Posts Tagged ‘loneliness’
In the aftermath of an event like the shooting in Aurora, many are glued to their televisions, trying to make sense of what has happened. I avoid the ongoing news coverage, but it is nearly impossible to avoid being over-saturated by the information surrounding such an event. Regularly scheduled news breaks on the radio, the news ticker on my e-mail account, or the chatter of social media, assure that I’ll learn more than I need to know.
Most in the Denver area were still sleeping when I heard the first reports of the massacre, but in those early morning hours, I learned all I needed to know: Innocent people were victims in a tragic shooting. I wasn’t interested in hearing the unfolding coverage, because in the immediate hours after such a happening, what is presented as news, is mostly speculation.
Without ever tuning into a news broadcast, my head got its fill of hearsay and unsubstantiated details–or what we used to call gossip. Some speculated that James Holmes was a right-wing crazy, others were convinced he was a pawn or operative in a left-wing plan to disarm America. Some suggested he had an accomplice, others said he acted alone. Some held him up as evidence of a Godless society, some blamed bullying or the failure of parents to raise their kids properly. Still others attributed the act to American economic powerlessness, because James Holmes failed to find a job after graduate school. Many placed the blame on the movie producers, and/or society’s desensitization to violence. People speculated on whether he was mentally ill, under the influence of drugs or just the product of too much video game violence. Most of those who put forth theories, were no more qualified than I to comment on his mental health or the cause of his actions,
Only one thing was clear.
When things like this happen, we seek to make sense of them–but things like this don‘t make sense. Something went chaotically wrong in a theater in Aurora, Colorado, when what should have been an escape into movie fantasy, became a frightening reality with few chances for escape. Knowing why it happened, will do nothing to make us feel better about this senseless attack. No law could have prevented it. There is nothing that can guarantee we won’t see something like this again, and nothing we learn will make this tragedy make sense.
Despite this, the media disseminates information in an effort to help answer questions as to why it happened. Anyone whose opinion might shed light on the event, is given a microphone. Reporters dig up neighbors, colleagues, classmates or whomever is available to comment on what they knew of the suspect.
What I find troubling (and ironic) is that the people who knew the suspect, usually inadvertently admit they didn’t know the suspect. Typical they say things like, “He kept to himself” “He was a loner.” “He minded his own business“. Then they express their shock at the actions of the person they didn’t really know, a person nobody really knew.
What we don’t hear are close friends talking about the many hours they’d spent with that person. I’ve yet to hear anyone talking about the memories and the laughs they shared, or how much they valued the friendship. We don’t hear those things, because often the person(s) who commit this type of senseless violence live in an isolated world of emotional turmoil.
James Holmes played team sports in high school, surely some of those teammates interacted with him. It seems likely he would have made connections to those with whom he shared an interest in video games, or the people in his academic program, yet sadly he lived his life in strange and solitary way. Maybe something in his make-up made it hard for him to make friends, or maybe something had caused him to be distrustful of others. He may have been a mad man or a sad man, but for some reason he felt no normal connection to the people who would become victims. He was disconnected from those around him, long before that disconnect in his head, caused him to do what he did.
We all face loneliness, frustrations and despair, but if life is hard, it is harder for those who have no one to talk them down from a tree, or off a ledge. If the world is sometimes lonely for those who have close friends and family, how much more so it must be for those who don’t. I don’t mean to be so simplistic as to suggest that if Holmes had some homeboys, this wouldn’t have happened. Dylan Klebold had Eric Harris, and both of them had other friends, yet they both felt like outsiders.
Americans live more isolated lives now, than a few generations ago. The internet, e-mail and smart phones make it easier for us to stay connected, but we often spend more hours connected to our electronic devices, than to the people around us. When I was a kid, we didn’t turn to reality TV to get a glimpse into other people’s lives. If we wanted to know what was going on in other people‘s lives, instead of inviting strangers into our living rooms via television, we’d pile into the car and drop into the living rooms of those we knew. We didn’t call ahead or set a time, we just showed up. Before there was Yahoo, there was Yoohoo, as in, “Yoo-hoo, anybody home?“.
Back then, instead of feeling imposed upon, by an unannounced visit, the host would welcome the unexpected disruption. The host(s) would fall all over themselves apologizing, if they didn’t have anything to offer guests, as expressed in the very popular 1950s hit “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d've Baked a Cake”. Even if inconvenient, they’d insist you come in and sit down, and everyone would settle in for a visit.
