A Love Letter to Loneliness

Kicking off our Sexposé, Gail El-Halaby reflects on the importance of being your own true love.

“The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself.”
– Mark Twain

We rarely enjoy the feeling of being lonely. The automacy of dependency is easy. Being innately social beings, this makes sense, but the emergence of such things as social media has definitely not helped, with a display of seemingly better lives available at the touch of an app and the scroll of a screen. On my loneliest days, I often find myself seeking connection on social media, aimlessly flicking through apps on my phone in the hope that interacting through intangible external pixels will help me feel somewhat less empty internally. It does, for a brief period, but in reality I believe social media is causing the breakdown of real, organic, human relationships, and it’s easy to feel like being in the constant presence of others, whether through a screen or in person, is integral to a meaningful existence. The act of being alone can be judged as non-volitional and strange, even abnormal, when really solitude can bring so much to our lives.

I used to be borderline obsessed with socialising, somewhat verging on a pathological fear of being alone, constantly, relentlessly. Hit with a wave of anxiety at the thought of being idly on my own for longer than a few hours, I would always seek plans that involved the presence of another human, to the point where I forgot what it was like to be alone. In retrospect, I lived with a self-perpetuating fear of being lonely, stemming from long-term self-loathing and an inability to sit with my own thoughts. This phenomenon is not something that I am alone in feeling, with much anecdotal evidence  pointing towards a condition colloquially named ‘monophobia’. The roots of this issue can stem from a plethora of subjective experiences, from traumatic childhood experiences to unhealthy habituated learning. Clinical psychologist Kare Ardst, in an article written for Psychology Today, even states she finds this issue more frequently in her women patients, a possible truism down to a multitude of complex factors.  

We’ve all come across the saying, ‘You complete me’, or, ‘My other half’, a common phrase often referring to an intimate partner. What does this mean? Though on face  value an innocently romantic apophthegm, to me, this is a toxic statement, insinuating that we ourselves are not already a whole, that another person is required to fill a void. Of course, relationships can bring immense fulfilment, happiness, love and joy, but in truth, we are the only constants in our lives. So if we can’t even sit comfortably in our own company, how can we ever expect to live fulfilling lives?

In many ways, I believe the ability to be content in solitude may be a sign of emotional maturity, an indicator of growth. Analogous to learning how to have relationships with others, learning how to have a relationship with yourself is first and foremost an opportunity for self-reflection and becoming in tune with your emotions. In short, you cannot solely rely on others for your own happiness, this must eventually come from within, no matter how long or laborious a journey this may be.

Regardless of your relationship status, whether single, taken or ‘it’s complicated’, the importance of taking time for yourself cannot be underrated. If you’re new to this journey, start small. Next time you fancy a trip out someplace, why not venture solo? You might find it enriches your life. Consider this: for many of the greatest thinkers, intellects and creatives, their greatest discoveries and works have come at times of being alone. And if, like me, you’re single this Valentine’s day, do not let this be a reflection of your self-worth. It’s effortless to compare your situation to that of others, but try to direct that effort towards discovering that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Empower yourself, and most importantly, do not settle for less than you deserve simply due to a reflection of your internal, albeit very valid, fears.

Artwork by Alex Porter.

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