Tag Archives: loneliness

Good working definition for a neurotic: someone whose Interpretive Faculty is perpetually on overdrive. Observe, gentle reader:

  • Normal person in the car:
    Hey, I know this song. [enjoys, sings along badly]

  • Neurotic in the car:
    Should I turn on my Aphex Twin CD? But I’ve been wondering lately whether I am losing sight of how to appreciate beauty, so maybe listening to Aphex right now will accelerate my already-advanced descent into oversophisticated soullessness! I better listen to Bach. But that will stress me out because I’ll be trying too hard to appreciate it. But it might enrich my interior life and possibly begin to thaw the frozen depths of my dormant humanity! Wait, I’m being crazy, forget this, I’ll just listen to country. But do I actually enjoy country, or will I just be listening to it ironically?

    [Skips around for twenty minutes]

    [Shuts off radio in fit of pique]

    [Bursts into tears]

  • The neurotic mind is capable of freighting any situation, no matter how trivial, with unbearable moral weight. “Moral” because, in the neurotic mind, the moral category is so inflamed and enlarged that it encroaches on every other bit of mental territory. Music choice? Maybe it has some moral elements, but mainly it’s a matter of preference: What do I want to listen to?

    In other words, a neurotic is somebody who has a really hard time knowing what he wants.

    If you’re an introverted neurotic, the most morally fraught questions are often the social ones. Should I go out or stay in? Going out might mean more effort and energy than I’m willing to put forth; or it might force me into a situation where I feel inauthentic; or it might involve tolerating people who make me uncomfortable.

    But staying in might mean loneliness. It might mean an intolerable sense of my own antisocial tendencies. It might mean that those tendencies will, fed by one more weekend spent alone, become so entrenched that my very heart will turn into a bitter, frozen wasteland — total self-enclosure — hell.

    “Whoa, slow down, buddy,” says my hypothetical, hypernormal interlocutor. “It’s not the end of the damn world, you know!”

    Yeah, I know, and I can tell myself that all day long, just like an anorexic person can tell himself that he looks just fine how he is, but it won’t necessarily help.

    I keep a mental list of questions to help myself figure out whether I should go out. I’ve just never made them explicit before. Here they are, best as I can nail them down.

    1. How long has it been?
      When’s the last time I did something social? If I’ve already been alone all day, or even for two days, I might still feel fine, but that doesn’t mean I’ll keep feeling fine. I know my limits, and it’s good to act before I reach those limits.

    2. How long will it be?
      Maybe I don’t feel like going out right now, but when will my next chance be? I’m not such a social butterfly that I have my pick of invitations any night of the week (or weekend), so I have to act prudently. If winter’s coming, you store seeds; if an especially lonely time is on the way, it’s good to store up social interaction.

    3. Do I even like these people?
      Sometimes I’ve put so much pressure on myself to go out, see somebody, DO something, that I’ve ended up spending time with people I don’t even want in my life. That’s not good for me, because I’ll feel rotten and resentful and judgmental and inauthentic. And it’s not fair to them, because I’ll be sending mixed friendship-signals. Sometimes it really is better to stay in, EVEN IF that’s what you already wanted to do.1

    4. Did I make a commitment?
      If you told somebody you’d go, I’ll almost certainly go, even if I don’t feel 100%. This might or might not be a moral issue — some people would argue that saying “Sure, I’ll go” is generally understood as “Sure, I might go” — but I want to be known as somebody who, if he says he’ll do a thing, he does it.

    5. How important is this to them?
      Opting out of a night at the bar is one thing. Opting out of a close friend’s wedding is another. That doesn’t mean you have to go to every wedding you’re invited to; it just means you’re not the center of the universe. Overcoming your own tiredness for somebody else’s sake — even if you have a legitimate need for alone time — can be a great act of love, and no act of love is ever wasted.

    If, even after all that calculus, I still can’t figure it out, sometimes I just ask myself: can I survive the wrong decision? Let’s say there is One Right Decision2 about this Friday night, and say I pick the One Wrong Decision. What will happen — and can I survive it?

