Loneliness is not a Waste of Time
Someday I hope to have the confidence of the man dancing in the square across from this Court Square flat to some off-key man singing "loneliness is such a waste of time."
Yeah, I'll dance to that.
LONELINESS IS SUCH A WASTE OF TIME
Way back in the day, when my sister-in-law was not my sister-in-law and we were friends (just kidding, we're still friends) we sometimes listened to the song "Chapel of Love" by the Dixie Cups. Usually on the way to a wedding, which in our friend group where most of us married each other, happened in about two years flat. (I was bridesmaid 5 times in one year; ask me sometime how many rivers of tears I cried over sewing those dresses).
We'd all sing along to the song top of our lungs, and when we'd get to the part of the song that says "and we'll never be lonely anymore," MJ would always say over the song, "that's NOT TRUE!" Now, I haven't actually checked with her now that's she's married to my brother and there are 5 kids running around to slay loneliness, but what she said never left me.
It didn't leave me the winter after all the weddings, when I studied Spanish abroad all by my lonesome and spent one of the happiest winters of my life (second only to the winter we were literally snowed in by sheriff's edict and watched movies and drank hot cocoa every night).
It didn't leave me when I moved 11 hours away from home to a tiny little town in North Carolina to start life alone. I'd sit by that unfamiliar computer screen in a strange office and doodle on paper after paper in the excitement of figuring out real finances for the first time.
It didn't leave me when I walked alone in the Jardin des Tuileries on a late October day and drank in the fragrance a sharply cold day had on the the late roses.
It was still there the first time I shook my fist at the heavens and asked God WHAT he was thinking leaving me alone in the world? I was for real mad. (I have no intention of being one of those single people that pretends). It made me downright upset that I haven't tried out marriage when I'm clearly cut out for it <insert sarcastic emoji here>. Naturally, I blamed God. Another terrible thing to admit, but again, enough with the pretense.
I heard something unexpected in a podcast the other day about emotional health. The two ladies were talking about the things they wished they had known before they got married and one of them said she never knew that it was ok to feel negative emotion, and furthermore, that our happiness in life depends almost entirely on... ourselves. She expected to get that from her husband, and discovered with a shock that all of her old ways of thinking and living were alive and kicking against the pricks.
Of course it's silly to say that other people can't make us happy, but simply that it isn't their responsibility. Someone can cater to our every want and wish and whim and it would still disappear into a black hole of insecurity or loneliness or entitlement. There is a certain satisfaction in life that can only come as a result of our determination to make choices to rise above ourselves.
I wonder if that’s what people mean when they tell someone to be content so they can get married? It’s a mixed up way to look at things, like once you learn how to behave perfectly you get what you want, but it may have a grain of truth hidden in it. A better way to look at life is to learn to be a whole person, by yourself. You don’t learn contentment as a miserable person, and people who don’t know their identity are miserable. Kind of expect it works this way if you're married or not, though likely in marriage it's easier to simply assume the identity of your partner.
It's pretty down-to-earth to illustrate it this way, but what you feed, grows. Don't want mold to grow? Air things out. Want a kid to develop? Feed them and love on them. Want someone to behave better? Call out the good in them.
As much as people are important to how we thrive, our inner satisfaction in life is directly proportionate to the responsibility we take for it. We're used to taking responsibility for our finances (well some of us are) for our behavior, for the food we eat, for children, for duty, for the Netflix bill each month, but how many of us actually take responsibility for how we react in a period of stress?
A lot of the time we think what is happening in our life is determining our inner attitudes, instead of setting our mind to think and process a certain way no matter what is happening in the outer parts of our lives.
What I mean is illustrated by a little trick I started implementing this past July when work, life, responsibility and emotional stuff was pulling on me for attention. It was a strain and more than once I was convinced my mind could not stretch one more inch. After hanging on in survival mode for weeks on end one day I sat myself down for a chat (not at all creepy that I talk to myself) and said:
"Is this really too much stress, or are you just in a major growing pain? What if, instead of spending so much time fretting about the strain on your daily life you simply lay those things aside and dig into this task list, or responsibility, or part of life. etc etc. Make the most of it and get out of your head, woman, and do some real work. You'll be surprised by what you can do if you stop worrying about whether or not you can handle this. If you're still overwhelmed after digging in, then you can worry about the stress. "
Except, you guessed it. I got through it with much less trouble than expected, and then had time leftover to think through some of the mental/emotional parts. Once I decided to take charge of how I was thinking about it (which was to stop thinking so much about it) my ability to be productive and happy about it, increased.
Let it stretch you
Some times and seasons stretch you pretty hard. I was talking to a friend who was a former gymnast and she mentioned that back when she was practicing the splits every day she just had to get down on the floor and push through the hurt. Stretch, stretch, stretch. It worked.
We're not such fragile creatures as we like to think. In the middle of a lonely time, or tense relationship, or difficult time at work, or exceptionally busy time the temptation is to feel like it's too much. Yeah, it hurts. But we can either stop stretching; rattling around in our heads putting bandaids on bruised brains or emotions, or we can choose to see that it's making us into a more flexible, knowledgeable, wise people. We can stay on a diet of milk or chew through some tougher fibers.
The more difficult stretches to our lives are never a waste of time. It may feel like we are broken into bits but another line that has stuck me ever since I heard it is a few lines from a period drama where a young girl and older man are discussing a young woman who has just lost her husband.
"I fear it has broken her heart," whispered Molly.
"Nay, nay, it's not so easy to break your heart as all that. Sometimes I wish it were. Whatever happens, we go on living all the appointed days."
LONELINESS, FACT OR FEELING
Does that exchange between the two sound depressing to you? At first blush it does to me too, until I see that he also means to say, feeling isn't fact. We can't depend on a day or month, or year in which we are feeling discontentment, unhappiness, grief, joy, love, pain or frustration to take over our whole person. Those feelings come over our landscapes and mean so much (they hold worth) but we should not make them into our identity.
The trouble happens when we take those things and make them part of who we are. When we begin to identity by how we feel, we get into really shaky places, personally. Deep down, in all of us, should be a place unshaken by winds of emotion that knows: we are not what we feel.
Finding your identity starts in lonely places. So put spaces of life to work for you. Let them test you, grow you, challenge you, and stretch you into that flexibility that says with experience,
"I ain't breakin'."