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Why Are We So Afraid to Be Alone?

Photo by Markus Spiske: https://www.pexels.com/photo/landscape-mountains-sky-man-105857/

God made man and gave him a friend to do life with. And for that reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his woman and the two shall become one.

Isn’t that just the most romantic thing?

You don’t know how lonely it is to be alone until you have felt you were one with somebody. That’s why some of us can’t be alone, we do rebounds, we fall from one relationship into the next one. Because it is devastating to be alone after you’ve experienced oneness with another human. In a relationship, you are not two individuals, you are a unit, and after you breakup you miss that oneness.

All the things you take for granted when you are in a relationship sting like hell when you are alone. You used to take walks together in the evening, so now you can’t see a sunset without feeling a pang of regret and emptiness. The sunset will anger you because it is a reminder that you are alone.

But why should you feel so? After all, you were born alone and will die alone.

It’s because we are social animals. We don’t want to be alone. The most effective punishment is not violence, it is isolation. In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe narrates that when Okwonkwo committed a crime against the earth goddess, he was banished from his fatherland for seven years. Banishment from the community was one of the worst things that could happen to a person in those days. Unlike death, isolation is not quick. It is a silent, ceaseless torture. For one, you lose your identity – because who are you away from your usual social interactions? And you lose all the relationships that make life meaningful. Loneliness is a yawning, aching pit at the bottom of your heart. No one wants to be alone. Even in prison, one of the most effective punishments is solitary confinement.

There is a quote by Blaise Pascal that says: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” It suggests that being alone might actually be good for us. I agree. It is when you are alone that you start to figure out who you are. Away from all the roles you fulfill in life, who are you? What do you want?

When we are alone with our thoughts, we can’t stand it. We reach for the phone or the remote, anything. It is why the entertainment sector is booming. We would rather be entertained than sit quietly with our thoughts. We don’t want to fix things if the price for it is sitting quietly with our thoughts and emotions. We escape.

We are excellent escapists. I observed myself carefully. I discovered that I would most likely reach for my phone when I had an unpleasant feeling. For instance, if I remembered that there was a task I had been postponing and the deadline was looming, I would drown the guilt by logging onto social media to look at memes or whatever. I discovered that the internet and all these entertainment things are like weapons of mass distraction. And we are distracting ourselves to death. Because we don’t want to face ourselves. I discovered that it is easier to start a war than to resolve your issues. If we resolved our internal issues, we would not cause external problems. And that is why Blaise Pascal is right: all man’s problems would be solved if he had the capacity to sit quietly in a room, alone.

And that is the tragedy of romantic relationships. We get into relationships for the wrong reasons. Mostly, we don’t want to be alone. So we don’t take the time to heal or learn from the previous relationship. We don’t take time to process what we feel. And so we replicate our bullshit in every relationship. We don’t change. And we wonder why our relationships are so short-lived. Only a fool will repeat the same thing again and again and expect different results.

Jesus said, “love your neighbour as you love yourself”. It is significant that he added, “as you love yourself”. He could simply have said, “love your neighbour”. But he didn’t. He made sure to specify that you cannot love your neighbour if you do not love yourself. Because love is healthy, not toxic. And a person who lacks self-esteem can’t love purely. If you lack self-esteem, you will love in a clingy, desperate way. If you have self-loathing, you will project your insecurities on the people you claim to love. If you have things in you that you haven’t healed from, that you haven’t processed or dealt with, these raw emotions will bubble up now and then and affect your relationships. For instance, your unresolved trauma might give you a short temper which could end up with you being violent or abusive to your partner. We have seen men who lose their jobs start battering their wives or girlfriends because their self-esteem has taken a hit. We have seen women who nag their husbands to death because they are insecure, women who are chaotic and cause unnecessary drama because they find it impossible to trust.

Love your neighbour as you love yourself. It starts with the self. I wrote somewhere this simple truth: “Not working on yourself will cost you relationships. Regret is a bad thing.” I wrote this from the sting of bitter experience. The one good thing about what happened is that it forced me to really look hard in the mirror. And that is the beginning. Even if you don’t like what you see, don’t look away. That is you, for better or worse. Acknowledge it. That is who you are. As they say, acceptance is the first step to recovery. Denial is what keeps you locked in bad patterns. Denial and escapism. Sit quietly in a room alone and look in the mirror, see your warts and bruises. This is who you are. Do you like what you see? What you see in the mirror is the person your loved ones have to deal with.

Also Read: An Interested Listener Creates an Interesting Speaker: Uber Drivers and the Art of Talking to Strangers


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