I’m a very lonely person. I’m also a person whose primary source of happiness is independence.
See the problem here?
Why is a single man in his 20s and living in the second most densely populated city in the country at home on Friday nights and weekends blogging about loneliness?
Loneliness is the #1 reason for my depression. Most of my negative statements or actions in the past can be directly or indirectly linked to loneliness. The elusive solution is more nuanced than the list below will suggest. I write about this because painful and unresolved negative emotions are generally expressed externally. Like other negative emotions, loneliness in its chronic state can result in physical health defects. In fact, lonely people die sooner. Most of us experience the feeling of loneliness at one point or another and this post will hopefully act as a voice for those who avoid admitting loneliness due to its social stigma. Later in this post I will touch more on loneliness as a taboo subject, but for now I will dive into the ten reasons I believe I will remain in this emotional state indefinitely. Since this is mainly a segue list and not a ranking list, I numbered these in ascending order to help readers reference.
1. Reconnecting with old friends is a real struggle.
As a UC Berkeley graduate, San Francisco and Oakland are the main de facto post-college locations for my college friends, but relocating from Sacramento to San Francisco in October 2015 didn’t lead to the reunion party I hoped for. Admittedly, loneliness was one of my fears upon relocating. That I would move to a city that is home to a greater number of college friends than any other city only to realize we’ve all diverged into each other’s social media backlog of former friends who will likely never again rise above the status of Facebook friend. We’ve seemingly entered an age where we see each other as online repositories of digital photos and status updates rather than as real human beings we can physically and emotionally connect with.
My effort to reconnect with college friends since moving to the city has yielded mixed results. Over the course of several months I successfully met with a few to catch up over brunches and drinks. But I’ve seemingly exhausted the list of college friends willing and able to hang out, one of countless harsh reminders that college is a distant memory. Even attempting to see the college friends I successfully connected with at first has been like pulling teeth, and I am now beginning to realize that people just grow apart when they enter new chapters of their lives, even if those new chapters are not set geography far apart.
If reconnecting with old friends in the city that the vast majority of them call home is this difficult then the future state of my social life appears to hinge on my ability to meet new people, which is not particularly easy for the introverted young professional. Even one of the college friends I briefly reconnected with said something along the lines of “How else am I going to meet people?” when I asked what persuaded her to use a dating app.
2. Loneliness and introversion: the feeling of being lonely enough to desire companionship but too shy for contrived social situations.
In my ideal social world I have a romantic partner living separate from me who I occasionally go out with or spend the night with...marathoning the Disney Classics of course. Together we experience the world in our own serene, intimate way. Sounds simple, right? But as someone who’s never been in a relationship I’ve never had this, and of course never having this makes it seem like the rest of the world does, particularly on holidays where couples flood social media news feeds with celebratory images together.
Socially, I’ve always excelled in group settings, but never one-on-one. Groups of people have often expressed flattering outward love toward me but individuals often seem to forget I exist. Occasionally people want me to join them for social gatherings, but never in my life have these social gatherings led to deeper connections with any one individual. This was true in college in the form of frat and dorm parties and remains true today in the form of slightly more sophisticated post-college get togethers. Social gatherings often go something like this: I arrive, enter small group conversations and even sometimes a one-on-one conversation with an attractive woman. But when the social gathering disperses and everyone goes their separate ways, that solo trip home I am left with that same empty feeling while remembering why my introverted self was reluctant about joining the social gathering in the first place.
3. Failing at online dating.
I’ve asked many friends who’ve paired up how they met their current partners. Some say “a friend/roommate introduced us and we just hit it off,” while others admit they met via a dating app. After the social gathering example in the previous paragraph it comes as no surprise that dating apps are staples in the millennial generation. Unfortunately for me this supposed new-age digital savior of one’s social stagnation is an arena which I’ve personally had no success.
