The Dream of Connection
One day in high school, my English teacher showed us a short film that stuck with me. I don’t remember the name of it. I don’t even remember much of the plot, but I remember a few images and the emotions they inspired like it was yesterday rather than 30 years ago.
An old woman sat crying alone, and she said, “I’m so lonely” out loud for no one to hear.
Those words bring tears to my eyes.
When I say those words out loud for no one to hear, it’s as if I’ve woken from dream where I have genuine connections with people. I live in this wondrous delusion until I say these words:
I’m so lonely.
Then reality consumes me.
I remember feeling so sad for the old woman, widowed and living alone. I remember thinking that must be a horrible fate.
All the lonely people. Where do they all come from?
A young (8-10 yr old neighbor) girl started visiting, and the old woman was overjoyed to have a friend, to have anyone with whom to talk. She was so excited about her solitary friend that she would go all out when she knew the girl was coming over. She’d bake homemade cookies and plan the entire day with games and fun things to do.
One day the girl didn’t come back because her mother thought the friendship was inappropriate. The old woman stared out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of her young friend, hoping with every cell of her being, even if only momentarily, she could share in the joy of another human. The cookies went uneaten and turned cold on the plate. She said to no one,
I’m so lonely.
The truth in those words is so deeply profound that I cry every time I say them out loud, then I remember that scene all those years ago. I’ve become that old woman in my middle age.
I cry until the tears naturally stop because there is no one here for whom to save-face, to “be strong,” to even notice that I’m sad. No one here to comfort me other than myself, so I cry and fully feel the loneliness engulf me until the sadness passes…and it does.
Don’t get me wrong, I have friends. I have friends all over the world, and I’ve made some new friends over the past five months. I talk to more people each day now than I did five months ago when I came to Europe. It’s probably why I work so much. Not only is it a fulfilling distraction where my efforts are (usually) valued, but it’s also the bulk of my social interaction.
Building friendships through the ether one emoji at a time.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve worked more than 100 hours in one job and another 40 in the other. A week ago I returned to London, the city of my soul, but I’ve hardly left my flat. I’m watching two adorable dogs and a cat. They are nice company, and I can talk to them instead of myself, at least that’s what I tell myself.
I was up at 2am this morning working because I couldn’t sleep. I’ve been sick, just a bad cold, but it has really magnified my loneliness. Too weak and weary and grumpy to work much, but the alternative is the deafening silence that swallows my endless stream of thoughts and emotions. So I work to forget that…
I’m so lonely.
Work helps me manage my time and emotions so I don’t destroy budding (and existing) friendships with so much of my depth all at once. I ensure I don’t initiate contact more than they do, so as not to inundate them with endless texts. I am overjoyed when someone messages me, so I pick up my phone too often, hoping for contact, hoping for connection. More often than not, I’m met with a blank screen. My cookies turn cold on the plate.
Imbalanced relationships have always been a challenge for me, as almost no one can meet my level of depth or intensity. I know the strongest relationships develop over time, whether platonic or romantic, so I try not to be impatient…but
I’m so lonely.
I try to match my new friends’ engagement and depth, titrating my desire to be closer and to once again have someone with whom to share my thoughts and life and fears and desires and experiences, without hesitation or fear. Someone who wants to know all about me as much as I want to hear all about them. Where they reciprocate because they are as thrilled to have me in their life as I am to have them in mine. I’m constantly fighting against myself, struggling to not open up more than they do, as that would leave me so vulnerable and really hurt if they don’t remain present with me or reciprocate.
I withdraw not for their comfort, but for my protection.
What I must remember is that I’m just at the start of rebuilding my life. There is so much emptiness, a huge void from all I’ve lost, and although I’ve filled much of it with myself and travel and work, there is still so much room, so much time.
What I must remember is they already have active lives, full of friends and lovers and partners and family. They have plans. They have a life outside of work. They have company. They have loads of people texting them. While I have no doubt they care for me, I’m but a tiny piece of their full life, but they are a huge piece of mine. Because of them, I talk to myself less and to them more.
What I must remember is they have relatively little time for me in their full lives where as I have nothing but time for them in mine. It causes a natural imbalance, which can start feeling very one-sided, but I see that these friendships are not one-sided. They’re just new.
What I must remember is most of these new friendships take place over text or the computer, not in person over coffee, not out dancing, not over dinner. Although I long to reach through cyberspace and hold their hand, see their smile, hear their laugh, give them a hug, and have a real conversation that can evolve and twist and turn in discovery of each other, outside of speech bubbles, I know that hopping on a plane to have a few hours of real connection is unreasonable behavior. Still, I’ve seriously considered it because…
I’m so lonely.
True one-sided relationships I have no time for whatsoever. Before I started working at 2am, I re-read my post “Major Changes in the Autumn of Life” to ensure I was keeping my new boundaries and agreements with myself instead of falling into old patterns out of sheer desperation for genuine human connection. I re-read the parts about those who won’t engage fully with me, and I had to check in with myself about what has been happening in my life: who I’ve allowed in; who I want to be closer to; and who I must keep at arm’s length for my own well-being.
Although January and February weren’t the triggering months they normally are, they were still very emotional ones. It’s been a whirlwind of emotions between new friends, meeting my great team, and Mr. Impossible (who a dear new friend told me yesterday to learn his full name: Mr. I. M. Possible 😜, which I found utterly adorable as much as it isn’t possible in the least. Still, it made me smile.).
These whirlwind emotions have created the perfect condition to explore which are (only) inside me, how to better regulate those emotions, and how to enjoy them while they’re there. Just like the tears, those emotions pass. The romantic fantasy is already fading. The friendships will grow, or not. There will be love. There will be loss. There will be anger and despair and joy and even the most dangerous emotion of all: hope.
Over the past five months, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I continue to learn, to see my patterns, to know when to pull back, to know when to share more. I’m learning not to make excuses for judgmental behavior/words from a friend, for lack of engagement, for limitations (on both sides). Instead I file that information away, thankful I found a boundary of that friendship. Then I can be the best companion I can be while staying safe, protecting myself, and enjoying the connection with them on the level they’re able to give and maintain.
While my new and existing friends fill some of my time, as we share bits of ourselves and thoughts and fears through texts, messages, and WhatsApp, it is up to me to fill the rest with building my life. With friends and lovers (eventually) and hobbies and travel and things I enjoy. New discoveries. New connections. New joy and new sorrows.
I’m so lonely…
Yes, but I’m so less lonely than I was five months ago that it magnifies those times when I do feel sad and lonely. As I continue to heal and continuously take that next step forward, I will get to a place within myself that will enable me to go to an in-person meetup or social, or not. Ultimately, I will find a way to meet people with whom I can interact in life and not just over a screen, eternally separated by protective glass across the miles.