Wednesday, June 04, 2008

It's lonely at the top

My friend, co-worker, and fellow blogger Ben posted something recently about loneliness vs. being alone. Go read the post for yourself, because it's well thought out and interesting (Ben's one of those good thinker types), but I'll give you the cliff notes version. He's thinking trought the difference, if there is one, between loneliness and being alone and how we interact with those two states of being.

In a related situation, I was talking with a friend recently about what had been going on in our lives and as she began to describe what she was feeling and experiencing I could relate. As she grasped for a one-word description I ventured a guess with "lonely". That was it, but not specifically the loneliness that comes with being absent from people or even a feeling of aloneness, but more of a longing and emptiness that you recognized slowly at first and then with overwhelming depth. It was something more than related to people but internal, personal, and not easily solved by immersing oneself in the crowd.

I have more thoughts on this and an answer to Ben's questions posed over on his post, but I would love to hear your thoughts.

How do you define loneliness? Being alone?

Is there a difference between the two, if so what?


Blogger Shelley said...

To me there is a difference. You can be lonely in a crowd of people, but you can't be alone. To be alone means to be by yourself with no one else around. I think loneliness is like you internal empty sort of feeling.

6/05/2008 8:08 AM  
Anonymous chirky said...

I agree. I'm generally not discontent when I'm alone. Being alone is not a negative thing in itself.

Loneliness, however, is emptiness - is a something that makes me feel like there is no one by my side or on my side. I can be surrounded by people and, at times, still feel lonely. It's something internal. And depressing.

We're created to be in relationship with others, which is why I think loneliness is so difficult for us to encounter.

6/05/2008 9:35 AM  
Blogger Eddo said...

I love being alone, but I hate being lonely. Lonely is when you have that need to be with someone and you don't have anyone to be with. You can be with a thousand people and feel lonely. But you can be alone and be perfectly, blissfully happy and you might be happy because you just left a place where 1000 people were pulling at you for stuff.

6/09/2008 9:30 PM  
Blogger Deals On Wheels said...

I define loneliness as the feeling you get when you are surrounded by people – none of which can relate to you personally (intimately?) or you to them.

Several times in my life I have relocated to a place where I literately didn’t know a soul. The first time was when I went from a public middle school here in Dallas, to a private all-girls boarding school north of Baltimore, Maryland. The second time was when I ventured to college in upstate New York. Both times I was removed from an environment where I was comfortable, happy and surrounded by friends to a place where everyone around me was a stranger and I was hundreds of miles from anything vaguely resembling a safety net.

The spring and summer of my sophomore year, I studied abroad. The spring wasn’t so bad (I traveled and lived with close friends), but the summer was another situation where I didn’t know anyone when I first arrived. Everyone else had flown over together from the states, and had been to orientation meetings during the spring semester back on campus. They all knew each other. I was the outsider. Eventually, I made friends with them, but it took awhile. The first couple of weeks were especially hard. I was in a foreign country thousands of miles from home, and I didn’t know anyone. I was miserable. I needed to find a place away from the group to sit by myself and breathe, which was hard to find (considering our living situation) and impossible to maintain (considering our hectic schedules and near constant moving from city to city).

After college, I moved to DC for graduate school. This experience was different, though, because – unlike the other times I had moved somewhere inherently unfamiliar – I had my own apartment and lived by myself (something I hadn’t done…well, ever). And in graduate school, there wasn’t all the meet-and-greet activities like you had when you first started college. It took a LONG while to make friends. This was the first time I remember ever being homesick. I cried a lot. I counted down the days until Trevor came to visit. I longed for things to do that weren’t school-related or yet another trip to the gym. I enjoy being alone from time to time, but this was one time in my life where I was alone way too much. Things improved when one of my closest high school friends moved back to DC after finishing the Peace Corps. And I did make a couple of really good friends in grad school. I still felt like I was missing something, though. That feeling in the pit of my stomach was still there. I was glad when I left DC after graduation. I thought moving back to Dallas would finally make that feeling go away.

And the feeling did go away. At least for awhile.

When I moved back to Dallas I had my family and Trevor, but no close girlfriends. I spent the first couple of years being very unhappy and lonely – even in the mist of having a wonderful family and boyfriend close by. It wasn’t until I finally found good friend-friends in Dallas that I came to understand something: how important having close girlfriends is to me. Sometimes it is necessary to talk to someone that isn’t family and isn’t…well, your significant other. I didn’t have that until relatively recently, and wasn’t until I started this response to your post that I realized how deeply that effected me.

And there is a difference between a girlfriend and a close girlfriend. I have a lot of childhood friends here in Dallas, but I wouldn’t say any of them are necessarily close. We know each other well – don’t get me wrong. It’s just that sometimes you need to talk to someone that shares similar beliefs – religious, political, and otherwise.

So, where am I going with all this? I think when we make a major change in life, we make sacrifices to accommodate that change. We ignore certain needs we have for the greater good of what we are trying to accomplish. Sometimes the things we disregard are just fluff, and we realize that we didn’t really need them to be happy. But other times we discover things we thought we could live without – even temporarily – are much, much more important than we initially let on. One of those I-didn’t-know-I-missed-it-until-it-was-gone moments. Or, in my case, I didn’t know I was incomplete until I filled the void with what I really needed: close friends close by.

Ironically, now that I’ve found close girlfriends, it’s difficult to find time to just sit by myself – alone. I need that, too. In doses. I guess it really is all about balance.

Anyway, I’ve written WAY too much. But thinking through it has been really good for me. Thank you for posting this and asking for responses. You’ve helped me a lot today.

6/11/2008 11:32 AM  
Blogger green said...

For me the difference is this: alone - right now I'm sitting in this room alone, by choice.

Lonliness - when you have no one close to you to draw on for support and advice. For example the absence of family or a significant other. People can experience lonliness in the middle of a crowd of people.

6/12/2008 6:13 PM  

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