I’m standing on top of a Swiss Alp, snow crunching under my feet, and a cloud surrounding me on every side.
I can’t see the sun. I can’t see the lodge that I just left behind. And I can just barely make out the wooden pole that marks the path ahead of me.
I am utterly alone, on top of the world, surrounded by misty whiteness.
But still I’m not lonely.
I do wish, just a little, that someone was there to take a photo of me emerging from the mist. Or to share a bowl of soup at the end of the journey. Or to remind me in a month about how I felt at the top of that mountain: “remember that time when we were in a cloud just outside the highest train station in Europe?”
But none of those wishes pain me.
Not like six weeks ago, in early June. When I launched my book. When all my hard work, all those interviews, all those long days sitting in a coffee shop, finally paid off and I held my work in my hands. And I thought “Oh my god, I have to celebrate!” But after a quick Prosecco toast with the local ladies, I wandered off alone to the pub, feeling my aloneness like a vice-grip on my stomach. Feeling, quite frankly, sick.
And then I went to Italy.
Usually travel is an escape for me. When I left Denver, I was horribly lonely. So lonely some days that I wished wholeheartedly for some sort of apocalyptic event to wipe me out.
But then I left Denver and the US behind. I went to Scotland and walked the Water of Leith walkway. I went to Belgium and fell in love with the locals. I went to Germany and hiked the Black Forest. I came to Switzerland and had a beautiful, romantic fling that began on a mountaintop in a lightning storm.
And I felt less and less lonely, more and more happy, confident, and brave.
So you’ll understand my surprise when I left for Italy in early June, prepared for adventure, and found that my loneliness followed me all the way to my sunshiny, food-laden getaway.
Perhaps it was because I arrived tired and traveled too fast. Perhaps because I stayed in the most beautiful, romantic B&B ever. Perhaps just because it’s been six years.
(Holy shit, six years.)
Six years since I’ve been in love.
I am not supposed to admit that that bothers me.
To tell you that sometimes the solo life is incredibly lonely, mostly now that I’m standing still, trying to carve out a life in one place. But also, surprisingly and heartbreakingly, while I was in Italy.
I’m not supposed to care.
Instead, I’m supposed to relax, to “buck up, champ,” to be less picky, to be more picky, to tackle love like a project, to stop looking because it’ll find me when I stop tackling love like a project, to not be so serious, to not be so intense, to not be so intimidating, to not be such a pushover, to have higher standards, to stop having such high standards, to put myself out there, to ask the universe, to wait patiently, to be available, to not be so available (we all know they love the chase), to make myself prettier, to be more natural, to try hard, to not try so hard, girl.
(Our culture’s loop-de-loop advice, which so often contradicts every other piece of advice, is pretty damn exhausting.)
Because, somehow, being single makes it okay for people to—in a well-meaning, advice-giving kind of way—tell you what they think is wrong with you. And constantly hearing everyone’s expert opinion on why it is that you are not lovable enough is pretty damn frustrating. Especially when your own expert opinion after six years of singleness is that all of that advice is total bullshit.
What isn’t bullshit is this: that it’s okay, that it’s human, to be lonely. Even horribly lonely. Even lonely to the point of exhaustion. Even lonely to the point where you run away to Italy to try and escape the fact of your own aloneness and, to your dismay, find that movement and adventure and wonderful food aren’t always a cure or even a big enough distraction.
Love—in all its forms—is, in the end, what life is about. And so, of course, when we find ourselves in the midst of what Zoe Heller calls the “drip, drip of long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude,” the pain runs deep.
I wrote these first thoughts when I returned from Italy in June. And, as so many things do in life, the intensity of those feelings has faded. The sun has come out. The cheerful visitors are here in force, with their contagious excitement about this magical place where I live. And I have, very deliberately, shifted my focus.
It would seem that loneliness is like the tide. It comes in; it goes out. It ebbs; it flows. It may constantly tug at my ankles, but it isn’t always a flood.
And there is no quick fix. All I can do is let it wash around me, remind myself that it’s okay to feel lonely. It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to struggle. It’s even okay to feel like you’re going insane, like you’re losing it.
But it’s also okay to focus on joy, to practice gratitude, and to simply enjoy the now without worrying about how lonely I felt six weeks ago or being afraid of how lonely I might feel tomorrow.
Because today, the sun is shining. And tonight my best friend arrives for a visit. And two days ago, I kissed a man with one of the best smiles I’ve ever seen. He’s gone now, another traveler stolen away, but has left a feeling of comfort in his wake.
Because, really, isn’t loneliness about fear? The fear of being unlovable, not good enough?
And sometimes all it takes to remind us that we are good enough, lovable enough, smart enough, capable enough is a visit from our best friend or a kiss from a dimpled stranger or simply our own small, strong, loving voice telling us that we are loved.
And in case you can’t hear any of those voices yourself, in case you feel that tide swelling around your own ankles, threatening to pull you in, let me be the one to say it to you today:
You are loved.
And maybe your loneliness is just a reflection of how much you value connection, people, love.
Which isn’t such a bad thing, after all.
Gigi, your words are so much more than enough.
