Image by Bert Kaufmann.

I have been worried that I am not dignified enough to write about loneliness. Both the repulse and the gravitation of this task have little to do with the feeling itself: I know it is loneliness. But I am scared the desire to understand and explicate somehow roots in a cerebral obsession rather than an intensity of sentiment. I am scared my words eventually become a bargain for dishonesty.

I draw the deepest breath from somewhere unknown. I do it again and again because I need to feel like writing this piece transcends the swallowing shadows intrinsic in the topic of loneliness. I do believe it is true, that I should not be so afraid I come across as wallowing in my personal experience, serving another manifestation of sentimentality which often sickens the stomach. I may write about loneliness, but I am writing towards something else. I am sorry that the confessional does not fare equally well to everybody, but I refuse to be flinch from the edge only because it is objectively determined as bad.

The sticking point is how you and I may converse with mutual respect, especially a recognition that we are referring to one feeling and utilizing some corresponding lexicons. Some people argue we cannot reach a point of unison yet, that it remains a mystic job of mechanics to show a feeling of loneliness is clear in identifiers that you and I both uphold. For now, I am asking for another kind of respect, a more basic one, that says my experience of loneliness and yours can be different but never belittling in their relation to others’.

In college which seemed like a pre-made community, when I started seeing myself as lonely, here’s my first reaction: there is a problem. I wasn’t thinking loudly that I was faulted, but I was always on preemption. I didn’t want to be caught alone. I was glad to talk about one acquaintance with another mid-conversation. I was second-guessing my decision to write this piece because the Internet is essentially a ginormous ball of yarn that tangles you in the heart: everything is traceable and I don’t want to gauge pity from the aware party. I tried to prove a point that I was not lonely. Clearly I was. It mattered that other people didn’t find so.

I started reading and journaling when I became bored of people watching. I wrote a lot. I was glad that for many spans of time, I wasn’t anxiously trying to occupy other people’s head. I started having serious ideas that engaged my mind in the outer world, let it be the world of art or the messier one that surrounds me invariably. Most of my writing probably felt lonely, but at no point was it a mere description of loneliness. When I am attracted to something long enough, I want to make one my own, at least in the realm of thinking and creation. Being alone gave me time to be attracted.

I am not saying one needs loneliness to be productive. I am not taking pride in being lonely. The poems I wrote ended up being read in open space. In his farewell letter, a graduating friend, another member of my beloved poetry group, wrote, “Poetry is so much better when it is shared, just like most things in life”. When I first read this line, the words almost echoed through the fractures in my body. They didn’t heal them, but they showed me how my anatomy wasn’t ultimate. It could be the smaller, and it could be made better too.

After a while, I was no longer agitated about my loneliness. I realized it took time to find a group of friends. It is not a race and there is no concept of failing. But I grew somewhat extreme, from peace to indifference. I looked at certain people and dreaded the possibility of being in their social circle although I have ever been. “I was just not the kind to care”. In response to my manifesto of spiteful apathy, a friend exclaimed, “But you should care about everything”. For the first time it struck me that I might have been wrong in my presumptuous aloneness.

I tried my best to care. I tried my best not to judge or be jealous. It began as simple. I began with striking a conversation and asking people what their plan was for the day. I began with listening to their obsession with women’s soccer, not understanding the zeal but still being all the same dazzled by what it is. It began with sitting in the dining hall, with another person, and sharing some of the things that fascinated me so much when I was there by myself a week before.

Being alone is carrying around an invisible bag. The bag should be filled with good things for yourself. But it can feel great to have it lifted from you, that the contents can be shared with someone else.

When I pitched this article, our editor reminded me not to be pensive at the sake of being communicative. I should focus on what advice college students can take away from the piece. I don’t know how much is your takeaway. I don’t believe in a formulaic solution to swim against the currents. Everyone has their personal journey from point A to point B, and I don’t have a way to make sure you get to point B faster or more smoothly. I just hope that at point B, you are not resentful towards yourself. That is the point.

I reread this piece and realize some of the most resonant thoughts came to me both when I was alone and when I was in the company of a friend.

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the author

Chi Thuy Le likes to think she lives bi-continentally while writing out of Chicago.

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