There isn’t much to a “visit.” Talk, listen, talk listen. Not much else. We dropped in into see a new baby or to meet a friend’s out-of-town visitors. We dropped in on those who were going through hard times. We dropped in when we learned somebody had lost a loved one. On those occasions, we brought the cake–or a casserole, but mostly, we dropped in for no particular reason.
Visiting was a good pastime, but more importantly, it was a way of staying connected to the people in our communities and cultivating relationships with them. It was offering and getting support, without joining a support group. We knew our neighbors, and they new us. Back then, those who kept to themselves were considered to be odd or at least unfriendly. Now I live in a city, where most social visits are by appointment only, but where I come from a car in the driveway, is still as good as an invitation.
It is unlikely close friends could have stopped the thoughts in Holmes head, but what if Holmes had the kind of friends who drop in unannounced? If one person had realized how deeply troubled Holmes had become, what could he have done? Who could they have turned to for assistance? Even if one person had sensed Holmes was a time bomb with a short fuse, the authorities probably couldn’t have done much, because Holmes had yet to commit a crime.
It does no good to wonder. It is too late for the his victims, but they serve as a reminder to us all, we don’t live in a vacuum. We don’t always make the effort to get to know the people around us, but perhaps we should. If there is anything to be learned from this tragedy, it is that we need each other. We all need others to help us make sense out of what we go through, and to help us get through the things that don’t make sense.
Reading fairy tales gave women the notion that once the handsome prince showed up, we’d all live happily every after, but life is rarely like a fairy tales. There are no fairy tales about princesses who spent their lives looking for their prince, nor are there charming stories of queens who were widowed or divorced.
Because of this, some women end up living lives on hold, while waiting for their prince; others find themselves starting over when their first prince reverts to frog or worse. No matter what we’ve been through, too many of us waste time looking for the person who will make us believe in happily ever after again.
There are women who prefer living alone, but most of us crave the company of someone, with whom we can share our joys and struggles. Sure, we have our girlfriends, but it’s in our nature to want to love and be loved. Even the most self-sufficient independent female can find herself wishing there was a man in her life, but finding the right man is often an exercise in serial frustrations.
With the world full of eligible men & women, it shouldn’t be so hard to find someone, but it often is. Woman sit at home lamenting their loneliness, as if they expect someone to come to the door with a glass slipper that fits only them. Finding that special person doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Even the prince with the glass slipper, went knocking door-to-door before he found his dream girl.
Modern society isn’t nearly as friendly as it once was, but you’re a big girl now. If you were taught not to talk to strangers, it’s time to switch it up. You won’t meet anybody new or interesting if you can’t talk to new people. Relationship experts tell us to go where the men are, but while there are plenty of men to be found at tractor pulls and strip clubs, if you’re looking for normal men, go to normal places. The places you frequent, are the best places to meet people with whom you are likely to have things in common.
Don’t limit yourself to meeting only those people who interest you, even dull guys can have interesting friends. Don’t approach every guy with the goal of making him your husband, in the same way dogs smell fear, men sense desperation. Lastly, don’t disqualify someone before you’ve taken the time to find out his story. Most people are largely more interesting than thefirst impression would lead you to believe.
Once you’ve found someone you’re interested in meeting, a smile is a subtle, but time-tested opener. After the smile, strike up a conversation. It isn’t necessary to be brilliant or interesting to strike up an interest-starting conversation, in fact, ordinary conversations are best for putting others at ease. Talk to strangers as if they are friends, and they will usually respond in kind.
Speaking of friends, even if the person you are interested in is drool-on-your-own-shoes gorgeous, approach them as you would anyone else. Don’t let someone’s career, status or appearance convince you they’re out of your league. The rich, beautiful, and powerful have the same inadequacies as everybody else, and they are just as susceptible to sincerity and charm as everyone else.
Likewise, be approachable, not intimidating. Men love attractive women, but those who are unapproachable snag the imagination, not the heart. There was a time when hard-to-get or waiting for men to make the first move were good tactics, but in the culture of feminism, being aloof can mean being alone. Most men won’t waste time on women who make them feel foolish, and even the bravest guys are frightened by scary women.
To get things started, almost anything can be an ice-breaker. A clerk at my grocer recently told me she was amazed at how often strangers end up exchanging phone numbers after casually chatting in the check-out line. Not a big surprise, as grocery items provide clues to the other person’s lifestyle and are easy conversations starters. For example:
Guy Buying TV dinners:
Bad Question: The old lady throw you out?
Good Question: How’s the Salisbury Steak?
Guy buying dog food:
Good Question: What kind of dog do you have?
Bad Question: Have you tried The Moist & Meaty Steak Dinner?
