There’s a lot in the media lately around the subject of loneliness, and it got me to thinking: When in my life have I felt real loneliness?
Not to be confused with spending Saturday night without a date.
That is an appointment with Ben and Jerry’s and “The Way We Were.”
Loneliness is so much bigger, darker and deeper than that.
By definition loneliness is a feeling of isolation, of feeling alone and separate.
I’ll talk about my friend’s loneliness first…because I felt such empathy for her, I can still feel it today.
I’ve known TT since high school. We became fast friends the first day of ninth grade, when I told her I thought she was beautiful. I know, great opening line! Right?
But she is and I really meant it.
In the late 80’s, she married Andy ( I love him too, truly; I used him as my husband template for years, but that’s another story).
They moved to Santa Barbara to do their post grad studies, and since I live in LA, I drove up every other weekend. We nicknamed it a JJ (Janet jaunt).
They lived on campus, had a huge circle of friends, and since everyone was financing their tuition cooking in restaurants, we ate incredibly well, and since they were all so smart, the conversation wasn’t bad either. A few years in, TT had a baby. I was in the room, again, another story for another day.
Let me just say…A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!
Three months later they moved lock, stock and baby to Italy.
To Trento, for an actual paying research gig at the University there, were Andy could move further toward his doctorate.
Neither spoke Italian, so communication was…interesting, and after they got there, it was revealed that the money would be paid at the end of their 9 month stay. So, in about a month, they were stone broke.
Since Andy was at the University all day, TT was left at their small apartment, or to her own devices. The first few weeks of enthusiastic exploring, turned into aimless walks around a foreign town, where, even when she eavesdropped on other people’s conversations, she could only make out a couple of words.
I’ve been there, it’s like you’re invisible, and she really was!
All the Italian women saw was “Bambina”! Except, they couldn’t tell her what to get for the diaper rash, or the teething, or share her frustration about the fact that the hot water literally shut off at 9pm…in the whole town!
I could feel her deep isolation and sadness come right through the paper of her letters and faxes. I swear, there were tear stains. My vibrant, beautiful, friend was dying of loneliness, and it made my heart actually HURT.
So…I gathered the troupes, and one by one, we staggered our JJ’s throughout that summer and fall, so she wasn’t alone as she learned how to be a mom in a small medieval town in northern Italy.
I have felt the MOST profound loneliness on two separate occasions in my life, and they both caused me great sadness, even despair. I’m sure there were more, I’m 55 for God’s sake, but these two have burned their memory into my brain, so as not to be forgotten.
One was in my first marriage.
I was about 23, way too young to be married, and I remember lying next to my husband and trying to identify this deep pit in my stomach. It was like a dull ache. I can remember the night it finally hit me: Shit. I married the wrong person, because he’s right here and I’m lonely as hell.
Great! Now what? I smoked a joint, ate a box of cookies and suffered months of anxiety attacks. Then I filed for divorce.
The second one that just about killed me, was when my store was dying.
Many a day toward the end it was “crickets”. By that I mean, days of no phone calls, no deliveries, no people coming in at all! I am WAY too social for that kind of day-to-day isolation. I NEED to talk to people to live, it’s like breathing to me!
Often when I got home at night, I realized I hadn’t spoken a single word THE ENTIRE DAY!
I had never felt loneliness so deep. I would watch people walking to their cars and I wanted to yell out, “Hello, I’m in here, come talk to me!”
I just knew somehow, in my gut, that if something didn’t happen fast, the loneliness would start to affect my health. There have been recent studies that back that up.
Luckily, the flood came, and saved my life!
Oprah has recently started a new campaign to help alleviate social isolation, and potentially some loneliness. “Just say Hello” It’s a simple greeting, but it’s power is profound.
What it is, is a connection, and that connection can help someone feel less isolated, not as solitary in the world.
Let’s smile and say Hello to everyone, to strangers, we could make someone’s day.
It would have made mine!