LONELINESS OR SOLITUDE?

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“I have felt as bleak as I’ve felt since puberty, and have filled almost three Mead notebooks
trying to figure out whether it was Them or Just Me.” — David Foster Wallace

Just three?

First, there’s the stuff of life that goes away, all those drive-driven peer- and pair-bonding needs that fade with age as much as with achievement. Then there’s the stuff that stays or happens later when you get older. When young, you are all potential—the sky’s the limit. When old, your potential has almost all become actual, what you have is, well, what you have. And good enough has, then, got to be good enough. It usually is, because we defensively convince ourselves so.

Youthful potential, being of the ideal (noumenal?) realm, is available in near equal measure to all. Later, when way more of your life is an individual history than it is a universal fantasy, there is much less of the common ground of youthful idealism that made the ever-difficult task of friend-making doable then.

Pair bonding is difficult as well. When teen- or twenty-ish all those crazy drives got you right back up when knocked down. And that was good because you were knocked down often. When fifty-ish and beyond those drives are all but gone, so common sense—gained with experience—says pick your fights, if it advises to fight at all. But fighting is perhaps not the best metaphor here because the above mentioned interactions are supposed to be more win-win than zero sum. Anyway that’s the theory, the myth, the ideal; that’s what keeps kids, young and old, trying.

Now imagine this upbeat scenario: In the rush to succeed, you and your partner-candidate exaggerated your individual potentials. And those personal advertising campaigns worked. Your hope, realized or not, was that subsequent maturation—those necessary compromises with aging—would let you both down slowly enough that the later-gained up-sides of the relationship would make staying together worth the effort. Good luck kids, about half the time this works.

But also consider this: That when a relationship is all in the future, what your potential pair-bond mate can be is any way that you can desire. This youthful optimism often prevails and unrealistic relationship happens. So as the actual slowly takes over from potential. When the view of what can be, gets narrower and narrower and not what either of you signed up for. You—possible both of you, but still separately—ponder a renegotiation. But you will probably unilaterally decide which promises are to be kept or not, as well as plan an eventual escape.

These never-pleasant endings happen because in the beginning you and your partner-to-be were so desirous for this relationship to consummate, that you both down played the differences—consciously and not—leaving only the similarities there to be experienced. This is often called “Being In Love.” But these similarities are often just generic artifacts of youth; the optimism, resiliency, boundless energy and so on. These faded with time or other ravages, leaving only the formerly hidden deeply personal differences.

So here you are, by yourself, frustrated, “Into the room he went and locked the door. With an absurd air of importance he talked aloud, giving instructions, making comments on life.” (Sherwood Anderson, 1919) and burned-out, “[Y]ou’re losing all your highs and lows, ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away…” (Glenn Frey and Don Henley, 1973.) Are you an artist, desperado, or both?

It doesn’t matter; you are an egoist either way. It also doesn’t matter whether it was your discipline or fear got you here or whether it was corporate greed or simple chance. The question is not whether it’s called loneliness or solitude, but what to do with it. Good luck with that, all you kids, old farts, and those of you in transition between the two.

“It’s an interesting combination: Having a great fear of being alone,
and having a desperate need for solitude and the solitary experience.
That’s always been a tug of war for me.”
— Jodie Foster

 

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