Guy buying a bag of limes:
Bad Question: Trouble with scurvy?
Good Question: Making margaritas?
Be playful, not serious. You ask if he’s making margaritas, he tells you he’s having friends in to watch THE game. Ask what team he likes, but if he likes a team you hate, there is no need to tell him he’s a sports cretin. (You can convince him of that after you’ve dated a few months.) The idea is to convey interest, not intensity. If he responds favorably, it’s game on.
If you succeed in engaging him, offer your first name. Once you’re on a first-name basis, keep the conversation open long enough to give him time to decide whether or not to ask for your number. If he doesn’t show any interest, move on. He may not be interested, may be taken, or if he’s too socially inept to figure out how to ask you out, he may not be your guy. The interaction is over and you’ve lost nothing.
If this seems insultingly simple, it is. There is simply no good reason an eligible person should be alone, unless they choose to be. Meeting people of either gender is as easy as making the effort and taking risks. Alas, meeting people is the easy part, finding the right person takes more effort. Nevertheless, ti’s a great place to start and with a little luck it’ll keep you from spending every Saturday night crying along with The Bachelorette. In the near future, I’ll be chatting with Marry Him, author Lori Gottlieb about how women inadvertently prevent themselves from finding great guys and offering tips for how to sustain relationships.
My dog likes company. I don’t know if he actually likes me, but he is happier when he’s near me. It can be a bother to have him constantly underfoot or wanting to ride shotgun on every errand, but I indulge him. I could be flattered by his attachment, but I don’t trust the judgment of a creature who is into butt-sniffing and pig ears. His affection isn’t personal, he’s a dog. It is his nature to be a social animal, by default I am puppy posse.
Humans are social creatures too. It is our nature to crave contact with others or at least assurance we are not alone. How much contact we need or want, varies greatly from person-to-person, but we are happier and healthier when we have people in our lives. Within each of us is the desire to be known and accepted.
The huge growth in popularity of Facebook is evidence of peoples’ desire to reach out to others. The social media networks, provide a convenient and accessible way for us to stay in contact with people we may not regularly see. Facebook is trending now, but people have always tried to stay connected. Long before e-mail and txt messaging, people kept contact with the less efficient modes of letters, telegraph and the wired telephone.
Online interactions offer a relatively low-risk social outlet. This is certainly one of the reasons many have greater ease with on-line dating or romance. Because cyber-communities, like MySpace and Facebook, make it easy to handcraft an image, children are warned about how people can misrepresent themselves as someone other than who they are. While this may be true of those who have ill motives, it doesn’t seem to be true of the rest of us. Though most people go to some trouble to protect their online privacy, we are surprisingly overt in disclosing the details of our private lives.
How we feel about our self, determines how much, and what we want others to know of us. Our degree of social comfort depends on our level of self-esteem, whether we are introvert or extrovert, and the degree of safety or anonymity. In online forums where we are not personally known, we may be less guarded and/or less honest, but on forums like Facebook, friends & family should serve to keep us more accountable. But the risk of raised eyebrows from those who know us best, is not enough to deter individuals from declaring their thoughts, feelings or likes and dislikes.
Social scientist, Sam Gosling has made a study of the ways in which people inadvertently show their personalities. His book “Snoop” is an examination of how people unintentionally show their traits. Whether or not it is orchestrated, it seems people are prone to advertising who they are. From the rooms we live in, to the music we listen to, we are constantly leaving clues to our personality. One of the surprising things he discovered, was the accuracy of online profiles as a representation of the personality of that created them–suggesting again our desire to be known.
The personality we present to the world is a composite pulled from the mix of what we want the world to see and what we’d prefer to hide. It is a tricky act to balance our desire to be known as we are, with our desire to be liked and accepted. Though we may try to hide things we believe will bring about rejection, our efforts aren’t always successful. Perhaps you have known someone who revealed a secret such as sexual orientation, an addiction, or some skeleton from the past, only to learn people weren’t very surprised by the revelation.
No matter what our social station or our esteem level, everyone of us is vulnerable to loneliness and rejection, yet it is impossible for people to get to know us if we keep our personalities hidden. If we truly want others to get to know us, we have to face the vulnerability of showing ourselves. It is a big risk, but necessary, if like my dog you’d prefer not to be alone.
Many may disagree, but I believe being single is an art. Some people are better off alone, but most of us crave company. Long before we are old enough to date, we tend to function in pairs. We have favorite siblings, best friends, and special relationships with one or both parents. We aren’t well-adapted to functioning without partnerships of one sort or another.
