The High Price We Pay for Our Fear of Loneliness – Free Ebook

It’s not hard to understand the fear of
being alone: the empty apartment after work,

the eerieness of Sunday afternoons, the sense
of exclusion during the holidays… We know

the agonies of being on our own very well.
What is far less well understood,

is the
enormously high price exacted on the other

side of the equation. The fear of being alone is perhaps

responsible for more unhappy relationships,
more throttling of psychological development

and more pent up misery
than almost any other: it is – by any reckoning

– one of the single greatest contributors
to human misery and the driver of some of

our weightiest and most unfortunate decisions.
If only we were able to get the costs of what

is for the most part a simple misapprehension
clear in our minds, we might save ourselves

a substantial portion of our lives.

We can pick out at least seven unnecessary
penalties:

– For a start, and most obviously, people
who are afraid of being alone make some very

wrong choices around the company they keep.
They have no option but to privilege any one

over the appropriate one.

They don’t have the

strength to be able to hold out – as one
must – for the 20th or 200th candidate.

The only souls with any realistic chance of
ending up with the partner they deserve are

those who have properly reconciled themselves
to the prospect of never being with anyone

at all.
– Being with not quite the right person

sounds almost bearable but extended over time,
like a proverbial pebble in a shoe, ‘slightly

wrong’ ends up indistinguishable from ‘entirely
horrific’. No nagging doubt one has ever

entertained on a wedding day will fail, with
the addition of several years, to become a

cause for mind-shattering despair. Every beautiful
location we travel to together will be ruined,

every promising moment will be trampled upon,
every success will be compromised. What may

begin as slight fractiousness or tedium winds
up as cataclysmic irritation, self-disgust,

sexual misery, broken finances and the kind
of excruciating loneliness that – ironically

– merely and innocently being ‘on our
own’ would never have the power to generate.

– Furthermore, when terrified of loneliness,
we have no strength to argue for our needs

within any relationship. One is always at
the mercy of the one who fears loneliness

less. Partners develop an advanced sense of
the person who has nowhere else to go. It’s

no use stamping our feet after an argument
and saying ‘we’ve had enough’ when,

in reality, everyone knows that we will never
have had enough – so scared are we of having

dinner on our own.
– What’s worse, after time in the wrong

sort of company, we tend to develop learned
helplessness: every reluctance we once had

to be alone grows worse, even as we acquire
more experience of what bad company actually

means. In our comfortable but deadening captivity,
the wild appears more terrifying still: we

can’t now imagine ever knowing how to change
the dishwasher fluid alone, walking into a

party by ourselves or taking the initiative
to send our nephews birthday presents, so

used have we become to using the other to
compensate for our weaknesses. We experience

none of the bracing, but also educative pressures
visited upon the single, who have no choice

but to overcome their inhibitions: those brave
souls who

have to learn how to garden,
go on holidays in the

mountains, endure empty weekends, call up
their mother or cook a chicken – and thereby

achieve the resilient competence upon which
true social discrimination and liberty rest.

– For those who have too lightly signed
away their freedoms, there are sure to be

constant, and searing, reminders of what they
have foregone. Every party and every walk

down a busy street will provide evidence of
what might have been, all those potentially

fascinating or charming members of humanity
they have now forever been disbarred from

getting to know – because they were so unnaturally
scared of having a bed to themselves for a

few more years.
– It isn’t just other people we won’t

get to know, it’s also ourselves. The constant
presence of companions stops us from making

friends with our own minds, and exploring
our feelings and ideas in a way that only

extended stretches of solitude allow. We fail
to develop our identities, we grow more like

everyone else. The chatter outside prevents
us from being able to follow the feint but

vital dialogue we might otherwise have been
able to have with ourselves. We use another

person to distract us whenever any slightly
painful or challenging internal matter comes

into view. There ends up being so much we
won’t ever really feel or understand about

ourselves, so many big questions about our
careers and our ultimate purpose that we will

ignore, because there was always someone else
on hand to chat to about what to order in

for dinner.
– Worst of all, we might not even be actively

miserable after a while. We’ll grow used
to cosy mediocrity. We won’t be curious

or restless. We won’t dare – as the single
must – to go up to strangers and risk our

pride. We’ll stop learning. We’ll believe
that we’ve answered our needs completely,

but only on the basis of suppressing our knowledge
of what our needs really are. We’ll have

ended up in a conspiracy against uncertainty,
novelty and the flux of life.

To start to correct everything that stems
from this ridiculous fear of being alone,

we should from a young age learn that that
being alone never means there is something

wrong with us, just that we are being appropriately
patient, until what truly satisfies us shows

up (if it ever does); we have a choice; we
have not been punished.

We will never

learn the true promise of community, discover
our own interests or hold out for the connections

we deserve until we make genuine peace with
the prospect of a life by ourselves.

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