Beautiful post, Gigi. Loneliness sucks, definitely. And yeah, everyone’s advice for what you should do or not do sucks as well. I’m sure I’ve even attempted to give you some. The thing is, it works differently for everyone. Some people approach it like a project, go on match.com knowing exactly what they want, and somehow they find it. Some people really do stop looking and suddenly the right guy appears. There’s no one right way to do it, and you just can’t predict how things will work out. I think the key in any of it, in life in general, is to always do what’s right for you and focus on making progress with your own goals, the ones that have nothing to do with finding a guy. (Side note: You can be lonely even with a wonderful guy in your life. The root of the feeling just shifts a bit, and it’s often even more confusing because you think, I shouldn’t BE lonely!) And of course you’re good enough, loveable enough. And I’m so glad the loneliness tide has receded a bit. Hugs!!
Hugs back. Thanks for all your support.
Been there. Not 6 years, granted, but been there. You have found words to describe that loneliness like I never could. Life … is lonely. Heck even when you do have a partner you adore (as I now do) there are still things that you experience alone. Because … we are all little islands. and yes it is OK. It is OK to be lonely to the point of going crazy. It is OK to feel the fear. But as my motto says: Feel the fear … do it anyway. And this post proves that you are. The sun is there. A strafers kiss … and do not forget Luna!
Gigi – I love your writing. I feel every word. – TJ (Bobbi’s TX friend)
Thanks, TJ. And nice to e-meet you. I’ve heard so many great things about you.
Nice post…you are loved. :-)
Resonating like church bells, Gigi.
Lots of love, friend.
There have been a few mentions of the fact that loneliness isn’t reserved for the single and that you can still feel lonely while happily partnered, which is certainly true.
However, I also want to make a clarification/addition around that:
I worry about comparing the occasional loneliness experienced in a loving partnership to long-haul loneliness. Feeling alone and misunderstood from time to time is very different than not knowing who would take care of you if you had an accident tomorrow.
There’s a really sad and beautiful quote from Zoe Heller’s “What Was She Thinking? Notes On a Scandal” that expresses this difference well to me (it took my breath away when I first read it):
“People like Sheba think that they know what it’s like to be lonely. They cast their minds back to the time when they broke up with a boyfriend in 1975 and endured a whole month before meeting someone new…But about the drip, drip of long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. They don’t know what it is to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the launderette. Or to sit in a darkened flat on Halloween night, because you can’t bear to expose your bleak evening to a crowd of jeering trick-or-treaters. Or to have the librarian smile pityingly and say “Goodness, you’re a quick reader!” when you bring back seven books, read from cover to cover, a week after taking them out. They don’t know what it is to be so chronically untouched that the accidental brush of a bus conductor’s hand on your shoulder sends a jolt of longing straight to your groin. I have sat on park benches and trains and schoolroom chairs, feeling the great store of unused, objectless love sitting in my belly like a stone until I was sure I would cry out and fall, flailing to the ground. About all of this, Sheba and her like have no clue.”
While I think that it is absolutely an important point that relationships don’t magically solve all lonely feelings, I also worry that, while well-intentioned, the comparison of those feelings and the long-haul ones belittles the depth of this second kind of loneliness, much like comparing the feelings of a woman who couldn’t get pregnant for two years to a woman who turned out to be permanently infertile.
I know you are loved by your dog, your friends, and your family. Even your family online so to speak so you are never alone. Hugs.
Take care and if you feel alone again just email me and I will call you even long distance from the US no worries.
Thank you for speaking them so personally and gracefully.
You’re welcome. And thank you.
Ah, I feel this post so much! After my last break-up I spent so much time doing everything for just me and it was great. I did a little bit of travelling, spent lots of time with friends, and felt so powerful and independent. But then on some nights I’d go to bed and feel the loneliness creep in. It was frustrating and confusing because I knew I was happy with my life and that I was (am!) a capable person – was it a betrayal to myself to sometimes want someone to share it all with?
In the end I think the loneliness is just part of being human and, I agree that it ebbs and flows. Thanks for writing such a lovely, thoughtful post :)
Exactly! Thank you.
loneliness is the inability to fill a primal need of human interaction. Loneliness is the absence of relation. The absence of different kinds of relations with other people, with nature, with ourselves. The deepest loneliness that I have experienced is the knowledge that you have so much you want to give, you dream of the day when that someone lets you into their private world and them in yours and you can share your basic humanity, you share the secrets you have learned about the world, you share the present and you promise your future. Without each other we cannot exist and so underlying all of our emotions and dreams our aspirations our beliefs our actions is the need to co-exist to carry on our species and I believe this manifests itself as loneliness. But it isn’t just about the species surviving, that problems been solved for the time being. No, now we seek a bond between individuals, a bond created from life for life, we seek that person who will understand us who will love us who will make us smile when we wake up in the morning who will help us and be there for us when we need them the most and in return dedicate ourselves to them. We seek a bond that doesn’t need to be questioned, what we ultimately seek is two individuals becoming one in perfect unity. We seek the balance that love brings the completeness that comes with knowing who you are what you want who you want. Loneliness is life being unbalanced, it is that wall that we can’t climb on our own, it is the realisation that we may be the only one to experience our life and for it to have meaning it needs to effect others, we need to make our mark however small. Loneliness is the void, it is that place that cannot be filled, It is the monster that always consumes is always hungry and you can never stop feeding it. Loneliness is the inner most self yearning to share your essence it is the force that bonds protons and electrons it is a fundamental principle of nature however complex however confusing however hard to understand it is and always has been there.
Gigi, thank you so much for this post! it has been nearly 13 years since I’ve been in love and I can tell you everything you wrote hits so close to home. I really enjoy your writing and inspiration
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