For the better part of seven months I was an active member of Tinder, Bumble, and OKCupid, but despite numerous connections I failed to land a single date. Not one. I wondered why so many women swiped right and created great rapports with me only to vanish the moment I expressed any interest in meeting them in person. Or worse, why so many of them go silent after agreeing to meet. So it’s no coincidence that those apps no longer take up precious megabytes on my phone. I canned Snapchat too, but that’s an uninteresting and unrelated story for another day.
Failing at online dating in a city like San Francisco is especially telling of my dating ineptitude considering the number of complaints I’ve read throughout online forums from disgruntled women who claim this city severely lacks available heterosexual men without Peter Pan syndrome.
4. Failing at traditional dating.
The dating app world is not the first time I’ve experienced the disheartening phenomenon of developing great rapports that don’t evolve into meaningful relationships. In college I developed seemingly mutual attractions with many women who became dodgy when I asked them out. In fact, just about all of the women I asked out said “yes,” but then later claimed that “something came up” on the day of the date. Could both this and my dating app experience feed into the theory that people lose interest in those who show interest in them (video)? That showing interest in someone else subconsciously diminishes your status in the eyes of the one who catches your eye? Perhaps it is this major obstacle of the dating game I’ve yet to traverse: the idea that your only chance with someone is to somehow communicate your interest while understanding that communicating that interest will diminish your perceived value as you will be seen as needy.
5. My stubborn unwillingness to give up authenticity for social status.
It is often claimed that social status is a major factor of dating success for men seeking to attract women, thus my concern over the severe damage that simply communicating loneliness can do to a man’s perceived value.
This could be an example of how my eternal quest for authenticity gets in the way of my own happiness, or at least in the way of some of the goals I’ve convinced myself would bring greater joy. That in order for me to eventually succeed in dating I must shed this exterior of authenticity, fall in line, and play the traditionally manipulative game of pretending I’m of a higher social status than I am.
This brings me back to the ideal social world I described in the first paragraph of reason #2. I should add that my ideal social world is devoid of these games. Ideally, two people attracted to each other should be able to communicate feelings of attraction without fear that opening up is a sign of weakness. One can claim my independence is a cause of loneliness since I am stubbornly unwilling to conform to the fallacious culture of traditional courtship.
6. Race/Ethnicity and culture.
Growing up on the politically conservative side of a predominantly white and Latino town severely limited opportunities to date in both middle school and high school. Outside of the football team, members of my race/ethnicity had virtually zero chance of developing any relationship beyond casual friendship. “You look good for a black guy” and “[girl's name] says you look good for a black guy” are among statements I often heard from grade school peers.
Campus demographics were also not on my side during my journey toward a bachelor’s degree. While UC Berkeley is not as politically conservative as my hometown a large fraction of the student body comes from families with traditional backgrounds. These backgrounds act as barriers to a person of my race/ethnicity to ascend into a long term meaningful role in a woman’s life because a grim reality of dating is that success depends not only on mutual attraction, but being someone your prospective partner can one day bring home to mom and dad, and peers from whom she seeks approval. This can explain why women who expressed very clear interest suddenly wanted nothing to do with me whenever I hinted at wanting something meaningful. Occasionally a bold part of my inner self would manifest in the form of calling out one of these instances and the response is often honest but obnoxiously incomplete. The response is some variation of, “well, Raymond, I was interested at first but now I’m no longer interested,” without any particular reason for the change of heart.
Imagining what went through the minds of women I’ve interacted with throughout my late teens and early adult years is that they looked at me and thought, “I wish I can find a guy just like him, but with a cultural and socioeconomic background that both my parents and peers will accept.”
Sandwiched between grade school and UC Berkeley was a somewhat ethnically diverse junior college. My main issue there was poverty, which negated this short period of my life when race would not have been an issue had I been able to afford a quality of life greater than survival. Note that the human mind does not consider secondary needs such as dating important when primary needs must be addressed.
