Today on a podcast I was listening to, Emma Seppala, a researcher with the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Education and Research, described loneliness as a crisis of modern society. From this talk, I was also reminded of Sherry Turkle’s paradox of “Alone Together,” wherein she considers how technology provides an immediate yet ultimately illusory sense of connectedness at the direct expense of the face-to-face events and activities that really connect us.
Yesterday I rode my bike along one of my favourite streets. It is always busy with people walking, and people sitting in restaurants chatting. But on this exquisite summer night I felt terribly alone observing it all. One has the sense that others must be lonely too — indeed as I considered my own loneliness in the moment, I more carefully watched those who were also alone on the street. Surely some, like me, were experiencing the same sense of being a detached observer. This isn’t always an awful thing, but sometimes it is a profoundly lonely experience.
Thinking about the loneliness of others, at least in this moment, provided little comfort. It is sometimes hard to escape the clinical detachment of the observer, especially when it is providing a sense of protection. One can intellectualize and rationalize loneliness: “I am a rock. I am an island.”
On my way home I stopped for a bottle of wine. My husband was out of town, and it was a rare night to be alone. I was looking forward to this. Sort of. It had a shadow cast over it though, because I was thinking about all of the nights I’ve experienced in my adult life where being alone was a thing to be celebrated with drinking, and how the pleasure of this has waned so significantly over the past few years.
I had a small glass of the wine I’d marked with some sort of significance. It didn’t soothe. It didn’t free me. It was just there, and I was no less lonely.
This all made me wonder about the relationship between loneliness and alcohol. How much do we drink because we are seeking meaningful connections with other people? What experiences, feelings are we seeking connect with or heal — we who drink in bars, behind keyboards at night, or in lawn chairs on weekend afternoons? And it’s so fucked up because using alcohol to fix stuff or fulfill yourself or lubricate your relationships just doesn’t work. Real connection is a clear-eyed business. It is also something that takes courage, and a courage that, as is said, “can’t come from a bottle.”
I’m not preaching. Just thinking.