Loneliness: Four moments
Submitted by Doaa Morsy Abdel Kader
The following is a series of fictional scenarios depicting the feelings and emotions of loneliness that are based on real-life experiences.
At a party
I’ve always hated parties. How unoriginal a thought, but it is the reality. I find myself uninterested in most of the conversations I awkwardly hover around so I head back to my favourite spot by the bookshelves at the end of the room, tilting my head to scan the covers. I wish I could read without it being construed as weird or rude.
Deprived of my escape into fiction, I stand focusing on my drink and scanning the room for my partner. He is surrounded by a few of his friends, talking in an animated fashion. Telling an entertaining story, I am sure. He glows in the centre of their attention, and watches their laughing faces with such pride and amusement. I could join them and be another audience member, but I am too tired for that today.
I found his wit and showmanship entertaining at first – who wouldn’t love to hear stories about travelling adventures or laugh at silly impressions! It was slowly that I realised he wants a solo act. No one can join in or share the spotlight, even in a causal quip with a waiter. I felt the invisible force with which he commanded attention and the hostility brimming under the surface in snide remarks or harsher jokes on my expense if I tried to take part in the show.
So, I did what I do best: I withdrew to my own corner often, observing and quiet. Telling myself “just enjoy the show, you don’t want the spotlight that much anyway”.
I am being unfair to him. There is a reason we fit together so well. It’s comfortable that he does the heavy lifting in social situations, it eases the pressure off me, and I don’t have to feel the stress of not knowing what to say or do. He makes it easier for me to hide.
Somehow, I still feel exhausted, even in my silence.
I feel lonely.
Loneliness is my longest life companion. Its presence so familiar and yet so daunting. It surrounds me like a glass dome; thick, hollow and cold. It makes my house feel alien, no matter how much time I spend in it.
I’ve gotten very skilled at always keeping busy, with all kinds of distractions and activities; a podcast or music is always on in the morning, a busy working day full of extra tasks, and a book in bed until I drift off.
Feeling lonely doesn’t seem to leave me, its intensity fades at times, but the ache is constant. We’ve become close pals, observing others meet and let each other in, marvelling at the ease they allow themselves to be known and to be cared for.
With my partner around, I don’t just forget my loneliness, I forget myself. I enjoy his company and his affection, I feel more alive, but somehow not myself. I am good, you see, at making others feel comfortable and happy. I put a lot of effort into understanding what they need, and who they want me to be. He becomes the centre and I happily, willingly, orbit around him.
It feels natural to forgo myself, but it is not without its downfalls. My body senses any change in his tone or his demeanour and I automatically panic, internally overworking to realign myself and to remain in his gravitational force. I hide my fears and my doubts. I smile, give, accommodate instead. It’s a fair trade to watch the show he likes, if it means I won’t be engulfed by my loneliness.
On the bus
We are sitting uncomfortably close. Why do they make these bus seats so small that you have to be trying not to touch the person next to you as the bus sways and jolts?
My partner and I had a fight. I place extra attention on giving him space, even in the little, tiny pump of my shoes against his bag on the floor. It all feels so fragile that a sneeze would set things off and we would break up.
I might be oversensitive. I still focus on not sneezing. I know we have entered the zone of conflict, a barren land with no shelters from a hot angry sun that will surely wear me down. There will be no communication, just a silent bid for space that I will accommodate. Out of fear. Yes, I am not slowly walking this barren land, I am frantically scrambling around looking for a sign that the war is over and I can come back into the comfort of connection.
I don’t communicate any of this to him either. I know to play it cool and ride it out is the best course of action. In terms of keeping this relationship going of course. I play out the scenario in my head of an actual fight. What a luxury it must be to have a fight, to feel safe enough to voice your hurt to someone who would care enough to listen. I would love a screaming match, I would love to say what I really think and feel, but I know he won’t listen and that we won’t last if I do. Maybe he would, I am too scared to find out, I think.
So we ride in silence, not an inch of us in contact.
At the yoga studio
I am in the middle of the yoga class. That’s when I start to feel that precious feeling of being connected to myself, to my body, to my breath. Gone are the thoughts at the start about others attending the class, about what I am wearing, about how (un)graceful my moves are.
Now that my mind has quietened down, I can feel my muscles while I stretch into a pose, and I can focus on the pace of my breathing. In this moment, I feel a strange surge of hope, of strength. It’s like meeting someone at the airport from a far, and it strikes you, once you see their face, how much you missed them and how much you do care for them.
I meet myself and it is not so bad. It is actually comforting in a way, as I hear the instructor’s words to be kind and grateful to our bodies. I try to be open to the universe, to those around me, and to myself. I am definitely energised.
I make a promise to myself to stay in this open state as I gather my mat up, smiling and nodding to those around me.
I wonder how this will fare in the face of my loneliness waiting for me outside the studio, or of the bing of the next text message from my partner.