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.

Love and Compatibility

About two weeks ago, I had a discussion about love with my friend Tara about love, and it’s launched me into considering it a bit more lately.  Then today in my blogroll, I saw this article pop up from Psychology today, which threw a wrench into my thoughts to say the least.  If you don’t want to click on the link, it’s entitled “The Truth About Compatibility.”

The main point of the article is that we tend to give compatibility too high of a place in our priorities for finding love.  Here are a few quotes that I found especially enlightening:

“There is no such thing as a compatible couple. All couples disagree about the same things: money, sex, kids, time. So, it’s really about how you manage your differences. If there is chemistry, then the whole courtship is about convincing yourself and others that you are compatible. But, really, you create compatibility. And then, eventually, maybe in 25 years, you will become soul mates.” —Diane Sollee, founder and director, Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education

“People might agonize and think, Do we have the same likes and dislikes? But people are not aware of how powerful self-fulfilling prophecies are. We have expectations in a relationship, and we tend to make them come true. The most satisfied couples are those with overly rosy views of each other.” —Lisa Diamond, assistant professor of psychology and gender studies, University of Utah.

These are both very interesting takes, and put that way, I can’t help but think that they are probably right.  I mean, what are the chances that someone will agree with you on everything, and yet not share most of your faults as well?  What’s more is the question, do you really want someone 100% compatible?  When I really examine the question, I realize that having 100% compatibility would be undesirable.

A relationship should be a non-zero sum situation.  Each side should be able to augment the other.  As one person from the article put it:

“People assume compatibility as a baseline requirement, then want more. “I want him to fit in with my family and do all the things I love to do—and he should be sexy, and he should take me out to cool places.” I think you can have an even more fulfilling relationship if you respect each other’s worlds, and learn a little bit from each other. I always think of the phrase, “You’ve met your match.” You really do want someone who challenges and spars with you.” —Nancy Slotnick, dating coach, founder of cablight.com

Challenge is the right word.  Sparing can conjur negative images, but I think it’s apt too.   You become better at something by overcoming.  I think a ‘Significant Someone’ would be there to help you along, press you, and face hurdles with you.  Compatibility no doubt plays an important part, especially in the early stages, and perhaps in a different emphasis that what we usually give it.  Over-all, though, perhaps there are more important things.

Love is truly complicated.

Portrait of a Panic Attack

They can hit at any moment, and without warning, leaving you crippled and unable to react. They can last for any amount of time, from a few minutes to an hour, and in some cases even longer. They are Panic Attacks, and this is what happens (in my own experience).

The day is bright, and things are going well. I accomplished something in the morning that I had been working on for quite some time. It turned out well, and I’m quite pleased with it. I walked to where I needed to go, whistling a happy tune.

But then things change. I see something up ahead and two words shoot through my consciousness like a high pitched scream causing all other thoughts to immediately fade away. They are: “Oh no.”

Time seems to slow down as things start to happen very rapidly. My mind begins racing, trying to come up with some sort of plan to change the situation. Escape and Evade is the general idea, but nothing comes. Hundreds of different solutions present themselves one by one. One by one they are shot down.

The mind, unable to find a solutions, begins effecting other parts of the body. This is called somatization – The mind sending your body signals that have no organic basis, and it responding as if it did.

Blood rushes to the face, causing me to suddenly feel very hot. It also means I’m looking like a tomato, as blushes are hard to hide – impossible if you are a redhead.

My heart begins to race. It feels like I just finished the 3.1 miles runs I used to do as a cross country runner. My breathing soon follows suit, and I find myself unable to get enough oxygen. I begin to feel light headed.

My stomach begins to simultaneosly tighten and twist, threatening to repel it’s contents back from which it came. Any thought of food is expelled quickly at the risk of losing it entirely.

The walls begin to close in, and there is an unescapable feeling of sudden suffocation which is worsened by the fact that I’m already breathing hard and my heart is racing.  My mind is frantically searching for anything that will bring relief, but at the same time trying for force my body into standing completely still.  Sudden movements will only bring unwanted attention from others.

I know what’s coming next, and it only adds to the chaos that has engulfed me, leaving me completely paralyzed. They don’t always come, though, and I’m praying in some part of my mind that has retained it’s wits that they don’t come this time. But they don’t listen. The tears begin to flow, and all dignity is forgotten. All other thoughts disappear to make way for the only thing that now matters: fleeing the area.

Somehow – God only knows how – I find my way to the last place I felt safe – usually my apartment. Slowly time returns to normal and things begin to settle down. But at the same time, the way I was before is unattainable.

Every panic attack changes you. It pushes you, molds you into something else. Things from your old life persists, but from that point on, you’ll always be a little more careful, a little more on edge.

At least, that’s been my experience.