17 September 2007

The Difference Between Loneliness and Being Alone

My Better Judgment (that part of me not on the beers) caught up with me and demanded some self-censoring edits. Oh well. Up it goes again.

First the blindingly obvious - I am both, but they are far from the same thing. That out of the way, what is the point of this? Well, the biggest problem I have is loneliness, so it may go some way to answering "what is the problem."

As much as I will grumble to myself about how I hate "being me" this hyperbolic mental ranting disguises a fundamental flaw in that thinking: I enjoy my own company. I like being on my tod. There is, of course, a kicker here, and in this case it is that the above is only true when it is a meaningful choice to be alone. When I start hating myself - and inevitably I do - is when I end up spending a lot of time on my own as a default position, without feeling that I have a choice. In other words: when I get lonely.

I have been lonely now since the summer of 2003, the last time I was sharing a house with someone I was genuinely happy to be living with, which not coincidentally was the last time I had easy and regular contact with (a) friend(s) living in the same town. What I am coming to see as a self-defining trait is that I don't generally like to spend all my time with other people, but I damn well feel the need to have it as an option. Yes, this will sound selfish; it has a whiff of "other people are there for my enjoyment" about it. Nonetheless, once I am shorn of the (perceived?) option of spending time with people I like, I quickly become a withdrawn, moody, self-hating ball of despair. I miss massively the days when I was at uni in Bristol - not because they were always better (I had a torrid time in my final year, living alone for 6 months of it and that really didn't agree with me), but because there were always people about that I could just phone up and go out to meet. It is that accessibility of friends, and the ease of arrangements that I miss, possibly more-so than the actual people if I'm honest (though I do miss folks, too). Yes, as we age and days fill up with other things such pick-me-up arrangements do get harder to maintain, but mine vanished altogether after that first year in Bath, and have never returned.

Currently what I most hate is walking back to an empty house every night, knowing that - the one night a week I game aside - there is no hope in hell of me seeing (or most likely even speaking to/receiving email from) anyone but my co-habitant. And lets face it: as much as we may love our mothers dearly, they are not first choice for company. Thus my being alone is not perceived as a meaningful choice, and hence my loneliness.

One could argue to that I could do more to keep in contact with the friends I have. There is truth to that, however there is also truth to the fact that, even counting the gaming group, I have no friends living within 10 miles of me and thus not available off the cuff. It is also true that most are a lot further - many not even visitable for a weekend without taking time off work to travel (or at least couldn't before I got the car) - and whilst I admit culpability in being crap at keeping regular contact, I feel the need to stress that many of those I'm talking about are, by their own admission, worse at it than me!

So, I need new friends - local friends. However there is a snag: I don't make friends easily at all. Sure, I can get on well with people, generally speaking, but somehow it never seems to click from that getting along to actual friendship and the associated doing of things, contacts and so forth that one associates with the term. I do not meet a lot of people, which compounds the issue, and I have always been terrible at initiating any kind of contact with people I don't know, limiting this further - I only meet those who introduce themselves, or are introduced to me. There are not very many of them - the latter constrained by my lack of local friends, and the former... well that is out of my hands.

So a large part of the problem is that I cannot fathom how, unless I can build some serious self-belief, I could ever approach other people and introduce myself - it just scares the crap out of me for some reason, and that's before encompassing not knowing what to say. Confidence and self-belief are two attributes that have been sorely lacking for a long while. I could also use some hope. But most of all I need an idea of how to make change stick. How to face my fear of failure and win, rather than resigning myself to not trying, on the basis that by doing so I'll never have to face a loss I didn't chose to take.

All I want is for the loneliness to end, so I can go back to enjoying my time alone (and time spent with others, too, naturally). Something big needs to change - within me, and without (location, probably) - for that to happen. The without I cannot see happening until I get insight on a longer-term job or career move: financial constraints and the "where am I going" niggle impede me.

Perhaps the biggest thing I need to do is sort that out, to make a decision on where, what and how I am going to work. Maybe if I can somehow force that issue, everything else will look up again. Lord knows I cannot stay where I am, feeling my brain atrophy with each passing moment and wearing out my (already tired) eyes by staring at XML all day!

There must be something that can spark interest in me, beyond playing games where one pretends to be someone else entirely; or maybe I do hate myself that much after all! (that was a joke).

To end on more positive notes - now that I own the car, once I've sorted out all the attendant guff (insurance, MOT and Tax all up for renewal in October), it should give me the freedom to try and address some of the dropped contacts. Of course, the effort of arranging things will fall on my head (as ever it did; as I said before I'm better at contact than those concerned!), and I'll have to get over the hump that periodically strikes me with this situation, but day trips would be possible, as might weekends in places where, if reliant on the trains, options were previously curtailed. I think I'm probably due a change of primary email address now too, which is as good an excuse as any to get back in communication with those who I wish to retain as contacts.

Also to point out that I've written this whilst feeling motivated to write, not whilst feeling particularly trapped in my own mind. Hopefully I'll feel more of the former if the latter stays away. Whilst there is a lot to be said for Rosa's advice for me to "STOP THINKING!!!", short of an on/off switch for my brain it is not something I am oft able to do. I know how frustrating this can be for those around me, so thank you for putting up with it, and I do wonder whether my overthinking would be an interesting and positive side to me, or source of potential mirth, if my mind were to lighten up some...


Rosa said...

ok, maybe the stop thinking was a wee bit simple, but that's what i've figured out makes my life a lot happier; keep it simple! (hence having mistah G hangin about ;)

and yes, you do have alot to offer with all your thinking and observations, that's why i like ya, but what i meant was, really, when you get a weird and wonderful thought, just roll with it! see what happens! it's fun! or not! sometimes, but that's what makes us human, that annoying 'making mistakes' thing. try it!

(by the way, far too much punctuation in this comment, but to err is human eh what)

Paul said...

It's not as if one can stop thinking, anyway; it's more what you think about, and when you're alone you think about why you're alone, how you feel about being alone, and how you'd like things to be different.

Making friends is hard. I'm happy that we provide some sort of interlude of semi-friendship once a week, but I guess in your introspective way (same as for me, really), that's not all that much help. Still, any friendly suggestions welcome.

Graham said...

The funniest (in a tragic sort of way) thing is that often being alone is one of those paradoxes where you always want to be with others... until the point where it becomes an option and at that precise moment actually you really don't feel like it.

As far as Wednesdays (or whenever games roll around) go, its always a dual boost - fun people and fun stuff. 18 months to 2 years down the line there's nothing "semi" about the friendship present on those evenings.

Structured, ritualised, and focussed on a common goal, yes - but no less the friendship for that, for all the disparate backgrounds and lives led.