We are social animals. It’s interesting to see how we evolved to that; but we are not unique in that regard. Many other animals out there require much social contact. Primates are a good example, so are different types of birds, and there are others.
We evolved this way because it is advantageous to work through life cooperating with those around us instead of fighting with them, or ignoring them. It’s very rare for the ‘going it alone’ attitude to actually succeed.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder that many people find themselves feeling lonely. Not just alone, but lonely. We all have times where we feel alone. Maybe it’s a holiday, and you’re sitting in your apartment, listening to other people celebrate, because they are too loud for you to go to sleep. Or maybe you’re driving somewhere by yourself, and the radio is out, and you just wish you had someone to talk to. Feeling alone can happen in a variety of ways, but it’s different than loneliness.
Loneliness is a deeper, drawn out feeling of being alone. It’s not something that lasts a couple of hours (or days). It isn’t the result of a choice, either. Perhaps everyone you know is too busy all the time, or perhaps you don’t know anyone. Or perhaps you’re not even alone physically. You could be at a party, or gathering of friends and family, where everyone is having a wonderful time, and yet you still feel like the loneliest person in the world.
Loneliness isn’t merely about not being around other people. It’s about not connecting with other people. It’s about finding it impossible to develop meaningful human contact.
It’s no wonder that we developed all sorts of different coping mechinisms to deal with this. Self Medication, prostitution, spending money, porn, smoking, drugs, exercise, food, obsessions, television – the list is endless. I’ve used a few of those, and I know the dark places where they can lead. Religion for me was another coping mechanism. Who needs meaningful human contact, when you have a relationship with the greatest being that exists? Only, if the meaning in that disappears, where does that leave you?
Or if spending money is a coping mechanism, what happens when you run out?
Or what happens when you eat too much food, and eventually become obese?
Or what happens when you are self-medicating, and alcohol takes over your life?
Coping mechanisms can be helpful, but they can also lead to ignorance of the underlying problem. An alcoholic doesn’t become one simply because they like alcohol. They’re likely trying to fill another void in their life, something they haven’t figured out how to fill any other way.
One symptom of loneliness is the feeling that everyone else has so many friends, they’re never alone. An outsider can look at someone, and see the number of friends, or the closeness to family, and just assume that there is no way the person can be lonely. Both of those statements depend on a fallacy, that loneliness is merely about being alone. For example, I love my family and I love visiting them, but everytime I visit, feelings of loneliness crop up. Why? Because the things that are important to me are not shared by them. It’s difficult to make any sort of deep connection in that circumstance. Loneliness isn’t about loving others, or being loved, it’s about not being able to share your life with someone else.
It’s no different than where we were a hundred thousand years ago. Back then, we needed each other in order to just survive. We hunted in groups, gathered in groups, everything. If we left the group, we would likely die. Today, it’s not our physical lives that are in danger, though, but our mental ones. It’s no longer about hunting mammaths in order to eat, but it’s still about facing our lives.