If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. ~ African Proverb
- pic courtesy of http://www.awesomedaysawkwardnights.blogspot.com
Three seasons have turned since I began my quest to stare at loneliness and popularity head on, and see who blinked first. Back in September 2011 I wrote a few posts to untangle my thoughts/beliefs/emotions around a problem that seemed cacophonous in Western society. Here are two of the posts, if you so wish to find the thread.
Since then, I got proactive…I find empowerment is always a preferable feeling to that of resignation…. Giving up. That just feels bad. Period.
A significant part of my day, to balance out my food obsession, is spent walking or running or, when the wind doesn’t threaten to turn me into a scene from ET…. or the rain render me with zero vision….cycling. To pet two birds with one hand (a more compassionate version of that ubiquitous saying) I always take with me a radio studio, full of intellectuals, experts and thinkers to keep me entertained and abreast with the world and its turnings. Of course, a rally of humans would be difficult to stack on my handlebars, so I pack them neatly into my MP3 player. On one of my cross-country runs, I heard about a book – Loneliness – Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John T. Cacioppo & William Patrick. I ordered it. Amazon delivered it. I promptly set about ingesting all their combined wisdom. Loneliness, according to American research from Harvard Uni, is on the increase. Between 1985 & 2004, just under 20 years, the common response from the question..How many confidants do you have? dropped with a thud, from 3 to zero. In 2004, the World Health Organisation published studies to show the increase in binge eating and drinking, the statistics also revealed increasing numbers of children are now ‘medicated to an alarming degree’. To throw a few more findings at you; UNICEF found that out of 21 wealthiest nations, the US is only marginally better at taking care of their children’s welfare, (one rung up the ladder) than the worst offender ‘Great’ Britain. Hmmph! Jane Jacobs, an author from Greenwich Village NY, wrote about the virtue of smaller, compact communities. If this were the case then the UK would be happy as a sand boy (where does THAT saying come from!?). Clearly, it is not the answer.
I wonder if the key to banishing the disconnection of community lies in the ways of the Victorians? I’m not for a second suggesting going back to horse drawn carts, dirt roads and ditching the power shower or kitchen blender….but, when I watch a period drama on the TV I can help but get all romantic at the thought how some things seemed simpler back then. How the transparency and manners displayed in the obtaining of one’s social life, BFF’s and husbands/wives…. was common place. The Victorians wrote letters, formally requesting the ‘company of’ and networking seemed and acceptable and necessary means to an end. Why does our culture make that feel ‘icky’ now and left to the sole use of furthering business connections and capital gain? There seemed no question of whether it was ‘OK to need friends or spouses’ back then, but a compulsory factor to human life, such as eating and tapestry work. Women didn’t ask a man to accompany her…it was the domain of the male only. Girls sought companions to walk with, take tea with and choose braid or ribbon for their (probably stinking..frequent sanitation is a blessing) hair. Did the word ‘needy’ get thrown around as much as it does today? Did people get brandished a ‘sad Zack’ if they acknowledged the need for friends for folly and joy, or a husband to covet their feminine ways? No! At least, not according to the BBC, if they posses an ounce of credulity. It seems that matters of companion-ability were upper most. What we have now, in this technological age, is….a shambles.
I threw my hands up in the air long ago, after an extended period of singularity. Shamed by my spinsteresque lifestyle and doubly shamed by a wisdom that told me, in meditative tones, that ‘all attachment is foolhardy’. ‘It is unattractive to WANT or NEED anything, rung in my ears. I’m telling you ‘the bells…the bells’ they rung feverishly, I was the ‘hunched back of Single Dame.’ My search for a suitable mate was fruitless and my path was bare. But what I discovered was that I was wandering around on the wrong cobblestones. My real quest was to find my BFF’s and not my ‘other half’…. That in itself is an interesting idea. That something about us is ‘missing’ or ‘incomplete’ without a partner. I think mostly it is a lot of old tosh but, perhaps chemistry and/or the lovely Prof. Brian Cox can explain the irrational feeling of loneliness in terms of physics….. When you have ‘found’ yourself, cherry picked your interests and your raison d’etre, and you still, at times, feel alone, is may just the law of the Universe at work. We are all made up of atoms. And as atoms we are partially incomplete….whizzing around, still flying outwards from the Big Bang. Atoms jostle around and part of the structure is lacking. The atoms interact and hit like bumper cars into the other ‘incomplete portion’ of another to make them whole..for a while. Armed with this notion (I’m sure Prof Cox could better regale) I set out to find a way to gently jostle and collide, regularly, with like-minded others, so to feel more ‘whole’.
Yes, I’d spent years creating me and strengthening my independence. Once I hauled myself up to the top of that knowledge mountain I found I now needed to connect with my ‘tribe’. E.O Wilson said, ‘Social isolation deprives us of both our feeling of tribal connection and our sense of purpose’. I said, ‘it feels crappy to loose the balance between me time and ‘us’ time. It ain’t one or t’other. Both independence AND interdependence are crucial. You need the former to be strong enough to back away when the latter shows up as an arsehole. That’s the other thing…realising that ‘turning the other cheek’ probably means thinking enough of your self to show the other side of your face as you WALK away. That doesn’t mean don’t be forgiving, which is freeing, but I think it does mean realising that the best way to find sustainable relationships is not to fall in with others out of desperation. But to find people who like the things you like and live similarly to the way you do. Constantly having to monitor your ideas and actions to please others could be as damaging as always being alone. It doesn’t do your self esteem a jot of good. Find others like you. This is what I discovered. Some of you may think me a bit of an ejit not to ‘know’ this, but I’d never been shown the way. I promise your healthy interests should be followed and stacked up, and there you will find others watching those same stars, enjoying that same show, walking that same path, and pondering on similar questions.