    If I stay in when I should’ve gone out, will my heart become a hardened shell overnight? Is it the very last chance that my friends will ever ever ever give me? Will I lose all capacity for human contact and maybe even for human speech, and be reduced to gibbering and grunting?

    Probably, but at least my cats will understand me.

    1 Some of us neurotics have this thing where, if we want to do a thing, it must therefore be the wrong thing to do. This is a lie, but you’d be surprised how powerful a lie it can be.
    2 (But there isn’t.)

This is the final part of a four-part post. It began here.

There was a period in my life when orientation change was my first priority, and when I had the constant feeling that I wasn’t doing enough to achieve that end. If I missed an opportunity to play basketball, it meant I was cowardly; if I opted out of a social gathering, it meant I was lazy; if I left a party because I was emotionally exhausted, it meant I was weak.

I don’t do that anymore, partly because it was too exhausting, and partly because I have other things to worry about. I still pursue healing: through my friendships, through therapy, through prayer, through conversation. But by “healing” I no longer mean “heterosexuality”. If as a side-effect my SSA should diminish and my OSA1 should increase, that’s nice, that’s a bonus. But it’s no longer the point, and it’s not a prerequisite for my happiness or holiness.

If you’re in crisis mode, then your top priority is getting out of the crisis. So if you find yourself visiting truck stops at 3am every weekend, maybe it really does make sense to go to therapy twice a week and be a part of three different men’s groups, until the point when you can successfully Not Do That Anymore.

Not doing crazy dangerous miserable things, in other words, is a good short-term goal.

But if you’ve just got a cross to carry, you’ve got to figure out a way to carry it that doesn’t involve thinking about it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You’ve got to find a way to live life, not as an object lesson in suffering and triumph over adversity — what a monotonous way to live! — but just as an ordinary human being with ordinary friends, ordinary conversations, ordinary joys and sorrows.

Life, not paradise, is the goal; and anyway, heterosexuality is hardly the same thing as paradise. Ask any straight guy, ask your married friends, or ask the womanizers you know, or ask the chronically lonely ones. They’re all are as confused as we are, even if they don’t always know it.

So although Aaron Taylor and others are right to point out some of the extremely problematic things about the idea of orientation change, it’s not that simple. Some of the ideas promulgated by the ex-gay crowd are useless or poisonous; but some of them are lessons that every man needs, some of us more than others, and some straight men more than some gay men.

To the extent that Exodus helped men in these areas — the areas of relational brokenness, self-pity and self-isolation, disenfranchisement from masculinity — the hole it leaves behind is a large one. It remains to be seen whether anyone besides the enemies of the Church will step forward to fill it.

1 Opposite-sex attraction.

To my relief, I wake up too late for Mass this morning. More sleep means less surliness, and less effort spent ignoring my resentment at the priest who sings off-key and the parishioners who ad-lib the responses to make them just a little bit more feminist.

I’m trailing a cloud of melancholy from bad dreams: something to do with wounds, accusations, betrayal of trust. I know from long experience that the daily routine washes these things away. This was my salvation as a teacher: no matter how dark things were in the morning, five minutes into Algebra II and I’d forget whatever was gnawing at me, buoyed up by the energy flowing between me and my students, buoyed up also by the chapel that adjoined my morning classroom.

Some years ago, on New Year’s Day in Father T.’s private chapel, I asked the Lord how I could make things different this year, how I could keep from going round in endless circles, steer clear of the trap of quiet desperation that had always terrified me.

He told me to give him half an hour a day, which I have been doing — more or less — ever since.

At first that meant silent prayer, sitting in the dark in my bedroom at home, in an easy chair no less, trying to keep my mind clear and see where the Lord would take me: which resulted variously in tears, boredom, anger, joy, astonishment, emptiness, or just a solid half hour of trying not to think about sex too much.

Sometimes I’d spend the half hour before the Blessed Sacrament; one of my first tasks, whenever I’ve moved to a new town, has been to find an Adoration chapel.

