Trust me, you don’t understand what it means to be lonely.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve watched my friends pair off. Temporarily and fleetingly in high school, longer and more lasting in college, and now, permanently. Throughout it all, I’ve remained single. Too shy, too insecure, too…whatever. I got used to my role as the Single One—I was even okay with it. As an introvert, I not only like my alone time, I need it. But, somewhere along the line, I stopped just being single and started being lonely. Most days I’m both. And try as my paired up friends might, they don’t seem to fully understand what it’s like to watch everyone around you fall in love. They don’t understand what it means to be lonely. So let me tell you.
1. You are nobody’s first priority. Between boyfriends and girlfriends and spouses and kids and church, there’s always someone before you on the priority list. I don’t have that one person I come home to at the end of the day, with whom I share all the mundane details of my life. So I parse them out between friends and family, sometimes oversharing because I just need someone to validate my existence. I’m not saying it’s wrong that I’m not the top priority (of course family should come first). But for the perpetually alone sometimes it’d be nice to be first. Just once. Just for a day.
2. Physical touch is a thing for other people. When you’re not part of a couple and you’re living alone, physical touch goes out the window. And not just sexy, intimate touches. I’m talking mundane, everyday, almost-no thought-put-into-them touches. Last week, I realized it had been months since I’d been touched by another person. For as much as I value and need alone time, nothing is more isolating than realizing no one has touched you in over a month. Nothing.
3. Jealousy is green and ugly and real. I don’t want to be a jealous person. I don’t like being a jealous person. But when the loneliness is overwhelming and all-consuming, I can’t help it. I can’t help but be jealous of the fact that other people have someone to come home to—that they have the occasional unthinking brush of hands and take so much for granted.
4. There’s physical pain associated with being lonely. It’s not something you know until you’ve experienced it, and it’s hard to describe. But it actually hurts to be lonely. It’s an ache in your chest, a heaviness that you can’t shake, a longing that only the touch of another person can soothe.
5. Being the third wheel sucks. No matter how much I like my friends’ significant other (and really, they’re great!), I don’t want to be the third or fifth wheel. A little part of me dies every time I have to plaster a smile on my face and joke to the waiter that the bill is going to be split, “Two, two, and me. Just me.”
6. Friendship isn’t enough. This one is hard. I have an outstandingly good group of friends and family, but as much as I want them to be (and as much they wish they could be), they aren’t enough. I’ve tried really hard to make them enough, but it’s like forcing a puzzle piece into a spot it doesn’t belong. You can push and push and push, but it’s never going to quite sit right.
7. Everyone is part of a couple. Or maybe it just seems that way when you’re not. But from my point of view, everywhere I look, I see couples. Even events are geared towards couples. Have you ever tried cooking for one? It’s not pretty.
8. The grass isn’t greener. Stop telling me how you’d love to have some peace and quiet or a night where no one touches you. Because that’s not what I’m talking about. There is a profound, bone-deep difference between “alone time” and being lonely. Comparing the two or romanticizing something I consider painful undermines my feelings and makes me hate you a tiny bit.
9. This isn’t a “lifestyle” choice. Plenty of folks choose to be single. Nobody chooses to be lonely. That’s part of the problem. I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want this. But it’s not something I can fix on my own.
10. No one gets it. It’s kind of like the Dead Dad’s Club. (Please lower your pitchforks and allow me to explain.) Until you lose your dad, you don’t know what it’s like. You can sympathize and you can think, “Oh, that’s really sh*tty,” but you can’t really empathize. And it’s true for loneliness, too. Unless you’ve experienced it—unless you know what true, deep, painful loneliness is like—you don’t get it. And, well, that just makes things all the more lonely, doesn’t it?