Thursday, January 13, 2005

The L-Word

[Originally entitled: Merry Christmas to The Lonely]

I'm a man of science, in a manner of speaking, so I sometimes find myself analyzing things more than I should. I sometimes classify things as a means of making sense of my life and the world around me. One such classification is whether something is discrete or continuous. I know some of you already know the difference, but in a nutshell if you can measure something with any degree of accuracy it's discrete. I have 5 dollars in my wallet: Discrete. Three of you stopped reading when you realized this wasn't a funny entry: Discrete. Binary is a subset of discrete, either something is or it isn't. Computers, way down deep are binary: Either the electron flows or it doesn't. Most lightbulbs are binary: Either it's on or it's off. On the other hand, if you can't stop measuring something with greater and greater detail it's continuous. Space is continuous. Time is continuous, although we choose to measure it in discrete units of seconds (and multiples of seconds) for the sake of convenience.

Alone: Discrete and binary.
Lonely: Continuous.

Another common theme in blogs I read are the alone and the lonely. Granted, all of us are alone at one time or another, but it bothers me a bit when I see someone say they are alone when they mean lonely. Point of fact, few of us are entirely alone, but all of us are lonely. The degree of lonely varies widely, from "not very" to "very" but since it's continuous there's no end-point on either end of the spectrum. With no end-points, you are never not-lonely and never completely-lonely. I'm thinking of a happily married couple I know, as well as another couple about to be married. All four people are obviously not alone but are still technically lonely, though probably at very low levels. Several others I'm thinking of aren't alone but are very lonely. I'm not passing judgement, I just illustrate the point.

Since alone is discrete it should be easy to alter the value, right? If you're at home and you're alone, get up and go somewhere where there are other people. Technically, it doesn't matter if you know those other people, that's not what we're measuring. Lonely, on the other hand, is continuous and difficult to measure with any degree of certainty. Truth be told, it's not difficult to measure because it's continuous, it just happens to be that too. It's difficult to measure because it's an emotion, and those don't flow in quantum units that can be tallied by an accountant or a psychologist. Only the subject in question knows which end of the lonely spectrum he feels closer to. Is is possible to alter the degree of lonely? Emotions ebb and flow naturally, so the lonely among us naturally report being more lonely at times, less lonely at others. But my real question is, can someone consciously alter their degree of lonely at any given time? Can it be done without altering the alone value or any other value?

My hypothesis is that it cannot be done by sheer force of will. I'm not sure I want to hazard a guess as to whether this is inherently good or bad.
It is what it is.

9 Comments:

At 7:41 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

I don't think sheer force of will is the point, really. I think it's more a matter of... oh, two things, off the top of a very tired head:

1. Life is sad and we are all going to die, and it's something we'll all have to do alone. How much we understand and accept that this is the human condition has a lot to do with how lonely we feel. (Or perhaps I mean how miserable we get about how lonely we are.) Because we are, really. That reality is always there, whether we acknowledge it or not.

2. (Possibly connected with one, because it reminds us.) If you are feeling physically down, loneliness tends to seep in. It works the other way, too, if someone you love is in pain. No matter how much you love them you cannot take their pain on for them, or feel it, or really know what it feels like. You can sympathize and try to help, but the pain is like a marker of your separateness. You cannot share it.

#2 is messy. I need to rewrite it but I've been up since 5.20am and my brain is busy rehearsing a big fight with my boss for the meeting tomorrow, and if he interrupts me ONE MORE TIME with, "No no no, you haven't been listening properly," I intend to stand up with my fingers in my ears and shout louder than him until I get the rest of my sentence out, because I HAVE been listening, AND I read his long and detailed email, and he hasn't made any sense YET the daft bugger.

 
At 7:42 AM, Blogger Allie#3ga said...

1. now i have a headache...thanks so much... and 4. as an only child - i'm very familiar with the alone thing ... but only feel the 'pain' of lonely once in a while - and it's usually the lonely of wanting companionship of a person of the man variety ... cause as we all know - i have the best girlfriends in the world - but have yet to find the best boyfriend.

