By Ronald C. Tobin

I know that some of the people reading this fine publication have a great deal of personal experience with the loneliness on the streets.  As I have been fortunate enough, at least so far in my life, to keep a roof over my head and stay off those streets, I cannot address that issue.  I can write about the type of loneliness that I know only too well: that which is self imposed for various reasons.  You can indeed be successful and be lonely.  You can have a beautiful home and be lonely.  For the introvert, which is what I am, it can become a near constant companion, a spectre lurking in the shadows.

I will point out here that there is a huge difference between being alone and being lonely.  I enjoy solitude in small doses.  Being alone is helpful in letting my mind sort out the various issues I am dealing with, think about my struggles, that sort of thing.  It stops being useful solitude and goes into loneliness when I am doing things by myself that I would like to share with another person.  Travel is one example.  I generally travel alone. I've come up to Canada three times now by myself.  I will say that my trip this year, in which I spent a great deal of time with good friends and had the honor of addressing the ALIAS Collective, was my best trip ever, precisely because I spent more time with other people.  In 1999 I went to Niagara Falls by myself.  Spectacular, but it would have been better if I had been with someone to share it with.

I have dealt with loneliness most of my life to one degree or another.  Had two strikes against me from the outset: I am a classic introvert (meaning I have a tendency to be shy and I do not make friends easily) and I am an intellectual.  In school, this had the effect of making me different, and I was (and remain) a social misfit.  I can not call myself an outcast, because that entails having once BELONGED to the 'in crowd.'  I revel in being a misfit among the misfits now, but as a teen that loneliness was crushing.  It did lead to a self-esteem and self worth problem that I really have only overcome in the last few years.  Since no one else liked me, I did not like myself either.  This led to a small series of brief and disastrous relationships, but I'll spare you folks the details. 

For me, loneliness caused a great deal of emptiness in my life, a great void that was only partially filled by going into publishing and taking on various issues.  I tried to find meaning outside of myself.  When that did not work, I would get very depressed, another factor in loneliness.  Having been in that black pit of despair more than once, I am convinced that many people who commit suicide do so because they see no way out of their private hells built on loneliness.

No matter who you are and how gregarious you may be, loneliness will crop up now and again.  How best to minimize it?  I have chosen to reach out to others, via correspondence, travel, this Guild of ours, and so on.  I have learned to like myself, which makes it possible for me to really appreciate other people.  I have learned to stop beating myself up, stop being my own worst enemy (still not quite to the point of being my own best friend, but I am working on that).  I have found meaning within and I am at peace with myself.  Possibly of utmost importance is that I no longer define myself through the eyes of others.  Instead, I accept myself for who and what I am and I give the same respect to others. Give it a try!

Dealing with loneliness will always be part of life, especially if you are not one of the so-called beautiful people, not in the 'in crowd.'  If you dare to be different, learn to appreciate solitude, because you will have it.  Just be yourself and look for others who can appreciate who you are.  Life is too short to wallow in self pity and worry about what others think who are not part of your circle of friends.  Do that and you will beat being lonely most of the time -- as I finally have.

[A slightly different version of this article appeared in the Loneliness Special Issue of ALIAS Magazine.]

[This version of this article originally appeared in the November/December 2000 issue of THE THOUGHT.]