And why the latter can never be a cure to the former.
I lay in bed, with my partner less than 6 inches away from me, I felt this profound loneliness.
I’ve felt this way many times. With my current partner and with others who came before.
Loneliness, as it turns out, has very little to do with whether or not we’re single or in a relationship. In some ways, the loneliness that comes with having someone so close to you that you can feel their breath on your skin is worse than the loneliness you feel on nights when you’re cold and alone in your room, fantasizing about having someone to crush you under their weight.
A relationship, as it turns out, has the capacity to bring about the worst kind of loneliness. At least when you’re alone, you can cry your heart out. But when you’re in a relationship, you can only clench your teeth, wipe your tears in your sleeves with the quietest maneuvers, and try your best to hide the pain and loneliness so you can save whatever dignity you can muster up.
Maybe you get lucky and you end up with a great partner and you never separate from each other. But the thing about two different individuals is that they’ll never fully know or understand one another. Being in a relationship, for that reason alone, can never cure loneliness. It can expel certain types of loneliness, sure, but it’ll bring about other kinds and I guarantee that. We’re not clairvoyants after all. Even the best of partners cannot always save us from ourselves.
A relationship, as it turns out, has the capacity to bring about the worst kind of loneliness.
Back when I was young, there was something (among many other things) about my mother that bugged me to no end. It happened almost every year during the holidays or on my parents’ anniversary or on my mother’s birthday. During these times, inevitably, the atmosphere at home would turn sour.
The scenario would play out something like this:
My father would buy a surprise present for my mother, he’d give it to her, and my mother would blow up because of one of the following reasons: 1) the gift was more expensive than it should have been 2) the gift was too cheap 3) the gift wasn’t something she would ever use.
Or, my father would ask her what she wanted and my mother would blow up because he should have known better and surprised her instead with the perfect gift.
As you can see, there was never a way to satisfy her. My mother wanted a perfect husband who could read her mind, and since he couldn’t do that, since he couldn’t live up to my mother’s perfect image of a husband, she was always left feeling empty.
The fights that followed weren’t just loving tiffs. There were screams involved, followed by hours of not speaking to one another, followed by somehow my mother taking out her frustration on me instead which often led to both emotional and physical abuse.
Needless to say, I dreaded holidays and anniversaries and birthdays.
My mother was a pitiful woman. No one ever taught her to be emotionally independent. No one ever taught her the concept of accepting people as they come either. In her mind, she had an image of a husband and a daughter. But for sure, both my father and I are our own persons, and not someone’s ideal images. And because of that, in the end, my mother was always left disappointed, lonely, sad, and quite pathetic.
Normalcy requires something in-between. And being there in-between means there will be moments of disappointment.
The polar opposite of my mother is someone with a hardened heart. Someone who is so independent, so unattached that they probably would be perfectly fine even if they caught their partner naked with someone else (presuming that’s not their thing).
Just like my mother’s excessive dependency and attachment is not normal, the hypothetical individual described above is also not normal.
Normalcy requires something in-between. And being there in-between means there will be moments of disappointment. There will be times when we’ll be hurt by our partners. There will be times when we’ll be the ones to hurt the other.
And being in that kind of normal relationship means that we’re bound to feel loneliness. My mother was so pitiful because she couldn’t come to terms with her loneliness. Only if she could, only if she understood that hurting and causing hurt is part of the whole deal, that loneliness is a natural part of being alive, she might have been a happier person. My father would have been a happier person. And I would have had a relatively normal childhood.
My mother’s inability to deal with her loneliness and her impossible expectations of those around her ruined a lot of things for a lot of people.
The problems I had growing up, as I see it now, had all stemmed from the simple fact that my mother didn’t know how to deal with her loneliness. To her, being in a relationship, whether that’s a romantic relationship or a relationship between mother and child, meant being made happy and fulfilled by someone else, and not by her own efforts.
Her inability to deal with her loneliness and her impossible expectations of those around her ruined a lot of things for a lot of people.
I’ve had my share of relationships over the years. I’m not a perfect partner. None of my partners were perfect. But that’s OK. Each of these relationships has taught me something about myself. And I’d like to think that some of these have made me a better person.
They’ve taught me to be more patient, more understanding, more humble, more forgiving. Not only towards my partners but towards everyone else, and most importantly, towards myself.
They’ve also helped me accept my loneliness. I can’t say that I love it, but I can certainly live with it. Each new partner has shown me a new way to deal with my loneliness. When I’m with someone, I do not expect them to get rid of my issues for me. My issues, including my loneliness, are mine alone to deal with. The right partner at the right time can help with them, but they cannot cure them.
A cure, simply put, doesn’t exist.
For as long as we live, we’ll have to live with our loneliness.
I understand that now.
And this realization has time and time again, helped me find a calm inside myself that no other human being could help me find. I had to do it all by my lonely self.
And again, I may not always love my loneliness, but I do not dread them either. In fact, there are moments in my life when I seek them out. Because it’s only during moments of profound loneliness that I feel I understand myself the best. It’s in these moments that I can learn to be kinder, gentler, and better.
My relationship with my loneliness is mine alone to deal with. I do not expect it’d go away whether or not I’m in a relationship. It may be that a new partner in the future will reshape this feeling. I may find myself having to relearn to navigate a new kind of emotion.
But that’s OK. It’s part of being… just being. One cannot seek to cure an incurable condition, a condition that’s as essential as food or air for being alive, by simply being with another human being. That’s unfair to ourselves and to our partners, to say the least.
Just like I cannot ever expel someone else’s loneliness. All I can do is to hope that I’m there when needed. And that I am allowed to not be there when I cannot. Because for sure, there will be times, I know, when I won’t be there for my partner. It will happen. Whether by choice or by simply not understanding the other’s needs.
My relationship with my loneliness is mine alone to deal with. I do not expect it’d go away whether or not I’m in a relationship.
None of us are perfect. And in our imperfections, we find ourselves lonely, or we cause someone else to feel lonely. In accepting that and in recognizing that it’s part of living with other people, whether they are our spouses or our parents or our children or friends or whoever they may be, if we can be as comfortable in our loneliness as we are in our skins, I’m sure we’ll be more content with our lives.
Maybe not happy, but more content for sure.
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