[Bella’s intro: Marina Keegan’s collection of brilliant essays and stories is called “The Opposite of Loneliness.” But what is the opposite of loneliness? I had some unconventional ideas about that, and wanted to know what the members of the Community of Single People thought. Tricia Parker responded with such compelling ideas that I asked her if she would develop them into a guest post for this blog. Thank-you, Tricia, for saying yes! I’ve set in italics the parts I love the most. In a subsequent post, I’ll offer my answer to the question about the opposite of loneliness.]
Loneliness: Change Your Story about Them, About You
Guest Post by Tricia Parker
If you look up any standard definition of the word loneliness, embedded within is the cultural conditioning many of us have been subjected to for much of our lives: if you are alone you are sad, no one cares for you, and you spend a lot of time longing for companionship. Living solo, outside of marriage or coupledom, has to be one of the most painful of all living arrangements. And if you don’t have dozens of friends you are not normal. You will never feel joy, a sense of well-being or that you belong. ‘Loner’ is an acceptable moniker for people who choose not to be partnered, or decide to live a life with few friends and social opportunities.
This somber conclusion has certainly influenced my relationship choices and decisions, and so much so that it has resulted in difficult and painful life experiences which have impacted the quality of my life and overall health and wellness. At what age, and why, was my right to happiness hijacked with the narrative that in order to be truly alive and blissful, I must find another person ideally suited as my romantic partner? Or, if I didn’t create a social circle with dozens of friends or partake in a bustling social life, I would never feel joy, a sense of well-being or belonging? These unexamined assumptions have been a thorn in my side the past few years as I’ve tried to rebuild a life from the one in which I was not well-suited — a life that included a long-term partnership and marriage, children, a clamor of activities and commitments, holiday gatherings and family obligations.
What has been the greatest challenge in the restructuring of a life that was built upon a foundation of cultural conditioning? Understanding the importance of suspending judgment. Judgment thrives and grows when we stop examining these conditioned beliefs that deep down prickle our consciences. Judgment wins when we settle and then disconnect from finding more meaningful ways in what sustains each of us as persons, lovers, friends, family and neighbors. Judgment insidiously tricks us into believing the ‘good as it gets’ scenarios while making a pronouncement that anything other than what I have can’t be better or more fulfilling or even right, for that matter.
So what happens when we suspend this judgment? We give ourselves, and others, permission to stand up and move forward from a place of foregone conclusions to fierce questioning of the story we’ve carried around in our heads. How do we know that someone who is without a partner or lover isn’t experiencing fulfillment and love and joy? How do we know that someone who seemingly has few friends or company isn’t getting what she needs to be content and happy? How do we know that a person who isn’t a member of a group or cause isn’t an independent agent of change?
Instead, what if we considered that a sole diner may be truly enjoying a meal and the ambiance of the restaurant while embracing a physical and social satisfaction without needing to share the experience with a group of friends? What if we believed that someone watching a sunset, alone, may have discovered the breathtaking beauty of a fading day and emerging evening in the quiet peace and contentedness that’s been reserved only for lovers? What if we accepted that the person who works long hours at the office truly enjoys his career, and isn’t a workaholic who has traded marriage and family for work because he just hasn’t found ‘the one’? What if we gave credence to the idea that people can be successful advocates for social causes in ways that do not include public volunteering, marches or campaigns for change? What if the neighbor who spends hours amongst her beautiful flower beds, birds and garden creatures does not consider yard work mere drudgery, and instead feels completely centered amidst blessed miracles? What if the divorced aunt has remained single, not because she fears finding herself in another failed marriage, but because she has found her best self outside of holy matrimony?
The kind of black and white thinking surrounding the cultural status of being alone feeds into a dangerous game of opposites. The opposite of being married, or coupled, or belonging to social circles is loneliness. And if you are on this side of the game, you lose. This isn’t so. People who are alone are not necessarily sad, uncared for or avoiding others because of some pathological character fault. In desperate need of debunkery is this narrative of loneliness, one that is relentlessly communicated in TV commercials, reality shows, movies, songs, novels, some spiritual dogmas and political platforms. These stories have been widely left unchecked for far too long.
About the Author: Tricia Parker is a thriving spinster and aspiring writer living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Currently she is trying to be more mindful of the ways in which people are judged for life choices that are considered ‘outside the normal’.
[Note: How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century includes two chapters on people who experience the opposite of loneliness by living alone – one on single people and one on couples who choose to live apart.]
Dining alone photo available from Shutterstock