As an introvert* I seek out solitude and rarely spend time with people beyond my family. My brain only has so much bandwidth and I am generally busy filling it to the brim, drippy, with other people’s words from podcasts and books. I find myself laughing along with the banter, happily immersed in the dialogue, nodding my head in agreement, pausing now and again to consider. Until it’s over and then I find myself alone. And sometimes, most often during the wistful transition of spring or fall, keenly aware of a tender loneliness resting heavy in my gut.
A familiar melancholy that I have tangled with throughout my life.
In junior high, I envied tightly knit groups of girls while I was always pretty sure that my friends could ditch me in a heartbeat. Today I see FB pictures of women I know celebrating, laughing, with their women’s groups and book clubs. Or my little sister, so social, with her sorority or new nursing friends. It seems so easy for others. I know women who regularly troupe off together on girl’s trips or to crafting parties. None of these activities call to me though I genuinely love that these women are connected and supporting each other.
When I have revealed this truth to others in the past, admitted to this occasional but profound loneliness, the typical response has been to urge me to make a greater effort, sign up, join in. But they haven’t figured out that being busy or sitting in a crowd is not the antidote to lonely although it might offer a temporary distraction. Alone in my kitchen or side-stepping hundreds of strangers in a farmer’s market, I can feel alone. In fact, I tend to feel lonelier in a crowd of thousands than sitting by myself in my living room. Perhaps some of you can relate.
And at times such as this, no matter how many years I have lived, there remains this seed of doubt in me. That everyone else has figured out this thing called life. The secret sauce of adulthood. How to be a mature, consistently disciplined, fully contented grown up. Perpetually self-assured. And I wonder if I’m a fraud. A ‘sort of adult’ who has bumbled my way this far but I’m not quite sure how and like maybe it will all collapse around me and the whole world will see the truth. That some days I feel broken and insecure. Lonely.
I wonder how many of the people I watch going about their ordinary lives also feel this way. At least some of the time.
I remind myself to reach out and initiate meaningful one-on-one connection. To request a coffee date. To get in the car with my basket of snacks and drive to see my sisters who know and accept me. I actually thoroughly enjoy teaching classes or leading workshops and connecting with the women who join me there, learning bits of their stories. Encouraging them. I chat with strangers on the bus in a foreign country, eager to connect, to bridge the gap. But then I get off the bus and I am alone once again. You know how it feels when you are totally immersed in an amazing novel, in love with the characters and their stories, and then it ends? It wasn’t your story after all. You were simply an observer.
But I don’t just want to digest other people’s stories anymore. I want to simmer and serve up my own. I want to speak and teach and build community in my own way – big or small. Small is just fine. And I want to invite you to do the same. The only thing is, I don’t know how to be who I am not and some days wonder if there truly is a place for me here in this big wide world of experts and specialists and perfectly poised coaches. I reveal too much and bare my heart too easily, leaving myself vulnerable.
I do not claim to be an expert, only a fellow sojourner, teaching that which I have walked through myself.
And when the loneliness comes I sit here with it, muddy, in the thick and murky melancholy and I (mostly) do not numb or distract it away. Remembering that struggling against it fitfully sucks me down deep, like quicksand; and I almost drowned that way in the past. But not today. And I remember that it is part of my real story but it isn’t the fullness of who I am and it will pass. It is temporary. But perhaps this part of my story, the real, unvarnished, jagged bits are those that help carve out my space in the world after all. They are my gift. My offering. The song of hope and redemption I offer to those of you who know precisely what I am talking about and need to be reminded that you will be ok.
That joy comes in the morning.
And perhaps you wonder how it is that I advocate joyful living but admit this truth about myself. And if you asked I would remind you that just like courage is not the absence of fear, Joyful living is not the absence of pain or struggle. It is a choice. A decision to step out despite the struggle. A willingness to stop running and sit quietly in the midst of it and breathe and feel the discomfort but also notice the good. A belief that there is One who loves me completely, just as I am. As you are. But also to remember it is because of the struggle, perhaps, that I can know joy so intimately. For I have tasted despair. I have hungered for peace and acceptance. And I have quietly shed tears of joy in the midst of it all.
If you can relate, you may be lonely, but you are not alone.
*Have you read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking? I listened to it on audio a few years back and it was life-giving! You may also like Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (affiliate links).