Understanding Our Stories: A Reflection On Mid-Twenties Loneliness
It takes bravery to recognise when you’re lonely. We’re all a bit scared of loneliness — of being alone. Of being left. Of not being loved. Or needed. Or cared about. Whether we acknowledge it or not, “lonely” hits a spot of fear in all of us.
We all want to be okay. And we mostly want other people to see us that way too. “Oh, you know — I’m fine. Busy with work, as always .. blah blah.” Yet other people’s passing perceptions of our okayness mean very little.. deep down. Moreover, when we do feel lonely, pretending that everything is fine inhibits an honest inner dialogue. We become even isolated from ourselves.
Other people’s passing perceptions of our okayness mean very little.. deep down.
I spent much of my twenties feeling deeply alone, and even now, committing those words to page requires some act of courage. As if it’s somehow a shameful reflection upon who I was. But hey, nothing sets you free like the truth.
I was 25-years-old, living in a lovely, shared flat that overlooked the London landscape; working as a music teacher and playing guitar in a promising rock band. In many ways, I was ticking the boxes that I’d laid out for myself. Yet, somehow, I was neither a happy nor confident young man. In fact, if I’m honest, I was lonely and terrified, of rejection, loss, abandonment, and ultimately, failure. Of course, there were fun times and late nights, but that period of time was flavoured with an ever present sense of being about to walk around a corner, only to be met by a volley of flying stones.
If you’d asked my friends at the time, many wouldn’t have recognised this description. I was so busy coping, that I didn’t have the courage to realise this wasn’t the case. All surface smiles, yet desperately paddling away inside in order to maintain the show. But why? The alternative, looking honestly at my fear, required a quality of courage that seemed too distant. Like a compassionate friend beckoning me from a faraway hilltop, I knew my truth was waiting for me, but I was just too scared to let it embrace me.
Around this time, I was invited to attend a weekend Buddhist course; an opportunity to share experiences and philosophy with other young people. I recall entering the grounds of a beautiful court in Maidenhead, a small town bordering London. It was a profound moment. I felt relief, but also intense fear. Somewhere inside, I knew I couldn’t pretend anymore, and at the same time, I was petrified of what I might find if I looked too closely. The greatest terror? Someone asking me how I was, and knowing that I could no longer pretend, respond by bursting in to tears, or fainting, or vomiting, or all of those things (in the most embarrassing order, of course — whatever that would be). The physical embodiment of my internal turmoil.
Fortunately, none of those things happened. Because I left. Upon receiving the program for the weekend, my top priority was to scan for group encounters, and then plan my escapes for when they got too much. I didn’t feel brave enough to talk with a room of people. Pleasantries, fine — I was well-rehearsed with these. But honesty — that I felt lonely and isolated? That I was far from okay? No way. By Saturday night, I packed my things and headed to leave. A couple of beautiful people encouraged me to stay, but this only made my flight more imminent. Like any good Buddhist, I stopped at the local pub before heading to the train station. Sitting on the train back to London, I was somewhat unsteady, but I knew something had happened. I didn’t want to pretend any more. It wasn’t serving me, or anything that I truly cared about.
Looking back, my muddled thinking hits me like a thunderbolt. All I wanted was to feel accepted and belong, and for this to happen, I thought I had to pretend I was fine. In fact, the opposite was true. First I needed to be honest with myself .. to accept myself — this would have been the gateway to real, honest and heartfelt dialogues and friendships. Sure, some people would likely fall away, but my heart would have been open to the people whom I really needed. And as for the right people — they’re everywhere, also waiting to be activated through your courage and honesty.