your loneliness you are never truly alone.

(For the song linked to this post: click here)

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky

This is for all the single people
Thinking that love has left them dry
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
You never know until you try

Well, I’m on my way
Yes, I’m back to stay

Well, I’m on my way back home

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7 thoughts on “This is for all the lonely people

  1. Hi Amanda, (This is a really long reply. I’m grateful that you shared this message)
    I’m so glad I took the time to read your post. I have gone through this season of loneliness over the years, and moves, and broken relationships through my singleness. I have spent hours praying for meaningful relationships, too. I’m in that rebuilding process once again after moving for a second time in 7 months. I received my share of lectures, too, on how great my life is because I’m single. You can just go where ever you want, when ever you want and do whatever you want to do…Yep, I can move half way across the country because I need to provide a living for myself and I’ll do it alone, without the benefit of a companion to share this adventure with and help me when I’m struggling. I will have to give up 20 years of relationships and a community that I loved and start over. I moved to a city that I really love and after 7 1/2 years I have returned to full-time parish ministry (Yeah God). But I’m still starting over and I think it is really challenging to reach out by myself to meet new people. I don’t have a spouse that we can do couples stuff with other couples. I don’t have kiddos so I can have an in at school to meet new parents and meet people through my kids friends.

    I am reading a book by Kristen Strong called Girl Meets Change. It has spoken volumes to me and helped me see another perspective is possible even in my loneliness. She uses the story of Moses wanting to see God’s glory from Exodus 33. After retelling the story, she poses questions that blew my mind…
    From book (see end of post for more)
    But as I read this passage from Exodus, what I uncover is this: When change puts me in tight places, is it especially dark because God’s hand covers and protects me too? Can I believe it’s dark because of mercy and protection rather than abandonment?

    Can I believe being thankful in all circumstances is important because it acknowledges that during the dark times of change, God is still covering me with His hand?

    This at least has become a source of comfort to me during my time of long suffering as I can now see God was getting me ready and preparing a new place for me…It was painful and I’m still trying to discover my community, but I’m holding onto the knowledge that God is giving me time to also build and deepen my relationship with Him as I seek out a community to belong to and be a part of here in my new home place. Saying a prayer for you and the other lonely people. I know there are plenty of people who are in strong relationships or families that are also experiencing loneliness. It’s not just a single people thing.
    ——————————————-

    I chose a bit of a heavier song for my mantra: a little Skillet song called The Madness in Me:
    Just one chance is all it takes
    Can’t change the past but I can fight to change today
    This is not the way that I thought
    I would turn out to be
    Tried to get but all that I got
    Was more insanity
    Broken everything that I touch…
    ————————————————–
    Long version From her book:
    In Exodus 33, Moses makes what sounds like a mighty bold request when he tells God, “Show me your glory” (v. 18). But what Moses really wants is to be as close to God as possible. God grants Moses his request with one caveat. Knowing a straight-on view of his glory would be too much for Moses to take in, God tells Moses he may see His glory from behind. To protect him, God places Moses in the crevice of a rock and covers him with His hand while passing by.

    I am not unfamiliar with the idea that says to know God’s glory, we are sometimes asked to sit in tight places.

    But as I read this passage from Exodus, what I uncover is this: When change puts me in tight places, is it especially dark because God’s hand covers and protects me too? Can I believe it’s dark because of mercy and protection rather than abandonment?

    Can I believe being thankful in all circumstances is important because it acknowledges that during the dark times of change, God is still covering me with His hand?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experience. I’m always so humbled and grateful to know that something I’ve written or expressed has either challenged or resonated with someone else. Loneliness is an ongoing battle for many, myself included, and seems to gain poignancy as I long more and more for permanence and stability in the face of a life that is structured for anything but. Apologies for being so late in my response, but know that I read your comment immediately and was incredibly blessed by your engagement. Thank you.

      Like

  2. You are a very honest woman.Thanks for baring your soul again. It takes a lot of courage to do that, even if you feel like you can do no other.

    For me honesty is a great thing. To many people it’s threatening. Or at the very least, off putting. I want to encourage you though, as somebody who has struggled with a sense of loneliness (and a sense of excessive honesty!) both when I was actually alone, and during the many years where I have been surrounded by people who I love, and who love me. As you yourself say, although it can feel like bleak consolation, even when alone you are not in any sense unworthy of love, togetherness, and acceptance. But I think you cover all of that well, and are as practical as it is possible to be about your predicament.

    I have heard it said (by somebody!), as I’m sure you have, that we need to learn to be comfortable both in company and in solitude. I think that is a very true saying. But not the whole story.

    One thing I’ve discovered fairly recently, is the need to learn to be comfortable not only with being alone, but with being lonely. I know that sounds like a very bleak thing to say, and probably not in the least uplifting, but I would like to offer it to you as a crumb of comfort, that can potentially be a window of revelation. It really comes down to this question: would you change anything about You, to make you different, less separate, more easily understood, more in possession of that magic ingredient that leads to true Togetherness with other people?

    I suspect not, but the thing is you couldn’t really, even if you wanted to. Many people try to and maybe even succeed on a surface level to an extent. Some people are just naturally (luckily?) gregarious, and without care about these matters. Some people just cover up their inner feelings.
    I suspect that you are a bit more stubborn than the pretenders. A bit more introverted than the happy crowd. And a bit more honest than many souls. Which makes that whole connection thing, naturally speaking, and whether you like it or not, a bit more difficult than average.

    But whether or not that is the case, I have come to believe that the reality of our aloneness, like the reality of dying, is something that we can, and should embrace. It’s the flip side of the coins of variety and uniqueness. The stuff (small and big) that causes the Wow factor of life. The flip side of what makes the Wow factor about you. Or alternatively, it’s the downside of not living in a world of soul-mate, doppelgängers.

    I know. But, in the meantime, in this period where you have a lack of community and togetherness, can I suggest from my little cloud of personal loneliness, that you don’t try to see these as a goal. That you try and see companionship, understanding and togetherness, not as states to be attained and bottled up. They are, in my albeit fallible and changeable opinion, transitory moments to be rejoiced in when they happen. And to be enjoyed when we have them, and when they are enjoyable.

    I think, that just as C.S. Lewis was surprised by joy, we can and should learn to be surprised by our moments of connection with other people.

    OK, enough. I know you weren’t asking for advice. But I’m a grandpa these days so I allow myself to belch out these, self perceived, soliloquies of wisdom occasionally. Forgive me if these words are not the ones that were actually required. And thanks again for daring to be truthful.

    David

    Liked by 1 person

    • David, I’m so sorry it’s taken me this long to reply. Please know that my delay in responding is in no way a sign of how deeply this touched me (if anything it is an inverse, but even that seems inadequate explanation). I was incredibly moved to have received positive feedback and wisdom such as yours. This passage in particular “I suspect that you are a bit more stubborn than the pretenders. A bit more introverted than the happy crowd. And a bit more honest than many souls. Which makes that whole connection thing, naturally speaking, and whether you like it or not, a bit more difficult than average,” was a bit revelatory and mostly very reassuring. You are a good man with much wisdom to share. Again, thank you for being a faithful reader and a good friend. One of these days we will meet in person.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Just a couple days ago I was reading something else about lonliness. That woman suggests there may be some clarity in being lonely; that it offers a crisper perspective on the world and other people. That dos not make it feel any better, but I find it an interesting idea. That there may be something positive in loneliness that is not dependant on it being temporary. I suppose, like you say, loneliness is usually tied up with feelings about worth, which usually come with an insidious pessimism that is not positive in any way. In any case, very nice piece.

    Liked by 1 person

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