On being lonely, and attempting to write my way out: A brief reflection

Words are lumpy, awkward, and unwieldy these days. Frozen, they neither form nor flow. I would like to blame it on the times, the weather—anything but this emptiness I can’t shake.

I used to say: I’m a loner, but I’m never lonely.

These days I’m lonely, even when I am not alone.

8460394828_a318b259c7_bI am reluctant to write about this. I can remember listening to others complain about being lonely—even when their lives were filled with activities and people—and wonder how they could talk that way. More critically, I blamed them. It must be something in them, I reasoned, a bitterness or despondency that drives others away.

And now that person is me.

I understand the sense of alienation—and the way it can so easily be reflected in a coldness borne of anger and pain. Loneliness engenders a void that fills the space between the self and others. A space that grows and pushes the lonely person farther away.

I’ve been reading about loneliness of late. In an essay published on Aeon last July, Cody Delistraty argues that for all its pain, loneliness can build character. It can be a positive experience.

Assuming one emerges, that is.

Depression, cognitive damage, and suicide are very real risks for those for whom loneliness becomes chronic. Delistraty’s thesis is self-serving. He goes to Paris seeking a period of solitude and finds himself irritated by a lonely woman who desperately craves someone to talk to. Choosing to isolate one’s self for a period of time—to recharge, to create, to write—is a deliberate, and hopefully productive, act. In The Lonely City, for example, Olivia Laing chronicles her experience being alone in New York City. I read it last year and related to her observations, but at that time I was still grounded by two important people in my life. One year later, both of them are gone.

And loneliness is very hard to bear.

As a loner, I was always careful to balance my tendency to isolate against work that was people focused. When I unexpectedly had to leave my workplace several years ago, I instantly became aware of the void that had developed over years of living closeted, as a man with no past. Unable to work, I sought to find a community where I could be out, be myself, but that seems to be a space that exists most authentically only when I write. In my experience, the LGBT “community”—at least in my age range, in my city—is not as supportive of diversity as one might imagine.

So if it is in writing that I find the freedom to be myself, how to exist beyond the page? Alone?

I will have to find a way to write through, above and beyond this loneliness, I suppose.

And find out where it takes me.

*Photograph by Joseph Schreiber, copyright 2013

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

45 thoughts on “On being lonely, and attempting to write my way out: A brief reflection”

  1. Such an eloquent post, and for what it’s worth, a helpful one for others in the same state of mind, I’m sure. I think more people share your feelings than we might realise in this age of social media which seems filled either with fury or those who appear to be having the time of their lives. I hope you can find a way to bear it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wishing you well, Joe. I recognize the feelings. Even when with others, those feelings can persist: I understand that. I would suggest seeking people out – face to face – that you trust. Incremental moments of connection can be good to get you through and hopefully more than that. Be well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Des. I do have people in my life—acquaintances, adult children, siblings—but I am missing a meaningful type of connection, especially since the death of my mother and my closest friend last year. The one positive change recently is the discovery of a small book club that meets on Sunday mornings. Everyone is my age or older, the facilitators are professors of philosophy and we talk about all kinds of things. I can’t tell you how hungry I am for that type of intellectual stimulation. So you’re right, I can see how that connection will help at this time.


  3. I was an early adopter of the Internet and saw huge potential with BBS and IRC in the building of online communities and connectedness. As the Internet has become hijacked by business and special interests, I lean more toward the argument that modern loneliness is a byproduct of Internet use because users invest in online relationships at the expense of real-life relationships. Online interactivity can be something of an illusion. I think Twitter users can be particularly susceptible; pace and content are no replacement for quality. I regret that discussions on blogs (comments etc.) was replaced by truncated Twitter conversations. They are no substitute; there was far more of a community in the pre-Twitter days of blogging, certainly lit-blogging. We don’t talk that often, but I value your place in this loose community, think about what you write, and enjoy a sense of companionship, even if at a distance.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am fairly new to blogging and even newer to Twitter, but the internet has formed an important community for me since I started my transition in 2000. There were no resources here and the contacts I made were vital—I even made friendships that I still maintain—but all over long distances. Then I found communities of readers and photographers online. I used to think it was my own peculiar life history that made making friends locally difficult, but I constantly hear from others who find it hard to fit in. It’s a city of over a million where people are either passing through, or still friends with the people they went to high school with.

      I must say that Twitter has been essential to opening up opportunities to write and connecting me with other writers, with journals and publishers. It can enhance loneliness at times, but at its best it evaporates distances and opens into conversations beyond the 140 character space.

