Thursday, April 14, 2016

Elinor Rigby

Olivia Laing, Time Magazine, "The Upside of Loneliness":
In 1975, the social scientist Robert Weiss dubbed loneliness a disease "wholly without redeeming features." To some extent, this is true. Any lack of intimacy, closeness, and connection is painful, and it can take its toll on the human body—driving up blood pressure, accelerating age, weakening the immune system and even acting as a precursor to cognitive decline, according to research from the University of Chicago.

An evolutionary psychologist would explain these effects by arguing that we are social animals who suffer when deprived of contact. But there's another, more pervasive factor at play: shame. In a romance-fixated culture, loneliness means failure, and this social stigma in itself drives isolation.

But loneliness is a lot more common—and useful—than people think. Current studies suggest that more than a quarter of American adults experience loneliness, independent of race, education and ethnicity. For many, this triggers a state of hypervigilance, generating intense alertness to the outside world.

This state has its benefits. A powerful desire to make contact can drive artistic creation; Edward Hopper and Franz Kafka, for example, routinely explored themes of loneliness. And for others, heightened sensitivity to the gaps and gulfs between people inculcates compassion, building empathy. Loneliness is not a rogue state, after all, but part of the rich fabric of our shared lives.

To quote Kelly Clarkson, "Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone." 

I'm an introvert. There are a lot of us out there. Introverts can find social interaction enjoyable, but draining; being alone is not a crime for them, except extroverts will view them as pathetic freaks.
I have always had high expectations from friendships. If I don't enjoy spending time with a person, or if I get mistreated—at all—I don't need this. I have other ways of spending my time that don't involve emotional aggravation. Books and shoes get me.
If the "shame" aspect was taken out of the equation, could people come to, if not embrace, at least tepidly hug, the concept of loneliness? "I'm lonely at the moment. That means that I'm . . . okay? Oh." Stress is only detrimental if it is as viewed as damaging. Why shouldn't the same hold for loneliness?

Extroverts need the presence of other people to feel alive, the same way introverts need absence of others to recharge. I think I can understand that. But if an extrovert should find themselves alone, don't panic. Cast off ye shame, and take up a hobby. I hear adult coloring books are big now.   


Daniel Saunders said...

This time I really don't agree with you. I've been lonely basically all my adult life. I've never had many friends, most of the ones I do have live elsewhere so I rarely see them (if ever - I have some email pen friends). I feel pretty desperate a lot of the time. So isolated and unloved. Shame is a part of it, but also feeling unloved, unwanted, useless, ignored, even hated. I desperately want to change this, but my introversion, mental health issues, shyness and borderline Asperger's traits get in the way.

P.S. it's Eleanor Rigby. Yeah, I'm a Beatles fan too.

Princess Lea said...

I'm an introvert and I do not crave friendships. I find my family connections are more than adequate. I have come to realize that my expectations of friendships and the reality of friendships vastly differ, and I am willing to wait for an ideal relationship as opposed to "making do."

Shame IS all those other adjectives you list. Shame comes from within. It's about flipping the perspective, and finding a way to value yourself, not basing your value on how many friends you have.

My apologies for the misspelling of "Eleanor." In "Sense & Sensibility," it is spelled "Elinor." I thought the British had only one way of doing it.

Daniel Saunders said...

First, I'm sorry if I came across as angry or argumentative for the sake of it. I'm having a really tough week with my depression and OCD (Pesach prep will do that) and this post touched a nerve. I thought of adding a comment to clarify that, but ran out of time.

To clarify, I don't want loads of friends, just two or three good friends I can really talk to about deep things, particularly Jewish stuff. Of the few friends I have, most are not Jewish or not frum. I can talk about geeky stuff with my geeky friends and I have some Oxford friends who I see every few months and we catch up on where our lives and the lives of our fellow Oxonians are, but I don't really have anyone to talk about my religious struggles. I'm glad I know have some support groups for my mental health struggles, but I might have to stop going to my OCD group to get to a shiur I want to start going to (choices, choices). And a lot of the time I can't even get to see the friends I do have, because they live far away or are too busy.

You're lucky if you have good family connections. I have a small family (actually I have a very big family, but I'm not in touch with most of it) and I find it hard to make connections with many of my relatives, in terms of shared interests, personality traits, values and level of frumkeit (the latter is a real problem for BTs). Also a chunk of my family live in Israel, so their life experiences and hence their perspectives are radically different to my own and I don't get to see them much anyway. And, yes, one day I would love to have that ideal relationship with a very special person, but in the mean time I would like, as I said, to have some people to talk to about my BT struggles and my general interest in Yiddishkeit, and just to feel valued as a person. As Pirkei Avot says, acquire a friend for yourself.

On the plus side, you are probably right about shame and I definitely need to find a way to value myself. I had to phone the Samaritans helpline yesterday (I said I was struggling) and the volunteer I spoke to got my measure pretty quickly, pointing out that I put myself down and don't give myself credit. "Careful, you almost gave yourself a compliment" he joked at one point.

No need to apologize about Eleanor Rigby, in that instance I was just being querulous for the sake of it... also I thought you might want to know. Actually, I come across the "ea" spelling much more than the "i" in this country. Good song, though.

Princess Lea said...

And so we come full circle: One would wish to have friends, do not have them, feel shame about it. Friendships cannot be demanded into existence. The only thing to be done is make peace with the lack thereof.

Until one day, when one least expects it, one is able to acquire a friend.

Daniel Saunders said...

You are right that I shouldn't feel shame about lacking friends. We live in an extrovert's world were the friendless are blamed for their lack of friends. But I probably could try harder to make friends in terms of going out more, talking to people and so on. I don't think the only thing to be done is to make peace with my lack of friends.

Princess Lea said...

I was addressing the shame. Try to make friends, God bless, but without the shame-baggage.

Daniel Saunders said...

OK, fair enough.

BTW, you've succeeded - I've resolved to read a Brene Brown book, but it will have to wait until after I've finished the Healing Trauma book/CD my therapist recommended (and which has been neglected due to Pesach).