Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Oh, being LONELY; now I get it.

I had a surprising burst of loneliness last night, while coming back from a rehearsal. It comes and it goes, but last night I had a sort of realization about why I don't always see it coming.

I'm playing with the local brass band and they rehearse every Sunday until 9:30pm. It takes me about 15 minutes to get home from the rehearsal hall and it's one of the few times I'm driving at night nowadays. It used to happen very often when I was trapped on the university campus for all hours of the day, but I've paired my schedule down so much as to only drive to campus two or three times a month, and then only during the day.

Driving home last night, I was thinking about relationships. It was dark, the roads were clear and mostly deserted... and suddenly I was lonely. This feeling tends to sneak up on me. I don't tend to see the episodes coming from far away. Instead, they sort of jump up when I'm not paying attention. Suddenly, I was distinctly aware that I was alone in my car, that no one was waiting back at my home, and nobody would care if I took the long or the short way back. It was rather affecting.

This particular bout took me so much by surprise that I tried to step backwards through my thoughts to see if I could track what had sparked it. Surprising to me, I thought that the immediately proceeding thoughts were positive: they related to a feeling of independence. In the clinical reality of this after-the-fact blog entry, I think what you all think: boy, isn't that obvious? At the time, though, I was somewhat taken aback by the quick flip and relationship between independence and loneliness.

I'm not so much of an emotional scholar to juxtapose them in any meaningful way. They seem related, perhaps even positive and negative applications of the same emotional core. However, I have no great secrets to reveal in this text about how to flip one into the other. I don't have the resources to devote to that line of thinking, so it will have to remain a head-fake towards a more motivational analysis.

These feelings of loneliness had a short hold on me, though while they persisted I was in a nice state of self-pity. It made me think about people who suffer under more systemic occurrences of loneliness. Were this emotion to flip onto its negative head more often, I could see why people end up existing in a cloud of negativity. Being by myself on a cold night, it is easy to be dragged down by the idea that nobody in the immediate area cares about me. That's not true in the larger scheme, of course: my family and friends care a lot about me. But in the dark of that night, it was easy to ignore the larger scheme for the present intimacy of one.

*** *** ***

The relationship I was thinking about immediately prior to this bit of self-conscious "alone-ity" was one I had with a woman last year. She is an attractive person, possessed of a quick mind and an eager voice. All these things are positives (or at least neutral) and they make a becoming picture. But things ended up not working out, largely to do with attitude. Both hers and mine.

She was, I came to find, almost diametrically opposed to myself in terms of temperment. I tend to be cloying; she drifts towards being sullen. Where I am often insufferably cheerful and optimistic, she was dour and given to inveigh against circumstances at hand. She viewed her life and choices as a series of mistakes and considered herself having been shepherded into a position she despised. I look at even my currently un-sunny prospects in the frame of a larger quest of self-improvement and relish even the minor opportunities.

So here we two were, looking at each other across a gulf of considerable distance. Our relationship was divided into two unequal portions: the "lets hang out together in company" part, and the "let's have time to ourselves" part. The latter lasted all of a few days and probably consisted mostly of the newness of being around someone different.

But it didn't last. I'm sure that I was too frank in my estimation of her and managed to say something unintentionally callous. It would seem I have a habit of that and have yet to break it. And she certainly dragged me to a place of infectious negativity, which I certainly didn't thank her for.

I don't regret the time spent with her, or the aborted extent of our relationship. It was stimulating mental work, which I appreciate greatly in the context of regular life. And she's certainly had more than her allottment of misfortune to brood over, so I can't begrudge her the effect it has.

Still, seldom have I encountered someone about whom I thought, "Almost, but not quite." I remember thinking at the time that it would have been something special if I'd met her 5-7 years ago, before she armored herself in cynicism and disdain. It's a feeling that I can't say I've had that much when considering other people. I usually just think about people in the Here and Now, considering that's the only place I can interact with them.

Part of the mental loop of loneliness is the trap of past relationships. Was it really that bad, the saying goes. Is it preferable to be alone, the late nights whisper. If we've thought about it enough, we give our answer heartily. The force of the answer (whether affirmative or no) will sweep the doubts to the side. Only if we're lucky. Otherwise, we get trapped in the loop, unable to fully convice ourselves of what we feel to be true. Mired in the past, we ruminate in circles; covering lots of ground but making little distance from the origin.

Good thing I've matured enough to avoid spending time saving people who like their predicaments very much, thanks. Now I've cut down to just wasting time *thinking* about them.

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