I spend too much time on facebook. I scroll up and down when I can’t sleep, when I want to delay getting out of bed, when I eat out by myself – not to seem to be a maniac with nothing to do. I open articles I want to read in new tabs never to come back to them, and sometimes I scroll through profiles of people I haven’t seen for years. Going through the den of walls of old friends who all seem to have their shit much more together than me, I once went through the wall of my very own. To my surprise, the person I saw there was very much not the person in whose head I live and who I would sometimes like to run away from.
In all honesty, I don’t have it all this bad. In the whirlwind of bad decisions, I made a few good ones. I travel, as I always wanted. I don’t work a job I’d hate. I live at a beach, just because I wanted to. But the whole “let me travel the world” thing comes at a price not many of us are willing to admit. It can get lonely in ways one would not expect.
There is only as much small-talk one can do in a span of a couple of weeks. There are only as many would-be friends one can make, people who could grow close if only you weren’t both in passing, only as many superficial hostel acquaintances that you cling to just in order not to be alone for a while; like in the first year of uni, when, overwhelmed with everything, you form friendships that, at later time, never cease to surprise you.
And then, when a promise of a more meaningful relation looms on the horizon, you jump in all too quickly, you decide that it is worth pursuing way before it would be socially acceptable, you seize it while it lasts, before someone leaves again. And then your judgement can be flawed, your decisions reckless, before you even know it, you fall down a slide, you’re on a rollercoaster you cannot stop: and all that is waiting for you on the other side is disappointment, pain, self-deprecation and wounds that will maybe heal, but which will leave terrible scars forever.
Solitude is difficult. Being lonely in a company is much worse though – and in the era of social media, some people I know are always around, and I shovel the export versions of their lives up my lonely throat. I’ve been alone forever, and yet I miss being all by myself. I miss not second-guessing myself, I miss not having incessant conversations in my head with this-or-that person whom I’d like to like me, I miss not having the impulsive need to check in on other people’s lives every five minutes, I miss being able to focus on anything for longer than three, I miss not feeling guilty all the time for not doing what I should be doing. I miss being my own friend – and I wish I knew when I stopped being one.
And then in the end solitude is the default position, it is the only natural state. The mere threat of it is unbearable – and yet, in the end, everybody is all by themselves. There is no way to outsource one’s pain, disease, fear of death, fear of being hurt. Nothing makes a person stronger than being on good terms with themselves. At this weird stage in a new place when I’m not a visitor anymore, but not exactly a local either, I’m taking on a radical fight to like myself again, and that might be the most important fight I have ever fought – and one I cannot lose.
John Cheever on the Pain of Loneliness and How It Feeds the Beauty and Creative Restlessness of Youth
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