One Major Cause of Loneliness
By Professor Samar Reine
Ask people what their top fear is, and they will often say they fear they’ll end up all alone and lonely, without anyone to care for and without someone to take care of them. What’s truly disturbing is how many people are lonely when not alone—in a marriage, around their children, or in a bustling office. Loneliness gives people a sense of disconnect, a hollow feeling of the Tin-man they’ve become.
To diminish loneliness, people seek new companions, especially lovers. As if loneliness can be alleviated with company, as if another person can pet your loneliness to sleep. Others are not drugs to your soul, and if they are, then you should endure withdrawals from them. No healthy relationship is ever based on addiction. No healthy relationship is ever based on a high, except the one you have with yourself. To feel the hollow ringing of the chest is to be empty of yourself.
I used to think that loneliness can be abated with socialization, until I realized that loneliness is caused by assigning the wrong roles to others, and, at times, the wrong roles to ourselves. Loneliness is not necessarily the shortage of people in your life, but rather the wrong expectations placed on the right person.
When you turn a good friend into a lover out of desperation, you insert loneliness into your life. Not only do you not gain the lover of your dreams, but you also lose your friend. When you expect your children to fill the shoes of an absent companion by requiring them to accompany you to the opera or to visit every Sunday, you are then ensuring loneliness due to a forced unnatural role you now expect of your children. Not only do you not gain that lively companion, you stress your relationship with your children.
Loneliness can take a more severe hold if you then assign yourself the wrong roles, too. Parents, for instance, may come to a point and demand to become their children’s confidants or their housekeepers, though they never were before. The consequences of such a change in roles, from parent to secret and housekeeper, done out of need for real attention, will most likely result in the parent feeling rejected and neglected by their own blood. How then might loneliness not take hold of such a parent?
There are instances when workers decide to seek their colleagues’ friendship. They even go as far as to call their co-workers family. Are they family? How might colleagues disappoint if they are thought of as family when their only responsibility is to the company? It’s one thing to have relationships alter on their own. It’s another when you decide unilaterally that you should be something specific to someone else, or the reverse, forcing another to play a role in your life that person wasn’t meant to have. If a husband wants a wife to play the role of his mother, then loneliness for both spouses is likely to ensue and increase overtime. If you insist that you should teach someone who does not wish for a mentor, then you are dooming yourself to an empty classroom. Assigning yourself the wrong roles seeds and fertilizes your loneliness.
Are you, then, taking on the wrong roles for others in your life? Are you asking others to take on the wrong roles for you?
Loneliness is the product of many things, but one this is for sure: loneliness can be mitigated by taking on only appropriate responsibilities and roles, and by only accepting and expecting the same from others. Who in your life might play a different role going forward? Should you relinquish trying to help someone who may not wish for the assistance? Should your fiancée be strictly a good friend, and not your future wife? Should you no longer mother your daughter-in-law because it’s not the role she seeks from you? Should you stop asking that nice receptionist at the dental office to play tennis with you because all she wants to be is the one booking your appointments, and no more?
Take good stock of what you represent to others, and what, in turn, they represent to you. Can you remove loneliness from your life by no longer seeking to be, and simply by being? Loneliness resonates for the same reason the Tin-man is hollow; he defines himself by his metal, not his mettle.