The Conundrum Journal

The thing about loneliness

I see the irony, all right.

This post was written out of a cafe at the heart of bustling South Jakarta. To my left is a case of youth camaraderie—it was someone’s birthday so there was a (white and pink) cake involved. To my right, are two female best friends giggling while taking each other’s picture just because. Oh, buzzing friendships. Sparks of connection.

For a brief moment, from where I sat, it seemed like there was no such thing as loneliness. But of course there is, because how else would you explain this growing, hollowing feeling inside my chest?

What I know for sure is that it has nothing to do with being alone.

I have loved spending time with myself since I was a little kid. I would always prefer to be left alone with my Kumpulan Cerpen/Dongeng Majalah Bobo than playing with my friends. Growing up, I spent a lot of time being inside my head and was never scared of it. It’s when I am alone that I could be free, exploring every single corner of my mind. A healthy dose of being alone fulfills my soul.

So, is it a byproduct of rejection(s)?

Is it possible that, as a child, I was wholly and utterly protected by my parents’ love, that I thought of the world as this ever-accepting place? Then adulting hits: the inevitability of making mistakes that hurt others, who sometimes forgive, but other times leave. It often means wanting to be with someone(s) who may not see you the way you see them. Who chooses—or is forced—to not be with you. It’s discovering that people have expectations that you do not always meet.

Each time that happens, my heart’s corner chips away, bit by bit, perhaps slowly taking into a whole new shape that fits better with solitude.

Don’t get me wrong. I know we will never be able to please everyone—even ice cream can’t do that. But it does not necessarily mean that I don’t feel a pang of pain after each ‘no’; some cut deeper than others. Not to mention the losses that happened beyond our control: the deaths that took our beloved away.

Ultimately these things lead me to the sobering awareness that during those times I went into my cave of solitude, the world is not always there with open arms when I got out of it. At some point, the cave might have stopped being an option and started becoming an unescapable dead end.

Not having a constant—someone or something to go home to, to belong to—kind of puts the nail in the coffin.

As a child, my first constant was of course my parents and brothers, even today, I know that they will always be there, and I am forever grateful for that. When I entered my teenage years, it became my friends at school and university. Then it became work, what I thought was a lifetime of craft that I love. Then it became, of course, my ex-husband. But since last year, I don’t quite have anything. I was suddenly untethered. Afloat, with no anchor to ground me.

Maybe I lost faith that I could ever belong to anything ever again. Or maybe I’ve gotten too acquainted with the hurt that comes with it.

Now I live in an oscillating state of being afraid—both of belonging and of not belonging.

What will come after this? It feels overwhelming just to hypothesize.

[Just to clarify: it’s not like I don’t have friends who are there for me, whom I cherish and appreciate. But the kind of loneliness I’m talking about runs deeper than just lack of (even really great) companionship.]

Here’s a prescription that a wise friend gave me:

  1. Embrace loneliness as an inseparable part of being. Maybe, just maybe, loneliness has always been sitting there in the corner of your heart (we were born alone after all). It’s just that only as adults do we have the courage, or maybe mental space, to observe and acknowledge it.
  2. Do not take connection with someone for granted, celebrate even the most impermanent/short-lived ones. Once we accept the above, we will see the beauty in those rare moments of being understood. We will treasure those relationships—romantic or otherwise—as memories that make life worth living. When they end, do not resent them, but be grateful that you got to experience them.
  3. Find that constant within you. While everyone would come into and out of your life as they please, know that you could always count on yourself. We have been conditioned, through fairy tales, that we were supposed to find that someone-ever-after, who will complete our soul and being. Speaking from experience, you certainly could still feel lonely while being with someone. Heck, you might be sharing a bed with them and still feel unseen. So here’s to appreciating yourself for being there for you.
  4. That said, let others in, still. Give chance for that spark and connection to happen. I know that putting a heart on your sleeve is scary because you will find yourself hurt. But it’s the only way to make life worth living—by giving friendship, or any other kind of relationship, a shot. You will bleed, from time to time, but every once in a blue moon, you will come out victorious, and it will all be worth it.

Thank you for making my lonely world a little less lonely by reading this. I love you guys so much.

Wijaya IX, 16 Oct 2022

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