Listen, look, read, open your eyes and you will see that you are not alone. Authors pen the life they see around them or reflect themselves in their characters. Music lays over lyrics, sung about loneliness. Reality TV, strips people bare on the screen for us to observe, it takes time to kick down the walls or talk over the jungle fence. We have become afraid to be ourselves, risk adverse to disclosing our interests and ideas, behave like dogs in a pack to share traits to fit in, whether if fits for us or not. People are over spending, over eating, oversexed, defensive, reclusive or loud and obnoxious. I’ve never met anyone yet, who, when they opened up and showed who they were didn’t make me like them more. I’ve met many who close down and seem standoffish or mismatched to themselves who I like less. If I had a £ or a $ for every time I walked passed someone on a narrow street and they didn’t even look in my direction or quickly began to play with their iPhone rather than say ‘hello’ and walk by…I’d be rolling in riches! What’s with that people?!
Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and the growing list of other social media is all well and good. Skype can help us to stay in touch with loved ones far away. Facebook is a great way to track down people who you’d like to add to your life via local groups and societies. But at the end of the day nothing beats meeting people in person. Virtual relationships are not enough. I can’t create something meaningful and sustainable with an avatar. I need more than one dimension.
I did just that. In 2011 I finally said, ‘this is who I am and this is what I like’, not in defence but in pride. And I found www.meetup.com There, within this portal of groups of people banding together for common good, I joined science groups, lecture events, drinks gatherings that accepted tee totalling moi, history buffs and art lovers too. I FOUND MY TRIBE. (CARTWHEELS AND HANDCLAPS) I also found ‘routine’ and my level of need for social interaction. I discovered that I need an injection of city life, away from my country dwelling, at least once a week, preferably twice. I need to dance alongside others and feel sassy in the guise of Zumba every week. I need to create work around my loves and passions. I need to be the one that instigates connection and says ‘I’m looking for friends’ on a regular, unhalting basis (zippp…sound of needle scraping across record)..hmm, this is STILL work in progress. It isn’t easy. I still feel like an awkward stalker and get pissed off when I am the one making the phone call to reach out.. AGAIN! But I am learning that it isn’t going to change by itself. I need to ask more and DO IT EVEN THOUGH I still sometimes feel like a saddo. EVENTUALLY, it may get easier and also, the more open and transparent I become the more people can get passed my fortress, which, lets face it is a cardboard façade that was imprisoning me. Sure, I’ve known some shits, some inconsiderate fly-by-nights, but really it was down to me to discover I was worth knowing and not at all a ‘freaky, alien, weirdo’ for wanting to be liked and being interested in interesting people…yeah, I am..erm, still working on it. HEY, according to many, including Jessie J, nobody is perfect. In 2012, to build on my progress, I am thinking about helping out the local animal shelter, and fostering a pet. I may do some volunteering too. Something that can utilize my skills to help others. I’ll teach cookery, if I can pluck up the courage. I’ve come to the conclusion, whatever you do, you need to enjoy it. No use spending time doing something that doesn’t float your dingy, just in the spirit to do something good. It won’t last. If your heart is in it, you’ll put more into your tasks, and the recipients benefits will increase. I looked into studies that showed that loneliness over time may cause inflammation due to the over production of hormones, that can lead to immune and cardiovascular disease. Maybe it is true about broken hearts as is the old saying, ‘you’ve got to love yourself first’. To make friends you have to believe you are worth getting to know.
Yesterday I was as pleased as punch (another saying that I use whilst not having the faintest idea who or what punch is that it is pertaining too…is it Punch of Judy fame or the berry coloured drink served in a large bowl? or something Entirely different?) to have a missive shoot through the blogoshpere from an author, Nina Badzin, and she bravely admitted she had her time in the ‘awkward finding of friends’ wilderness, AND she had found someone who had just written a humorous and light-hearted book about her year of social dysfunction and plight for recovery and rescue… Rachel Bertsche. I immediately felt an large blobual of weight falling from my right shoulder onto my shag-pile rug, and a surge of relief. The effect was like a refuelling at a pump…. and I am on it. BIG TIME. Embracing it FULLY. GONNA CONTINUE TO GET ME A LIFE! Hurrah!
The last 8 months have been truly awesome. I’ve felt less down and alone than I have in a long time – even when I was in a relationship (I felt alone there too…a joy to the eyes doesn’t go hand in hand with a joy to the heart… eventually). Finding my way. Enjoying my interests and meeting people who are ‘story book, chock a block’ full to bursting with ideas, experiences and curiosity. I look forward to 2012 and KNOW that this is the year when all good things will come easily (please God) because I’ve done the ground work, sowed the seeds, and fessed up to my darkest corners. That don’t mean I stop praying, or trying, or walking towards. It just means that to have you’ve got to believe that it is there for the living.
I just have to stop taking myself so seriously. Be a bit more like the author Rachel, who had the brilliant idea of writing about it. But then hindsight, and a book deal, can be a wonderful thing. I think I’d look back on it with a shrug and a giggle too!
Thank God, I discovered it was not just me.