Hard Truths, Day 23: The Difference Between Alone and Being Lonely

The holidays are a shitty time to be alone, and mostly because commercial America makes us feel as if we’re less because we’re not paired up or paired off or part of the picture perfect Norman Rockwell family tableau.

And all of that’s enough to make you feel lonely.

It makes me feel lonely.

By most definitions, I’ve been alone since Jason died in 2010. A few weeks here, a month or two there, followed by an unspectacular implosion or disintegration and whammo — I’m alone again.

And I won’t lie. I have plenty of days where I feel lonely.

Which is weird because there are nearly 30,000 of you swarming my neck of the wood on Facebook and thousands more following whatever words come out of my keyboard-mouth here. So how on earth could I feel lonely?

Hard Truths 23 lonely alone

Today’s truth is one that hurts — learning the difference between being alone and being lonely.

In the past five years (basically since I moved to Colorado), I’ve had an incredibly journey involving the lessons of friendship. I can honestly sit back at this very moment and tell you that I have friends that make me feel lucky every day. They make me proud that I accepted the challenge to be a better friend and understand what being a friend means after so many years of having more fleeting friendships — or acquaintances, which they should rightfully be called. When I’m surrounded by these people — held in their arms for awkward hugs and late nights filled with unexpected calls, random Facetime chats with someone’s kids, talking off ledges, and ears I can count on to listen to me as I reach the end of my rope (again) and try as best I can to not let go of the frayed ends — my life is magic.

I’m not lonely.

I’m Erika. And I feel more me than I’ve ever felt because I don’t have to be anything but honest.

And even though they might be 1100 miles away, most of them, I’m not lonely because love has better coverage than any LTE cell network in the country.

I’m alone.

And that’s different from being lonely.

Lonely is when I judge myself based on everyone else’s standards of where I should be and whom I should be with and what I should be doing when I get to that where with the whom I’m supposed to be with.

That sentence alone? Fucking ridiculous.

Lonely is looking at a couple walk down the city streets of Chicago and wishing you had a hand to hold.

Lonely is feeling bad because you say (again) “Just me” to the hostess when you walk in to treat yourself to a holiday meal.

Lonely is thinking you bought, assembled, and decorated your own Christmas tree this year and the dogs don’t quite appreciate it the way you do.

Lonely is thinking at this time last year, you were fully confident that you’d have someone to share the holidays with this year because it was going to be your year.

Lonely is hearing a couple you know talk about moving downtown and what condos cost down there, thinking that you can’t afford that because you’re a one and not a two and that mortgage needs a two not a one.

And lonely is when you keep playing all of the above stories in your head and telling yourself that you’re less of a you because you’re not a TWO.

But for the first time in a very long time, I can tell you that this year, I’m not lonely.

I’m alone.

And it feels pretty fucking good.

It feels amazing, actually.

It’s the feeling of grabbing friends on Christmas and heading out to see a double feature. It’s the turkey breast marinating in the fridge and the cornbread drying so I can make homemade stuffing (with pecans — prenounced pee-cans because I’m from Texas, that’s why). It’s working less this week and sleeping in. It’s random texts from friends and arranging some Skype calls to catch up because no matter how far apart we all are, we’re still friends. It’s the joy I feel as I hear Christmas music and realizing that I don’t hate it like I once did…and realizing this year that I can actually sing and all I needed was an environment where I could do it without being judged so I could let this belt of mine fly — a belt that I always joked was better used to hold up pants.

And the difference between being alone and being lonely, I’ve realized, is that it’s 100% a state of mind and finding some fucking happiness in my world as it truly IS instead of how I’d like for it to be.

Lonely is when I feel I’m less because I’m comparing myself to some idealized ad that says I’m supposed to be a TWO.

I’m supposed to…

Supposed to…

Well, supposed to can go hump a derby hat.

Because this? This is what I’ve got and I’m going to miss a helluva lot of fun if I keep my head hung low, held down by the weight of all these supposed tos.

So, if you’re feeling lonely — drop me a line. I’ll email you back. Because I know what it feels like. And darlin’ — you’re not lonely. And you’re certainly not alone. And if you’re feeling brave, post a message to my Facebook wall and you’ll find some digital camaraderie.

You just haven’t looked up to see who’s there to catch you when you’re feeling blue.

And this year, it just might be me. Or some other random person.

So, dump all of your shoulds on me because once those are out of the way, we can get to the business of being alone.

Which — lemme tell ya — is pretty lovely once you stop trying to wrestle it into some weird pretzel-shaped, forced union with something it’s not meant to unite with.

And finally, if you’re with someone this holiday and you feel lonely — maybe it’s time to spend a holiday alone. Because being alone with your YOU sure beats the living fuck out of being lonely with someone.

