dating, love, reflections, relationships

on loneliness

“Remember: the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. Life’s cruelest irony.”—Douglas Coupland

I think (well, know) there’s this idea out there (the basic premise of every single rom-com ever made, so thanks-no-thanks for that one, Hollywood) that once you find someone to love (and who loves you back) you won’t ever be lonely again. That simply being in the same room with the person-of-the-two-way-love is enough. That knowing you’ve found a person means there won’t be a night you’re sitting in the living room late on a Saturday night feeling an ache in your stomach (or is it your soul? your heart? some indefinable place that doesn’t even exist but really, it has to, because it gets tender at all the wrong times?) while trying to figure out whether you should work or read or write or catch up on all of the television shows you haven’t been watching lately because, you know, you’ve been busy falling in love. (Writing wins. It’s what writers do.)


“It’s no good trying to get rid of your own aloneness. You’ve got to stick to it all your life. Only at times, at times, the gap will be filled in. At times! But you have to wait for the times. Accept your own aloneness and stick to it, all your life. And then accept the times when the gap is filled in, when they come. But they’ve got to come. You can’t force them.”—D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover


In recovery they say expectations are future resentments. Or something like that. I just know I’m not supposed to expect anything from anyone, but that wasn’t exactly a lesson I needed to learn in a meeting.

I’ve practically made an art form out of expectations, from those borne out of basic decency (no, please do not rape me) to the entirely absurd (yes, I really do think you should take a month off of work and travel with me to my father’s ranch to help—among other things—castrate and vaccinate calves, even if this means you will lose your job).

These days I have what I like to think are simple expectations, not just for lovers but everyone. Don’t lie or cheat. Show up when you say you will. Keep plans; if you need to change or cancel them, let me know as soon as you know (with exceptions for emergencies). Don’t make me feel like a fool for believing things would be different tomorrow, next Tuesday, over the weekend. If you say I can depend on you, make yourself dependable.


“She had become accustomed to being lonely. She was used to walking alone and to being considered ‘different.’ She did not suffer too much.”—Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I know the difference between being lonely and being alone. I’ve bounced around in the space between them for the better part of a decade, gradually settling on the side of being alone most of the time. When loneliness struck, rarely, more rarely as the years accumulated, it was easy to either blame on Jack’s absence or mitigate with a quick phone call to an understanding friend happy to help keep me company for the night. It had long ceased being an existential problem.

Succeeding in being alone without becoming stuck in maudlin loneliness had perhaps been the sole accomplishment of my adulthood to date when I turned 40 (well, aside from getting sober and moving to NYC without a plan, money, or a place to live).

But I find someone, and I’m not alone. But I am, at least in this moment, very lonely.


“There is no Beatitude for the lonesome. The Book doesn’t say they are blessed.”—James Leo Herlihy, Midnight Cowboy

It’s 11:30pm on a Saturday. He’s been asleep since 8:30pm. I’ve moved into the living room, where I’ve been working, reading, and writing since just after 9:30pm; he didn’t stir when I gathered my things and turned off the lights, closed the door. I wonder if he’ll wake up and notice I’m gone or realize we never ate the dinner we’d talked about making together as we walked over the avenues to the C train from East Harlem (a simple one: soup and thin bagels with butter).

I’m eating a huarache leftover from lunch yesterday. The soup’s been in with my other canned goods for a very long time; this is its fourth apartment. I don’t imagine it expected that tonight would be its night. The soup has zero expectations. I, however, am rather different from a cardboard box offering viscous food a shelf life that exceeds three years and durability enough to sustain three New York City moves in that many years. For one, I wouldn’t be very comfortable stuck on a pantry shelf. More importantly, if I had been ignored for three years, I’d have long since left and found a place where I’d be appreciated. I suppose it’s a good thing boxes of soup don’t have legs, since I do one day hope to enjoy it with some crisp oyster crackers.


“Don’t forget—you’re the one who swam across the freezing sea at night.”― Haruki Murakami

There is no blame to be assigned. Loneliness is, yes, related to a set of facts or circumstances, but it is still a feeling that will pass and, with it, life moves along just fine.

Maybe I should have gotten dressed and gone out instead of bringing my laptop and iPad into the living room and settling into this uncomfortable loneliness with my cold huarache. Maybe I should have texted friends to see what they were up to, gone to see a movie, taken a walk around the neighborhood, seen a jazz band in the Village, done the sort of thing I would have done when I was the sort of person who knew how to be alone but rarely, oh so rarely, ever caught herself being lonely.

Truth: I thought that surely by now (12:01am) a certain handsome man would have wandered out of the bedroom, rubbing his sleepy eyes, asking what happened and why I didn’t wake him up—weren’t we supposed to make dinner together?—feeling slightly guilty he’d left me alone on a Saturday night, the night I look forward to as a way to make up for the fact that he keeps very long hours Monday–Friday and has to be in bed very early on “school nights.”

Another truth (in retrospect): I could have gone out and seen a movie (or done any number of things) and been back by now, and he wouldn’t even have noticed.


“The loneliest thing in the world is lying awake beside someone asleep.”—Rebecca Makkai 

I don’t know when I’ll return to the bedroom. When I do, I’ll probably curl into one of my chairs and read or watch TV on my iPad, only a few feet away from where my lover, in bed. Maybe I’ll drift off to sleep in the chair, uncomfortable as it may be.

There is no blame to be assigned; this is not a punishment. I don’t feel much like company, and I don’t want to pretend I feel prepared and comfortable for intimacy when for hours I have been feeling the acute absence of such, set to the soundtrack of my lover snoring in the next room, blissfully unaware that the woman he loves is feeling this way, much less writing it all down. Because, you know, it’s what writers do.