 
At 10:13 AM, Blogger mellancollyeyes said...

i'm going to wager a guess that most people's "lonliness" comes from lack of a significant relationship with a love interest, rather than a lack of family or friends (although I am sure there are those who lack f/f as well, but they are the smaller number). If this is the case, I think it is possible to lower the degree of lonliness by sheer will alone. Once a person accepts that personal fulfillment doesn't derive from a relationship, but rather, a relationship enhances and intensifies personal fulfillment, that miserable clawing lonliness will not be as strong. The people I've known who are lonely are lonely for love from a partner, and they seem to think that without this love, their life is useless and pointless, and everything they do--job, appearance, social past times--are all an attempt to gain this relationship/parter. The people who I know that see a relationship as something fun, but not necessarily essential to life, are the people that are the least lonely, because friends, family, personal acheivement, favorite past times, etc. are enough to keep their lives full and filled with meaning, and thus, they don't feel so "lonely."

The short version: Quit wasting time looking for the "one" and you won't be so lonely. Even if you are sitting alone in your room, blogging...not that I know anyone like that!

 
At 12:01 PM, Blogger Zelda said...

I don't think it can be done by sheer force of will. You can't ensure with any degree of certainty that you can force anyone to make you unlonely. But I think a force of will can facilitate the circumstances under which your loneliness may be alleviated.

 
At 6:57 AM, Blogger Esther said...

Interesting post. Interesting comments.
Yes, you can be part of a crowd (not-alone) but still feel lonely. Why? Most probably because you feel that you don't have that significant other with the mutual feeling of putting each other first.
Changing the degree of loneliness is possible, get happy with who you are, where you're at, lift your head and smile, show interest in other people, phone a friend, get involved. The sheer force of will comes in where you have to force yourself to do these actions. It's a lot easier to sit at home sulking and feeling sorry for yourself. Gawd, I should know :)

 
At 6:22 AM, Blogger Hooch said...

This is a very interesting subject that I have been mulling over for the last day or so, and still am not sure I have my thoughts in a reasonable enough order to make any sense to anyone else.

I have spent a lot of my life happily alone, and I have spent some of my loneliest times lying in bed listening to the gentle snoring of the man beside me.

I have found that for me, loneliness, like the blues (mild depression I suppose), will pass. If I accept that I am feeling lonely, and also accept that I will eventually feel less lonely, then I can cope with it. The fact that I know that some of my loneliest times were in relationships means that I don't see having a man in my life as salvation.

For me, loneliness is not even so much about romantic connection, as knowing there is someone with whom I connect. Someone who 'gets' me. It is not in my nature to have a lot of acquaintances, and I have said goodbye to more friends as they have moved away than I would have wished. But still, I don't think of myself as a lonely person.

So, I suppose that's just a long winded way of saying that no, I don't know that pure will power will make you less lonely, but acceptance that it is as valid a feeling as any other, and that it will pass just as all others do, means that it becomes less overwhelming and therefore easier to forgive. We are not failures if we are lonely. We are just human.

 
At 1:06 PM, Blogger se7en said...

being lonely and loneliness seems to be a recurring theme for you my friend, what are you doing if anything to alleviate the problem? or are you just waxing philosphical for the sake of argument?

sevens

 
At 1:54 PM, Blogger Becka said...

You're only as lonely as you want to be. I've been alone and not lonely. I've been lonely and not alone.

Here's hoping you aren't either.

 
At 10:58 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Ok, pencils down. Let's see, Hooch has the right answer, or at least the closest to right. Only waiting it out alleviates the lonely feelings, but since that alters the time variable, sheer force of will is not enough.

Kidding, obviously. There's no right answer, and each of you have little bits of the truth. Interesting thought there: Every human being has a tiny little bit of the truth/meaning of life, but since it's so widely dispersed we can never completely reassemble the answer. Whoa...put the bong DOWN!

My personal state of mind doesn't enter into it, as it would only describe my own point of view. Thanks for asking though. It's just something I read alot of in other blogs, both explicitly and between the lines. I didn't intend to pass judgement, in case any one thought that.

 

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