Loneliness. The Last Taboo?

I’ve written several times about what I’ve now long believed to be the truth about our species. That we evolved to be tribal creatures – not to live in “nuclear families,” each in our own little box (I mean home), with our own car & TV & barbecue & set of china & a chicken in every pot. As it were.

In a recent blog post entitled “Most Important Book I’ve Ever Read,” I explained that it was Jerry Mander’s book In the Absence of the Sacred – The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations that set me on the course quite a few years ago now of musing about our species & puzzling over the way things have turned out for us. “Going to hell in a hand basket,” more or less, I guess you could say.

I wasn’t exaggerating at all when I said it’s the most important book I’ve ever read. It’s helped me understand everything. Everything about human history & all the messes we’ve created that now threaten to bring us down as a species.

The whole darn karmic enchilada, you might say.

So, I mention the whole loss-of-tribe phenomenon pretty often in postings on this blog. It comes up a lot. E.g. ‘Everything’s all about ME, right?’ ‘A-B-C’s: Re-learning Time’; ‘Why We Are Control Freaks.’

We’re a lost bunch, in my view. We (in the dominant culture, anyway) cut ourselves off from tribal life & our fellow creatures 10,000 years ago now. We’ve been lonely & lost & adrift ever since – if not on the conscious level, unconsciously for sure.

Unfortunately for me, perhaps, I am stuck with these darn uncomfortable insights, & this blasted persistent longing to … “help.” Been trying to “save the world” ever since I was about 14 years old. Such foolishness, hmmm??

It’s a fact that I’ve enjoyed very considerable grace & privilege in this life. A challenging but not horrendous childhood. Enjoyable university years. A 20-year marriage that was mostly a very fine one (17 good years out of 20: not bad at all!). Motherhood. Challenging work. In my view, I’ve “had it all.” I can think of nothing I’ve missed out on. It’s a good life!

One thing the marriage break-up introduced into my life was … loneliness. After 20 years of marriage & 14 of full-time motherhood, divorce (& the subsequent half-time joint custody arrangement) threw me into unfamiliar territory. I wrestled plenty with loneliness – & this in spite of the fact that I have always done a ton of community work & had a pretty extraordinary number of friends.

What I’ve come to think along the way is that loneliness is the last taboo. Admitting to anyone that we are lonely is … almost shameful for some reason.

There were times post-marriage break-up when I would feel terribly lonely. I’d look at the phone & think about the fact that I had, at any given time, probably 10 good friends I could call – & I wouldn’t call any of them. Why? Because I felt embarrassed about my loneliness. I felt humiliated by it. Why?

Well, shoot. I don’t quite know why. That’s why I think it’s something like the last taboo. It’s the thing we can’t admit to.

Why should loneliness be a shameful secret? Is it because, to repeat myself, we humans evolved to be tribal creatures, not solitary ones??

I suspect even the most independent among us suffer at times from loneliness. Heck, even the most securely married probably do! There are almost certainly married folks whose loneliness equals or exceeds my own.

It’s a tough nut, loneliness.

I have no great insights to offer about it.

It came around for another kick at the can recently. Once again, there were quite a few friends I could call – but I didn’t pick up the phone. It seems I still can’t admit to being lonely. Mostly, I’m not! Mostly I am wonderfully content, busy with worthwhile activities & schemes & walks & plans & books to read & things to write.

When the loneliness monster hits, I … well, I deal with it. It’s an old acquaintance by now…if not a friend, exactly… I do know this – the feeling passes.

Good old Eckhart Tolle – one of my favourite gurus-who-says-he-doesn’t-want-to-be-a-guru. He reminds us to remind ourselves (any time we feel as though we’re being overwhelmed by any overpowering experience or emotion), “This too will pass.”

And it will! It does. It has!

And loneliness may well remain the final taboo, I don’t know. Maybe if we talk about it, it won’t. I really don’t know. We’ll see, I guess, eh?


‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “Nothing so reminds you like the sea that the enemy of life is not death but loneliness.” – character in the novel The Navigator of New York, by Wayne Johnston