Because you don’t deserve just someone.

You deserve the one.

PS: I’m serious — if you feel lonely, drop me a line. It’s the least I can do for every moment of your days you share with me because all of you make me much less lonely and very happy to have found happiness in being alone.

17 replies
  1. KareemaBeema
    KareemaBeema says:

    Erika, you have such a beautiful heart. I enjoyed reading this post. Happy Holidays to you.
    Not lonely. Not alone. Just grateful.

  2. LeoNot
    LeoNot says:

    I sincerely hope you’ll consider bundling this series into an ebook or something. There’s gold in here and I’d love to have it with me on my Kindle or phone or whatever I happen to be reading on. I suspect I’m not alone (pun not intended but delightfully serendipitous). Happy Birthday, Happy Holidays, etc.

  3. mamurphy06
    mamurphy06 says:

    Your blog is just splendid; funny, entertaining, bold and insightful.
    Thank you for sharing a bit of your journey with me (and the rest of these
    people). May the new year bring great success and filled with love and

  4. MaryReinhardt
    MaryReinhardt says:

    I’ve been a single Mom for 21 years and sure there have been guys here and there during that time, but mostly, it’s been me and my kid.  We’ve spent holidays with family and with friends, but one year I said “enough”.  Enough of everyone elses drama, enough of the dysfunctional families, enough of the bickering and crying, enough of the dashed expectations.  I love Christmas.  I love the tree and decorating my home.  I love cooking extravagant meals – even if it’s just the two of us.  I love Christmas music – our favorite, Trans-Siberian Orchestra – we turn it up loud.  If we could have a household of people ‘enjoying’ the holiday and each other, we would do it – I’d cook for everyone, if others could just step up and have fun for one day – one day! – and let all the shit go, I’d invite everyone I know.  Maybe someday.  Lonliness comes and goes.  I’ve been in relationships where I am terribly lonely and I’ve been on my own and been thrilled – happy.  I’m looking for a guy who is an individual, a whole human with a whole human life of his own who recognizes that I’m an individual, a whole human with a whole human life of my own.  One day we will meet and we will share our individual lives with one another and we will create a life together (while keeping our individual lives whole and intact).
    Merry Christmas Erica!  You are a joyful part of my life.

  5. IngridOliphant
    IngridOliphant says:

    One of my favorite quotes from Wendell Berry:

    “We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness. True solitude
    is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation.
    One’s inner voices become audible. One
    feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one
    responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes
    within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the
    communion of all creatures.”
    I’m glad I dove into your Hard Truths stream this month!  Thanks for sharing this and you with us!

  6. lizctaylor
    lizctaylor says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself, Erika. Do I want to share my life with someone again someday? Yes. Do I need to? No. Being alone isn’t always easy, but it’s better than being lonely with someone.

    Merry Christmas!

  7. SingularInsanity
    SingularInsanity says:

    I’m lonely because I’ve been sole parenting for five years now. I’ve seen other single mums start dating, get into new long term relationships and I don’t even feel worthy of a man’s attention, not to mention my trust issues. I see Christmas as family time, yet my family is fractured, my sister is far away and being with my parents is ridiculously tense and stressful. It would be nice to be invited out to to dinner by a friend sometimes, or for a drink on a Friday night. Everyone else seems to be having all the fun.

  8. KayWalten
    KayWalten says:

    Thanks, I needed this post.  It cracked the hardened shell I have of appearing like it does not bother me to be by myself on the holidays.   A tear fell in my mocha… damn.

  9. lizctaylor
    lizctaylor says:

    DorothyKBlog Hi Dorothy – I’ve been a single parent myself for two years and I feel your pain. It’s difficult seeing other single moms move on so quickly, including some who seem to remarry almost immediately. I’ve tried really hard not to compare my life to theirs because you never know what is really going on in someone else’s life, you know? My motto is “control what you can control” — that forces me outside of my comfort zone sometimes but it usually pays off. I’ve invited people out to lunch or whatever and haven’t been turned down yet. 🙂 I don’t know if any of this is helpful, but I thought I’d share just in case. I hope things turn around for you in the new year.

  10. AJasonP
    AJasonP says:

    It is good to hear that you alone and happy and not lonely this year.  I know what that feels like and when you finally crack that “it is ok to be alone” stigma it feels amazing.  It makes me look at friendships and potential relationships differently and whether they fit into my life and not how I can fit into them.  I now have no fear of being alone.

  11. Ihadtotryit
    Ihadtotryit says:

    Thank you for this reminder! It brought a smile to my face to remember the time (in 2000) when I had the strength to tell my then boyfriend “I would rather be lonely and alone than what I am now; lonely and with you.”


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