Entry 13 – May 21st, 2017
Wrestling with the Octopus of Norms…or One is the loneliest number…
It can be strange at times, the things we seem to stigmatize people for doing as solo activities. You know what I’m talking about right? You’re out with a group of friends for dinner or a movie, and over off to the side you see someone sitting by themselves. You might not think much of it at first, they’re probably just waiting for someone to show up and join them. You continue talking and laughing and enjoying your night out, but your eyes keep going back to that person…just sitting there alone. Maybe you nudge one of your friends and point, and the two of you start to giggle about the sad state of affairs that person’s life must be that they would be out at a restaurant alone. Maybe you’re a bit more compassionate and you just wonder why they’re alone…if they have anyone in their life that they go out with or if they’re always asking for a table for one. Both of those reactions have a common connection – sadness. You see that and you think it must be a sad thing to be alone.
That’s a common feeling. Particularly in western culture, we seem to be terrified of the idea of being alone. Indeed, there have been several fascinating movies and records made on the topic, and there are mental health professionals that make a living from treating people with these types of fears. But what’s the driving force here? Why does the idea of being by ourselves seem to produce levels of panic and anxiety that could power a city block if converted to electricity? I would like to posit two particular thoughts. First, human beings are naturally social creatures – although you might challenge that based on interactions you’ve witnessed. Lord knows, I’ve seen more than my fair share that would lead me to believe our only purpose is to deliver unending torment on those around us. Apocalyptic encounters aside, mankind was made to be connected with one another and develop relationships that reach within and beyond surface level pleasantries. We have a desire to know and be known. This extends to both the natural and supernatural, and the impulse is strong enough at times to override all other self-imposed “safeguards” we’ve established.
Secondly, when we are alone we are left with the one person in all of existence that we cannot truly get away from – ourselves. That idea alone can be enough to keep us running out into all manner of dangerous situations so that we don’t have to stop and face the mirror and see what we may have become. Sometimes we just don’t like what we see, we’ve allowed the wrong ideas and voices to shape our belief about the nature of who we are so we want to be anywhere else – with anyone available – to avoid being stuck in our own heads. This can lead to any number of potentially bad situations and relationships, but in our heads, it’s preferable to being left alone.
I can relate to that on some levels. I know that there are times when I need to be with another person, to interact and fellowship with people in order to avoid certain temptations that only come up when I’m by myself. That is not a weakness, but a grace that I’ve been given to be able to recognize those times. There are also times when I just don’t want to be alone, because loneliness sucks. That’s normal, human. That doesn’t mean that being alone is always bad though. I think that there’s a balance, and that as we grow we can find out more about ourselves during times of solitude. We need other people, and we need time to grow in ourselves.
So back to my original picture, that person at dinner or the movies by themselves. I am often that person. It’s not that I don’t want to go out with others to do those types of events – I do so often. What I have learned though, is that I do not have to let the fabricated societal ideas keep me from doing something I enjoy. I don’t have to let the fact that I’m the only one with free time on a particular evening stop me from going out to see that new movie or hear a band that I love, and you shouldn’t feel sad for me if you happen to see me out alone. I’ve learned how to be comfortable in my own skin and with the constant companion of self. If you happen to be the compassionate type, come over and say hi and you might learn something new about yourself along the way.