On Solitude and Loneliness

It seems strange for a person to say that they enjoy or prefer to be alone instead of with others. To be sure, there are times when one needs temporary isolation to gather one’s composure or to flush out agitated emotions, but humans innately require relationships and connections to function. An individual should presumably opt to spend their free time socializing with others versus doing some activity alone, as a gloom of loneliness would haunt them in the latter case.

This mindset fails to account for the character traits of introversion and extroversion. Specifically, an introverted person is more inwardly focused, while an extroverted person is outwardly focused. Thus, although the above notion may fit well to an extroverted personality, it’s less accurate for introverts. Of course, that isn’t to say that introverts lack any desire for human connection; they might prefer, however, to remain by themselves over the alternative of attending a social gathering unless they’re feeling especially lonely. Indeed, such an outing could prove stressful rather than pleasant, particularly if the individual in question only chooses to go due to some type of pressure or coercion.

Then again, do such gatherings truly serve to lessen feelings of loneliness? If one possesses outstanding skill at approaching and interacting with others, then the answer may be yes, as one would swiftly find oneself surrounded by new acquaintances. Should one lack this talent, however, these events could exacerbate one’s loneliness by acting as a testament to one’s alienation and distance from those around oneself. Furthermore, in the former case, would one’s loneliness actually abate through this rapid expansion of one’s pool of familiar others? It seems that such quickly formed bonds would be superficial and unfulfilling, akin to using pine needles to fuel a dwindling fire. In what way, then, can one reduce or weaken this persistent feeling? Perhaps a careful examination of the causes of loneliness will grant insight into potential resolutions.

To that end, we pose the question: What is loneliness? We’ve established that it’s an undesirable feeling that drives one to seek companionship of some sort. What variant of companionship might that be? A cursory evaluation reveals two main types: Platonic and romantic. Thus, one experiences loneliness due to either an absence of or a want to be with either one’s friends or one’s partner. The wanting to be with another, however, is not so much loneliness as it is longing, but it very nearly always arises jointly with loneliness, so we’ll dismiss that technicality. Therefore, the causes of loneliness can be simplified to a sense of lacking close companions or a sense of separation from the companions that one has.

Knowing this, the most apparent cure for loneliness would be to arrange a meet-up with one’s friends or significant other. This doesn’t much help, however, if one’s associates are unavailable for whatever reason, or if infighting – such as that caused by disagreements or, worse, by conflicts regarding a mutually held object of affection – sours the camaraderie of one’s circle of friends and leaves them unwilling to see one another. With the former, there is little that one can do; in the case of the latter, one could attempt to resolve the conflicts, but depending upon the level of one’s involvement in the affair and on the severity of the tensions, that may also prove outside of one’s control. Thus, circumstance could enforce feelings of loneliness despite one’s best efforts to the contrary.

Yet some quantity of solitude – unwilling or otherwise – can be beneficial. As mentioned earlier, introverts need isolation from others, as social interactions tire them. Although this situation and the one we detailed above differ significantly, since the introvert chooses to remain alone rather than being forced into it due to an absence of alternatives, one can still benefit from it nonetheless. It provides an opportunity for one to introspect and reflect on oneself, something that cannot be done when one must focus attention on friends or a lover. Additionally, solitude provides the best chance to work on personal projects; in fact, were it not for the occasional absence of others, this very essay would never have been written, as it’s nigh-impossible to focus on a task like writing when others vie for one’s attention. To phrase it concisely, although solitude may be unpleasant on some level due to the specters of loneliness that feed on it, one is capable of unparalleled productivity and growth during it, should one utilize it thusly.