Lonely vs Alone
By RULA AL-NASRAWI
The first time I ever saw a dead body I was walking home from grad school. It was two years ago, it might have been midnight, and I might have been twitchy from too much caffeine. I saw a girl face down on the sidewalk ahead of me and two people were hunched over her body. I found out later that the girl had thrown herself from her dorm room several stories up, only moments before I had turned the corner. She was a freshman in her first week of school.
Orson Welles said that “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” While that’s pretty morbid, it’s also very true. For those of you who are afraid of being alone, dying alone, living with yourself alone, remember that whether you want it or not, it is inevitable. That girl died alone that night. People were talking about how she was depressed, bipolar, stressed out about succeeding at school. It was apparently confirmed a suicide, meaning that regardless of the actual reason, that girl wasn’t just alone, she was very very lonely.
The words “alone” and “lonely” are usually used synonymously in our society like conjoined twins that want nothing to do with each other. Lonely to me is a dark word. It’s that cold heartless place where no happiness resides, a subzero temperature sea floor with shriveled up fish wearing lantern hats. It’s a place no one wants to be. Loneliness is something that can hit a person in waves like a night time tide pool or settle under your skin like a mosquito, ever so slowly hosting on you until you realize you’ve been scratching and picking and itching away at yourself for hours.
Alone, is not the same thing. Alone is finding peace in your own solitude. I can go to a concert alone yet still feel united with the people surrounding me. Not lonely, alone. Aloneness exists independently of loneliness. But our society does not always see it that way. So oftentimes when we are alone we start to doubt ourselves and wonder if we are indeed lonely. I can tell you right now, after living in New York City with the possibility of being among people for the rest of my life, that even here, people can feel lonely. That cold dark undercurrent is something that lives inside of people. And while it’s something that you could potentially get rid of one day, there are many people that just can’t shake the cold.
So now my question is this. Why are people so afraid of being alone? Why are people worried that some will judge them for sitting alone at a movie theater? Or alone at a restaurant with a glass of wine and a three course meal? Or alone on a park bench? Or alone on a road trip? Or alone at a music festival? Why are people so scared to be alone with themselves? What are we so fucking afraid of? Are we worried that we might find something out about ourselves that we don’t like? I mean honestly, most of us already know what we don’t like about ourselves. But we tend to fold those thoughts up and put them away in boxes. And then one day something happens and we rip those boxes open again. “You’re not smart enough” one thought might say to you. “You will never be pretty enough” says another, clawing at your skull. And sometimes they get really bad. “If you died, no one would even notice.” This right here is why people are scared to be alone. They're scared that these thoughts will creep into their lives and become reality. They’re scared that alone will turn into lonely, that lonely will turn into fear and that fear will turn into self hatred.
We cannot think that way. We cannot give loneliness and aloneness the same meaning, the same weight. Because they are not the same, they don’t lead to each other, and one person can be all or both or none of them at once. One doesn’t need the other to survive, and one can’t kill the other either. Stop wondering if you should be sad that you’re not in a relationship right now. Stop wondering if you should be freaked out that you live by yourself. Stop doubting yourself when you go somewhere without a companion. The day you learn to live with yourself is the day you finally start living.