Being single doesn’t come naturally to most. I didn’t marry for 10 years after I moved away from home. This gave me more than a decade to practice the art of living single. I never perfected the skill, but I became good at functioning as a unit–even if most of my free-time was spent trying to figure out how to change my status from “single” to something more cooperative.
Most of my girlfriends got married soon after high school. I followed college with an apartment and a job. I spent most of my time doing the things that singles do. That decade would have been better-spent trying to accomplish something of import, but I mostly went from place-to-place having good times.
The world is biased in favor of the traditional lifestyles. One would think that singles should have more fun, but many things are tailored to those who are coupled, married or raising children. At no time is this more true than during the holidays. This is unfortunate, because those who are alone may find themselves facing loneliness, malaise or depression.
There are no Valentine cards designed to be “returned to sender”. There are no Thanksgiving cards depicting a table-for one, nor Christmas cards featuring a lone soul enjoying a grand tree without gifts–or people with whom to share them. Unless you are orphaned, chances are you don’t spend every holiday alone, but even Mormons & Catholics sometimes find themselves flying solo through the holidays. I have. One needn’t be a psychologist to realize people don’t like being alone on days which are symbolic of warmth and love.
I’ve spent many holidays alone. I suppose there was a time when it bothered me, but it’s been so long ago, I don’t remember. At some point in time, I had adjusted my mindset and it no longer bothered me. I began to think of holidays as days on a calendar with only exactly as much significance as I placed on them. I could celebrate them (or not) and not feel disadvantaged if I should find myself alone.
One Thanksgiving I was hanging out in my apartment, without a dinner invitation, it was just another Thursday. On that day, a girlfriend called me. She had contracted a severe case of holiday blues, because she was without a place-card at anyone’s Thanksgiving table. I suggested she come over for Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t have a Thanksgiving dinner, but I figured we’d throw together something.
On that cold & rainy November day, we jumped in my truck and headed to the nearest grocer to buy the stuff we’d need for our impromptu feast. A turkey would have been two large, so we settled for a small chicken, which was large enough to take away holiday despondency. Having a chicken, made it no less Thanksgiving than it would have been with a turkey. We enjoyed a very nice afternoon, preparing our repast and the knowledge of being there for each other. We easily rose above what might have been too sad to celebrate. The fond memory of that Thanksgiving signifies an important knowledge and practice. I knew beyond that day, I could define and enjoy my own holiday–with or without family.
So if a broiling hen is as good as a tom turkey, would the holiday lose anything if it were celebrated with a turkey sub or chicken nuggets? Where are the rules on which activities are acceptable or a line determining how far one can depart from tradition before the holiday is canceled out? I haven’t answered that, but I’ve come close.
I remember one Christmas, when after the presents were opened and the wrappings discarded, my brother was bored. He suggested a trip to the car wash. Washing cars on Christmas Day is not part of holiday tradition, but my brother can be very compelling. Before long, he & I were headed to the car wash–not the drive-thru, but the U-Wash-It. A pocketful of quarters buys the opportunity to clean your own car with a jet-engine-loud vacuum and 8 minutes of soapy water sprayed out of a turbo-charged water gun. (Hot Wax only 50 cents extra).
On a cold December day, wielding water guns would be odd, but on Christmas day it seemed ludicrous. Nevertheless, I’ve always been a team player. We vacuumed, sprayed, shammied and laughed. While others were sitting in theaters watching the latest Christmas film release, we were outside playing with water guns. Far from tradition, but much more fun than sitting silently in a dark theater. Other Christmases, with him, we’ve improvised Christmas trees from bushes and branches, shoveled driveways, invented delays to torture the kids by keeping them from their presents until well after noon, and generally enjoyed the very best of holidays.
Though a roasted goose & plum pudding may sound like the perfect holiday, I’ve come to realize a chickens or a car wash can be even better. In this season when many people experience the letdown of coming to terms with a-less than Dickens holiday, a little advice to those who find themselves alone.
When you were little, adults defined what traditions you’d embrace. Unless you still need adult supervision for everything, it’s time to enjoy being all-growed up. This is what you dreamed of as a kid, you’re finally in charge and you get to make the rules for your holidays. Which means that Valentine’s day doesn’t have to be about romance. Thanksgiving can be celebrated with cheeseburgers. Christmas can be spent doing whatever you feel like doing. Of course it’s better if you don’t spend it alone, but remember there will be others, who being held hostage by their families, will be wishing they could trade places with you.
Your life is NOT a made-for-TV movie, nor is it a Hallmark card. Once you accept this, you may find it can be even more perfect and every bit as beautiful.