I’ve made adjustments to our contract (covenant?) since then, but kept the basics. Silent prayer can be traded for daily Mass; and either, if I’m not feeling up to meeting the Lord’s gaze quite so directly, can be traded for spiritual reading, journaling — even sometimes blogging.

Missing Mass this morning meant making up for it this evening. I procrastinate a bit, pay some bills, and retire to my Writing Cave in the attic. I take out my Bible, my Josef Pieper, my journal.

My goodness, it’s the last page. I look at the first one: how old is this journal? How far have I come? The first entry is dated June 26, 2011. It’s too maudlin to reproduce here, but it’s full of a quiet complaint: I am lonely; I have been lonely so long; when will I stop being lonely? Are others so lonely? Is there something wrong with me, that I’m so lonely? Is there anything ahead but more loneliness?

I’m astonished to find that things are not like that now. I write in my journal a record of gratitude, looking around my mental landscape to see how many people I love, how many love me: Thank you, Lord, for J and B and A and B and M and J and C and N; Thank you for Father T; Thank you for my family.

Now my question is different. Do others have so many to love, so many who love them? Why have I been given so much? Why doesn’t everyone have a Father T, someone to call at any hour? Why doesn’t everyone have friends around them who surprise them with more welcome and understanding than they can believe?

I don’t understand my own heart. In the midst of gratitude I still feel the ache of the old grudge: if I’m done for the moment being angry at Him for seeming to abandon me, now I complain that He gives me too much, and not enough to the so-many others who need help so badly.

O Lord our God, says the antiphon from Monday’s Compline, Unwearied is your love for us.

It’s a good thing, too.

I spent a good chunk of the morning and afternoon soaked in brake fluid, gear oil, and sweat. I wanted to tell you about that mainly because it makes me sound awesome. I’m not especially mechanically inclined, but I am fairly cheap, and I won’t deny that working on my motorcycle1 makes me feel like a stud.

No, actually it makes me feel like a petulant child about 80% of the time — please, please can’t you just work this time? Pretty please? — but the other 20% is great.

My neighbor, one of the frequent sunbathers I mentioned recently, happened by while I was working and introduced himself. Always nice to actually talk to a guy like that.2 I don’t mean because Golly gee, he’s talking to meeee!, but because any kind of human contact with The Envied tends to very quickly deflate the stories I sometimes tell myself about them. Later on I knocked on his door to ask for a quick hand with the job I was doing, so that makes a nice inroad to neighborliness.

Took the newly-functional bike to the Adoration chapel3 and then to Denny’s, where I sat for the next four hours doing some long-distance work for an old client from my freelancing days. Quickly came to the realization that I had no steam left for the bonfire I was invited to tonight.

Once I would have forced myself to go because (1) YOU HAVE TO BE SOCIAL and (2) WHAT ARE YOU, SCARED OF PEOPLE?, but between the physical and mental work of the day and the fact that I seem to have thrown my back out yet again, I just didn’t want to do anything besides go home and blog.

It’s much easier to be by yourself on a Saturday night if it’s by choice and not by accident. Otherwise the shadows start swarming: You have no friends, Nobody likes you anyway, You’re going to die alone surrounded by Taco Bell wrappers, etc., etc. None of those things are true, of course, but they sound true occasionally, if you give them an ear. The trick being never to give them an ear.

So, if you are alone tonight, cheers. If it’s by choice, good for you for not feeling like you have to do something just because you’re expected to. If it’s not, then you’re probably going to die alone, but maybe not for a few years yet!4 No, but seriously: don’t listen to the shadows. Just say some prayers and then go read a book, write a letter, call a friend, and try to remember that all of the fun times people look like they’re having on facebook account for about 1% of their weekends.

The other 99% are filled with Taco Bell and nameless angst.

1 See how I just worked that in like it weren’t nothin’? It’s a recent acquisition, my first bike, a little older than I am, and very wonderful all around, but it keeps breaking.
2 Where “like that” means “muscle-y and extremely good-looking.”
3 Who doesn’t think Catholics on bikes are doubly awesome?
4 Although you really should have a doctor take a look at that lump.