The noise outside my Hollywood apartment tonight is maddening…. For hours police helicopters have circled this high-rise with spotlights shining, every dog in the neighborhood is barking and I can hear neighbors cursing from balconies as if yelling at animals 12 floors below is going to change anything…
This is no different from any other night with the exception I just can’t block it out. I used to hate 2:00 a.m. because I was so lonely. I’d look out from my Florida condo at the TV blue windows of other sad souls awake in the middle of the night and want to reach out to them. That was a miserable period in my life, I cursed the moon for taunting me and the sun for bringing another day. I don’t live that way anymore, because I’ve experienced a new way to live, and for once I know the difference between being alone and being lonely.
The stereotypes that often come with leading a single life are generally categorized into one group: loneliness. It is so often assumed that those who have not yet found that special person who makes the world a little brighter are experience those god-awful waves of loneliness. In reality, there is a magnificent difference between being lonely and being alone. Being lonely is that kind of aching that resonates in your chest. That dull, constant feeling that follows you around all day long. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or whom you’re with, it’s impossible to shake that feeling. Typically, these feelings are most prominent after recently losing that person who made your world a little brighter.
Being lonely comes with so many side effects: memories, insomnia, and confusion. Loneliness encapsulates the best parts of your life and forces you to notice their profound absence. Loneliness makes you wonder why—why you? Why can’t you catch a break, why haven’t you had a simple stroke of luck? Loneliness is that prominent, gaping hole in your life that just can’t seem to be filled regardless of what you do. Loneliness is the 3am thoughts that haunt your dreams. Loneliness is that song on the radio that you have to turn off the second it comes on.
But being alone is a different situation completely. Being alone is a state of being; loneliness is a state of mind. When you’re alone you’re forced to realize all the things you don’t have, sure, but you’re also forced to realize all the things about yourself that you couldn’t when you spent your days memorizing someone else. Being alone is taking the time to really think about what you want from someone the next time around, because you are going to do everything in your power that you never suffer from that lonely disease again. Being alone is sitting under a tree for an afternoon and reading a book, and enjoying every single minute of it. Being alone is doing things by yourself, but also doing them for yourself.
Of course, there are those times when being alone crosses paths with being lonely. It’s those times that you’re shopping for a new dress by yourself and you can’t help but notice that couple on the corner of the street. Their happiness radiates, and you remember the days when that used to be you. For a brief moment that dull feeling aches in your chest, but it doesn’t stay. Being alone can be the most empowering experience of your life. If you let the loneliness consume you, you’re going to lose that rare chance to figure yourself out. You can always find company in yourself. Loneliness is going to try to force you to find that company with another person. Everyone has a place in the world, though, and yours shouldn’t be inside someone else. Being alone is an art; embrace it. Now, if the helicopters, dogs and neighbors would shut up… I could go to sleep!