If I had to describe one of my favorite things to do in one word, it would be “socialize.” I truly enjoy being around people, doing stuff from talking about stuff, making jokes, listening to music, studying, me assisting them in a task or lesson, practicing for something, and the list goes on. Being social is genuinely “one of my favorite things” (as Julie Andrews put it). I take an interest in people, care about them, check up on them, attempt to be a loyal friend, going above what is expected of me — though not by intention, I seem to do so naturally. While I am not interested in majoring in psychology, I do enjoy learning human behavior and understanding how people work. There are many reasons for this fascination, you might call it, and they all contribute to my tendency to be with people as much as I can.
Yet I feel alone.
I do not exaggerate when I say I receive or send text messages from at least three to five people a day. On some days, that number is closer to ten people. These are usually not one or two messages either. No, these are multiple exchanges, scattered throughout the day, on a variety of topics. I could receive a text about needing help with statistics one minute and five minutes later, from the same person, a brief expression of frustration over a particular assignment. We could be actively texting about school when they bring up another topic and I am up until 1 AM giving Biblically-grounded advice and support when I am supposed to get up at 5 AM because it is going to be a long and busy day. I communicate with people all day long. I do not mind this one bit. Nay, I enjoy it, because it is an extension of in-person socialization.
Yet I remain alone.
My daily schedule is full. While I do have leisure time every day, I am eager to be of assistance at a moment’s notice if possible. Even as I sit around, I am thinking about something to be done, someone I am meeting at a particular time, or a place I am going on a certain day at certain time and what must be done before it. I do not keep my assignments on a calendar but I am fully aware of them. It is rare that I am not on top of everything going on. I do not always balance it well and at times my schedule is overwhelming but I press on. A good majority of my schedule involves interaction with people. "OK, I have one-on-one tutoring at 11 AM. I need to write another of my history essay outlines before the end of the day. She asked me to look at her computer tonight while I am at work. Oh yea, that birthday party is Saturday. I need to put that get together on my calendar for future reference. Hey, when is that concert?" One person once asked how I have time to even stop to say "Hi" because I am seemingly so busy. "I make time," I replied with a laugh. "I make time to be there for people when they need me."
Yet I am lonely.
Despite all this activity, there are times I feel all alone in this world. Occasionally I leave college (where I am for twelve hours two days a week) feeling completely friendless and empty. Among all the people at my college and church, there are few who really get to see me in my full… character, I guess you would say. I reveal my inner self to only a select trusted ones, and of those, not all get to be privy of all that goes on. We all wear personas and masks, filtering life so people only get to see the best parts. I am guilty of this every day. Yes, partially out of necessity does this occur. It is unwise to open yourself wide to every single person you meet. There is a difference between being honest and real in your daily dealings and being a superficial and abstract sketch of a deeper mind, soul, and spirit. I do my best to remain true to myself and who I really am in all things. Speaking on having a depressed attitude while around others, it was said directly to me that “You never seem to be down. You’re always smiling and having a good day.” That is not true, as I replied, because “I could always hide it. After all, I am an actor” (for reference, I am a veteran actor in the college theatre club, often cast in lead roles, and receive high praise for the realism and passion I bring to my acts).
It makes me happy to see others happy. I do what I can to encourage a positive outlook and a sense of pride and accomplishment. The relief, excitement, laughter, or surprise that has overcome a person lights up a smile on my face every time. Couples in a relationship are a special treat. Watching their actions, reactions, words, behavior, their eyes and how they glow around that one, all bring me joy. As someone who tries to be positive in all things but remain grounded in reality — something I have called “an optimistic realism” — being able to witness all this and more fills me with joy.
Yet so quickly does that happiness fade every so often. At these times, I feel empty inside, like a bowl with no cereal. My smile and beaming blue eyes become a blank stare with no expression. I sit at my desk, phone on and turned up but totally silent, eyes closed, maybe listening to soft music. The last text was probably two hours ago and I sent it. I do not laugh. I am not humming or singing. Parents ask why I am so quiet and still, with eyes seemingly “almost in tears.” I sigh frequently. I stay up late for no real reason when I should just go to bed.