      Thank you for your supportive words. I also enjoy your thoughtful, intelligent posts, and our interactions. I do hope that someday we can meet and have a good long conversation face to face.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d like to meet you very much for that long conversation. You also make me realise I’ve been ungracious about Twitter. Through blogging and Twitter I’ve met some extraordinarily gentle, intelligent, serious people, many that I’ve been fortunate to meet in person and consider very good friends. I’m just in a grump that my literary bubble on Twitter has been drowned out by a lot of political chatter and breaking news; I have more reliable places for the former and absolutely no need of the latter. I miss my literary agora.


  4. I spent much of my 20s lonely; it can be an awful void that is difficult to fill. I did so with music and books and a rich inner world, and even though I am very comfortable with my own company (natural for introverts, I think) I longed for friendship/companionship and conversation. I eventually came out the other end but I know how hard it can be. Not much I can say to you except you’re right: it will make you a better/stronger person in the long term.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m in my 50s and for me I think this reflects the fact that I am facing another major life transition. It is scary and exciting, but it is at these moments that one really longs for close friendship. When the person who knows me best (and whom I trust most) is my therapist, it is a little sad. 🙂


  5. I hope you will get through your loneliness, Joe. You have had substantial losses to deal with and I can sympathise. We have just lost my mother-in-law, but at least we have the grace that this was not so close to my father’s loss that it piled one on top of the other. The void is hard to get past, but I hope your writing helps and remember you do have friends here as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Karen. I know that grief plays a huge role in my current state—not just the three deaths last year, but the loss of a career, and other losses. I’m also facing major life decisions. These are all things that I really need to process on my own—a necessary loneliness if you like, but hopefully not indefinite.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Such a beautiful and honest post. I’m not sure anyone has any answers for you, though I hope you know there is a virtual community here who are here to listen and support you though it’s no replacement for intimacy with a flesh and blood human being. I think most of us who are introverted in character are just an incident away from where you are now. I know that I could very easily slip into loneliness, because I can only feel intimate with one or two people and intimacy is not easily built. So I know any sense of connection I have is fleeting, though it is easy (and preferable) to con myself into thinking it is not. I admire your bravery in putting your fragility, your vulnerability out there and I wholeheartedly hope there is something just around the corner for you which will make things feel a little better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Intimacy is difficult to find. My virtual communities have been so important over the years—it is amazing how common interests override age, distance, gender in a way that’s hard to reproduce in person. I’ve been part of an online Pentax camera forum for years and, this past year, after I lost both of my parents and a close friend, two of my longtime Pentax/flickr friends lost their wives. Being able to share with others who had had a profound loss was vital and special for each of us at the time.

      Thanks for your warm response.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I reiterate all the comments here Joe, I’ve “liked” your post to show support & to acknowledge the courage you have to write/publish this public honesty. A number of us commenting here may be “virtual” friends however we do care & as I’ve said before, we will simply listen if that’s what you need. Please take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tony. The overwhelming response to this post (over 200 views in less than 24 hours) has reminded me that I am not alone in the loneliness I feel. Of course, so friendships do reach beyond the virtual space and take the form of books in the post across the miles. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly – read the gift as a reminder that there are many who feel “fractured” and know that this multi coloured fabric is what makes it all worthwhile- if we were all average then it would all be grey???

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Perhaps all of us are more truly alone than we would like to be.

    My beloved son, only 26, posted a comic on Facebook about loneliness which almost broke my heart.

    As for me, my only true comfort comes from the Word (of God).

    Blessings on you. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You are so fortunate to have the depth of faith that comes through so clearly in your posts. I do have a church community, but struggle to find the faith I once relied on. Thank you so much for responding. Best wishes.


  10. Loneliness is a bitter feeling. I think it makes a huge difference at what time in your life you’re being lonely. I thought the other day that if my closest two friends and partner died, I’d be pretty much alone. No family, not many friends in the same country. And not tons of possibilities to “find” new ones.
    Like you, I’m working/staying mostly at home, which makes it harder.
    I joined WordTango last year and the support and friendship of that writer’s community is amazing. It’s the only thing, being very far from you, I can offer right now in terms of friendship.
    It deosn’t come with any obligations but, as I said, it offers a lot. Discussions/support.
    I think as writer’s and/or loners there’s always a fine line between being alone and becoming lonely.
    All the best to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Caroline. I think that the older one gets, the more difficult it is to make close friends—perhaps because we become more idiosyncratic in our interests, and shaped by our experiences. I feel so discouraged by all the people I know who do not read. I once went to a Christmas event where half the people there described “a book” as one of the worst gifts they had ever received! I do have a few refuges: a Sunday morning book club led by two philosophy professors where we get off into all sorts of interesting discussions, and a small independent bookstore. But it is not a substitute for a close friend. My long distance and internet connections are a life saver. Thanks for your kind words.


