In a place as big as Oxford, it’s still OK to feel lonely

You’re not alone

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Whether you do not feel you have much in common with those around you, or you enjoy taking contemplative midnight strolls, or you are just straight up single, feeling lonely is an unavoidable part of life. In fact, all of the people I asked on a focus group survey said they had at some point been lonely. That feeling that other people do not get something essential about you, that cramp in your stomach which sneaks up on you lying in a half empty bed in the middle of the night, the apparently spontaneous desire to cry or to be hugged… is normal.

So why do we not talk about it or look for help when we have it? What does it mean about the one experiencing it and what does it mean about everyone else?

Loneliness can feel good

One answer to these questions emphasises the melancholic platonic romanticism of solitude. 56% of people asked what value loneliness had responded that they sometimes like it. There is something about taking a break from the phantasmagorically intimidating sea of personalities called “society” which refreshes the soul.

This can range from having an early night with a quiet viewing of your favourite show on Netflix to saying “Hell is other people” before going to live either in a barrel or as a goat in Nepal. Barring this latter extreme response, which I doubt you have had given that you are reading a Tab article, we must ask ourselves both why we occasionally like being alone and why we really, really, don’t.

It can be a product of individualism

The expectations on the individual present in our society (especially the Oxford bubble) makes the admittance of loneliness or isolation unbearably embarrassing for some. While around half the people I asked said they can talk about loneliness to friends or family, 38% said they would rather avoid talking about it altogether, even with those close to them.

We are expected to be strong enough to not feel bad emotions, or brilliant enough to have innumerable friends, or dignified enough to at least not bother other people with the burden of our existence.

This is not only a set of unreasonable expectations; it is one whose extrapolation is a huge source of common mental health issues. If you ask anyone about these expectations, they are likely to agree with their being inhumanly high.

Yet, we all occasionally feel this disembodied, oppressive aura weighing down on the boundaries of our behaviour, whispering into our ear that we are really alone and there is nothing we can do about it.

It can be a product of awesomeness

A better way to view loneliness is as a product of one’s uniqueness of character and general awesomeness. Our idiosyncrasies are often so wonderfully irrelevant that we hesitate to share them to other people. This hesitation is a reflection of our sensitivity towards acceptability and an aversion towards unaware, recklessly unfiltered honesty. There is no one exactly like us, no one with the precise history and context of creation that we have.

The more perceptive we are, the more aware we are of the multi-dimensionality of this difference, and the more we have the potential to suffer from the feeling of loneliness. This is not a cause to give up on making connections, but rather to enhance our endeavours.

Admitting loneliness is the first step to finding other people who are like-minded or like-willed. It is the first step to creating a medium, such as literature, art, or music, through which it is possible to connect with these people. While it may feel bad at times, it is not a reflection of one’s personal fault, but rather of one’s defining (and awesome) differences.