I was haunted by a fear of loneliness for many years of my life. I imagined myself as needing to acquire and maintain relationships to avoid being lonely. This made getting, keeping, and monitoring my relationships serious work, fraught with anxiety about failing and ending up lonely.
But what is loneliness? It’s not an emotion that always occurs in the absence of company. It’s more like a sense of not belonging, of not being invited to the party, feeling like an outsider.
Unfortunately, trying to ward off this experience by “having relationships” doesn’t really work, because we can’t be at ease with others when we’re needing them to make us feel like we belong. It seems like if we open ourselves up we might be rejected and have our fear of not belonging confirmed.
This is why it’s quite possible to feel lonely even in the company of others and in “relationships.” When we rely on others to give us a sense of belonging we’re always living in the shadow of fear. “It’s not safe to just be myself. What if they reject me?”
However, is it really true that we need others to validate us as “belonging?” How could we belong here any less than anyone or anything else? People will, no doubt, have all types of experiences around us. Sometimes people will be attracted to us, sometimes repelled, and all the variations and nuances in between. But how can any of their experiences make us belong here more or less?
Our very existence means that we possess an unassailably valid ticket for the party of life, complete with backstage pass. Nobody else’s words, thoughts, or feelings can ever cast the slightest doubt on this. We never have to prove the validity of our ticket to anyone.
However, this is not to be confused with the “I don’t need anyone else” attitude that pushes away the tenderness of intimacy in an attempt to protect the imagined self. On the contrary, only the dropping away of the fear of loneliness makes us truly available for intimacy. Now we are free to open to others because we don’t need anything from them. Intimacy just happens organically in the absence of fear, not as a fraught project to avoid loneliness.
And when fear of loneliness does come up we don’t need to invalidate that experience or believe that it in any way means that we don’t belong. Instead, we can become intimate with our own experience. As we do this we start to realize that we are so spacious we can accommodate it all. We can meet our experience with infinite patience and compassion. We don’t need to abandon ourselves, even if the mind labels our feelings as bad, dangerous, or unevolved.