I sit alone in my one-bedroom apartment. My phone is off. I painstakingly pull myself away from social media and the shallow fulfillment it provides. I settle into the lonely.
It’s easy to think of social needs in the context of a Sims bar. The more we communicate and interact, the more our needs are met and we are satisfied. If only humans were that simple.
There are, of course, evolutionary advantages to belonging and social acceptance. From small communities that offer protection and shared information that allows for societal advancement, the human condition appears to dictate the need for collaboration. In previous times and cultures, multiple generations might live in the same household. It was even seen as a responsibility to care for family members who were unable to care for themselves (see The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World). Familial belonging was fundamental to human existence.
On a larger scale, modern society is evolving rapidly. The American sense of individualism is pervasive throughout our culture. We even call ourselves “American,” which seems to ignore the fact that many other countries exist in the Americas. We insert ourselves to the forefront, though I suppose “United Statesean” doesn’t have the same ring to it. We are encouraged to rent one-bedroom apartments we can’t afford. We are encouraged to move out of our parents’ home at 18 and gain independence – whatever that means. We are told the only person we can rely on is ourselves, even though in our hearts, we know this is not true.
My story is a bit different, I suppose. I was without choice. I was adopted when I was 11-years-old and the man who raised me passed away when I was 19. Independence and loneliness were thrust upon me as a child, and even today, I cling to them earnestly as though they are a lifeboat. Independent is a comfortable state of existence. In vague moments of self-awareness I realize the storm I find myself in is a product of my own nightmares; the lifeboat is merely an illusion.
I simultaneously insert myself into the center of this story, and why shouldn’t I? This is my blog, after all. It is meant to be personal? And yet, I feel guilty for doing so. I am insignificant, a single soul in a sea of consciousness.
Given my own disposition of non-belonging, I am drawn to those in society who exist on the periphery. As a sociologist, I study the interaction between people and institutions and how societal frameworks direct our existence. This is like psychology, but it emphasizes the influence of the external world on our psyche and behavior.
This type of study grows increasingly difficult. In the midst of another election season, I am once again reminded that my America is not your America. We have fundamentally different ways of understanding society. In fact, we live in different societies. My city in Florida is strikingly different than a small town Montana. America itself is a clusterfuck of ideas – we seem to worship individualism yet demand conformity. You should think for yourself, but you must adhere to two political parties. Love thy neighbor, but respect is optional. We can’t even agree on how to interpret the Constitution. No wonder there is so much confusion and division within society – we all have different understandings of our contract with society. The very foundation of our culture is one built on division.
I suppose this lack of belonging could be a factor as to why modern American culture places so much emphasis on the nuclear family. Our national identity is inherently fractured; our extended family is traded in for the ideal of expansion and individual ownership. The nuclear family is all that’s left.
Yet, there are those who never plan to marry. Many young women do not feel the need to have children. What is left for us?
There appears to be a shift towards universalism. Identity is tied to the species; the collective conscious; collaboration to the highest degree. By tearing down the barriers of competition and aggression, dismantling these ideas of nationalism and loyalty by default, modern individuals are seeing themselves reflected in the eyes of strangers who live across the country or around the world. And as I sit here, settling into my own Lonely, the state of being that I revisit every now again like an echo from my childhood, I am reminded of the connection I share with humanity at large.
Perhaps it is a band-aid for psychological suffering. Those of us who are fortunate to live in a post-industrial society enjoy physical luxury to a degree that no previous human civilization has ever known; and yet, we suffer. We suffer greatly and deeply and we cling to our suffering like a lifeboat. And what happens if we abandon the lifeboat, and swim in the sea of consciousness instead? What awaits us in the deep waters of our emotions and human potential? Will we finally discover the deep sense of belonging we spend a lifetime chasing?