In these moments, I feel as if I am in the middle of a tunnel, unable to see light on either side. I feel as if I am sitting or standing in the middle of a big event with lots of people and I am ignored by everyone passing. I have a thought I want to share, a curiosity I wish to satisfy, a concern I want to see made right. I want to open up and stop being so… so fake. I am not fake yet I am. I want to be able to know that there is someone out there that I could tell the most random thought you could every imagine and they find it funny or intriguing or something. I wish to be assured that everything will be alright, that someone is here for me, no matter what. I want to be able to open up fully to them, a companion, to entrust them with my life, my story, my faults, failures, hurt, fears, and pain that I keep locked away where none can see. When I feel like all is a loss, they know exactly what to say to lift me up. In a way, I want someone in my life who is like me: a person who goes out of their way to make others better, to build them up, to encourage them, to speak life, to confirm a better hope and future. Even something as simple as telling me they are praying for me. Light bulbs shine bright but occasionally they burn out. Batteries hold a strong charge for an extended length of time but always must be charged or replaced.
The irony here is those people do exist and I know it. In the direct middle of all the people I know and interact with, these people do exist, the “select trusted.” These who do know me, almost in full, would be and are more than willing to be a me to me. They value me just as I value them. They open up to me, releasing their secrets that I will take to the grave if I must, and so they would do for me. Just as I am a trusted few for them, so they are a trusted few to me. They have done this, too. They have been a me to me many times, in their unique way. They have lifted me up, made me stronger, gave me a drive to go forward and press on. Each time they have, I am always appreciative, and they help me be a better me to for everyone else.
So why do I feel alone despite those who are here for me, those I desperately long for? Just like every person, there is no direct, straightforward answer, but it can be roughly condensed to two of the many flaws I have: the inability to accept a compliment and persistent and lingering doubts. Growing up, I was taught to be modest and humble in my self-description. I am not to brag (it is not Biblically right to brag or have large amounts of pride) or be boastful in my abilities. It was so instilled in me and persuasive in perspective that I had to scrap a cover letter stating my work and abilities because it was “too braggy.” So while humility continues to be a part of my character, sometimes I cannot help but wonder where Proverbs 27:2 was in the midst of everything.
Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth;
A stranger, and not your own lips. (NKJV)
While this clearly states that self-praise should not exist in your speech, it also declares that others should be the ones speaking highly of you. Yet as I understand this passage, the Bible, and the world, when others speak favorably of you, you should be willing to evaluate the statement and accept the compliment if it is indeed truth. To this day, I lack that ability. In doing my best to not brag, I lost the ability to accept what everyone sees and knows to be true. I mentally cannot accept compliments as potential truth. Should I receive one, I freeze and feel awkward, not knowing how to react or respond. "Sure, I am good at statistics and I do my best to teach it, but does that really make me an excellent and reliable tutor? I am not as good as you told them, that is the other tutor. I am nothing compared to them." Compliments are foreign to me, like a bacteria for which my body lacks an immunization. Acceptance is futile. Listening to such claims only inflate pride and encourage bragging. It is better to remain under-speaking of my work, let others speak about me, and not pay too much attention to any positive press.
An inability to accept compliments plays directly into those previously unspecified lingering doubts. Doubts that question why someone would ever care about me. Why would anyone truly be concerned about my well-being, mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical state? What appeal do I have to attract such notions in people’s head and hearts? I am a weird dude who does not match the culture around me but sticks out like a sore thumb. I am of no reputation or background, having being homeschooled and suddenly appearing on the face of the earth among people who can name and describe friends in different grades, schools, and counties. My experiences and background are vastly different from the average person. My social skills are weak, rough, obnoxious. and annoying and are bound to get me in trouble or made an outcast very quickly one day. How could anyone possibly relate to me? Why would anyone want to associate with me? What would someone see in me that would cause them to consider me a friend, trustworthy, honest, upright, intelligent, eloquent in speech, deep in wisdom, descriptive in writing, possessing literally laughing out loud and crying humor, and successful in nearly all I put my hands towards? These doubts are nothing new. They have been present for years, continually bombarding my mind and wrecking my self-perspective.
So while I am not alone because there are people with a mutual deep trust in my life who navigate life with me and I with them, these summarized flaws, including more I may not even be aware of, often contribute to these intense times of feelings of loneliness. Daily I work on these. Daily I resist the thoughts. Daily do I challenge the lies, because I can do things well and though I do not deserve or expect any sort of praise or compliment or excellent report, I will gladly accept it because if it were not true, it probably would not be spoken so frequently and diversely. I am of value to others and I do matter, and just as I eagerly build up others, so they eagerly build me up if I will let them. I am not alone. I have no reason to feel lonely.
Loneliness is not the absence of people physically surrounding you, but a false mindset concluding that nobody cares about you.