      1. Nothing equals a close friend, I agree.
        I suggested WOrdTango because I’ve seen so many people become friends via that forum and meet in person. The majority is from the US, New York area but there are some from Canada too. I even met a woman from the US who lives in Switzerland, not far from where I live.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. This particular post resonates with me, and I have recently discussed a similar feeling with my wife lately. Since about high school, I have felt a distance between myself and the surrounding community. I delved deeper into artistic/intellectual pursuits, and I kept a small cohort of friends and acquaintances near (but not on a regular basis). Now, several years later, I find myself commuting over an hour to work each morning and evening, working against higher education institutional bureaucracy daily, and mostly living within my mind. Although I am surrounded by creative people and work, I don’t cultivate relationships easily, and I may push against this due to proximity of our home. I know Anna feels a distance similar to this as well, as she commutes and we’ve spent most of our days together (but apart from the world). My situation is not a complete isolation from others, but there exists the roots of the isolationism. That feeling can become suffocating. It burns away motivation at some point. Your writing is definitely one of the things that keeps me company during my days trudging ahead. This was a courageous post that shares something that many understand well, acute loneliness. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences. It is oddly comforting to know that others do not “cultivate relationships easily,” as you put it. I am not shy or uncomfortable talking to others, but deeper connections seem to elude me. Or perhaps it is easier to find like-minded souls online than in the anonymous urban space. I have certainly discovered, through the process of writing this piece, that loneliness is not uncommon—and it can be invisible, lonely people do not necessarily *look* lonely (you know, like Eleanor Rigby).


  12. Hi Joe. I wrote a long comment here earlier, but apparently I screwed up the incredibly simple task of clicking a button. To condense: this is a brave post, and it speaks to me because I also struggle with loneliness, and I wanted you to know that your community of readers is real and that, for this reader at least, you matter beyond the page. I think the profoundest function of literature, writing about literature, and befriending people over literature, is to combat solitude through communication at its finest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your response, Robert. I am discovering that loneliness seems to be a common struggle for many of us. And thank you for your kind words about my writing. It never ceases to surprise me how much people respond to my personal reflections, because I struggle against a fear of falling into the sort of self-indulgent, whiny confessional that so often seems to pass as popular memoir writing. Over and over though, I am reminded that if you open up about something raw and honest, but respect your own boundaries, connections are made, and sometimes, even across great distances, friendships can be made.


  13. I want to give you a hug right now. I know it wouldn’t fix how you feel but as a gesture of caring I hope you know that though you may be lonely you are far from alone even if none of us commenting here are physically near you.

    As an introvert without many close friends and no children, who can see 50 on the not so very distant horizon, I have been thinking a lot about creating a network of people, a community, where I live that will be supportive as I grow older. The thought of going out and making friends is hard and awkward and scary in some ways. Still, I am making myself do it. I have no idea if it will work, no idea whether I will find a community to be part of, but it seems a necessary thing for me to do. This is not an antidote to loneliness, I have been lonely before and know that comes from a different place, but I do worry about being lonely in the future and I hope this might be one way to keep it from happening.

    You will find your way through. You have people rooting for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks Stefanie. Writing this post and learning that many struggle with loneliness too, even with rewarding work and relationships, helps. And over the years I have found that online communities have led to more support because those common interests that bind us override the distances. In the odd circumstances when I’ve met an online contact, it has always been a great experience. I’ve tried to build a local support network, but it is easier said than done. I’m making slow progress, but missing that close person to share things/news with—good or bad—brings back the loneliness. Of course, the loss of my mother and my best friend last year has left a deep gap. I need to read and write my way through this, but lately I’m just frittering the days away. One thing I’m really good at!


  15. I’m on the road a lot between Vermont and Quebec. I feel lonely too. A part of it comes from not being grounded. Work in the states, live in Canada. Back and forth. On my own often. I hear you and I can relate. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Thanks for your response. This post has resonated with so many that loneliness is clearly a common experience in our isolated modern world. As a matter of interest, I am writing this from Australia where I have been these past three weeks. I have spent much of my time meeting with online friends. It is wonderful that one can travel so far and great experiences like this, but sad that we can feel so alone closer to home. Best wishes.

      Liked by 1 person

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