Simply writing this blog post is another barrier to social ascendance since loneliness is a taboo subject that few people are willing to speak openly about. They often suppress loneliness due to the rightful fear of being judged as “not good enough,” which leads to what I call the vicious cycle of loneliness: when an individual feels lonely resulting in the expression of negative emotions that drive away even more people. Communicating loneliness results in a reasonable fear that others will refuse to be around the lonely person because s/he is simply searching for anyone willing to associate with that lonely individual. Or the even worse fear that others will suddenly come around and willingly connect based only on pity for the lonely individual. This blog post is an attempt to break through that barrier and speak for those who feel the same way I feel. Based on the social media behavior of my online friends, there are both explicit and implicit reasons to believe many of you do.
8. I will finally admit that my standards might be too high.
In the past I often shunned those who claimed my standards are too high when responding to my dating misfortunes. I dismissed their claims as shallow and nothing more than clichés used to explain things that cannot be understood scientifically. Claiming to have high standards might seem odd for someone who just revealed a laundry list of social inadequacies that might paint him as someone who simply isn’t good enough. But truthfully I’ve attracted a fair share of women who I saw as very attractive. I don’t expect all prospective partners to be supermodels with PhDs from Harvard. But I’ve learned over the years that if authenticity is one of those standards then the list of prospective partners is almost entirely erased. This is not an accusation that people are inherently fake. It’s a claim that the system of courtship is set up to make it very difficult to be truly open, honest, and upfront about feelings and intentions.
“The realest people don’t have a lot of friends.” - Tupac
9. Sometimes it’s better to be bad than to be unlucky.
I am aware of the shortcomings I can improve upon. For example, I am aware that my own timid, passive personality has likely had a negative impact on my dating life as well as the possibility that I completely whiffed on opportunities that may have presented themselves (i.e. not realizing until it was too late that a woman was attracted to me). These are two examples related to growing up without a father and having to navigate the dating battlefield with no training.
Then there is that little thing called bad luck, which is a force that escapes no human being. But it’s important to remember that we don’t all experience the same levels of what we perceive as “luck,” whether good or bad.
Throughout my life I’ve met the most dateable women at the worst possible times. By “dateable,” I am referring to mutual attractions that had real potential to develop into something meaningful. I mentioned in reason #4 that the common excuse is “something came up,” but once in every blue moon in college a female peer would be the one to initiate the interaction and request a date or something similar. The problem is that I only seemed to meet these women moments before one of us graduated and/or relocated far away, whether she was a year ahead and graduating the very next month or I was a year ahead and graduating the very next month. Either way, in a month or two we would likely be too far apart to see each other in person in the foreseeable future, and in fact almost all of them I haven’t seen since. Having graduated from both a junior college and a university, there are several instances of this. Timing is everything.
But the example above is not the only example of bad timing. On one of the dating apps mentioned in reason #3, I connected with a very physically attractive woman with whom I share many of the same geeky interests. We got along so well that we took our conversation offline:
In the above conversation I say that I would not be available until after three weeks, which I mentioned because this dating app connection coincided with my trip to Paris. After returning from my trip I contacted her to reconnect, and this is her response:
But at least she didn’t ghost like the others. She deserves credit for that.
What can I say...dating is a business. Why should someone keep you as a prospect when a better one becomes available? Simply being at the right place at the right time makes you a better candidate.
This is why when I look at couples I think of how incredibly lucky they are. Their paths crossed at convenient moments in time, they were both available and ready to accept new people into their lives, by “hitting it off” they discovered their compatibility, and by fitting within each other’s sociocultural framework they realized they found someone good enough to be put in front of parental and peer judges.
10. Independence and the ironic state of feeling the most intense loneliness around others.
Despite the crushing loneliness I felt during my mini Eurotrip, I enjoyed the fact that I could get up whenever I wanted, that I had the hotel bathroom all to myself, and that I could create my own itinerary that I didn’t need to negotiate with travel partners. My daily life in San Francisco is similar. I wake up alone, spend most of the day alone, and go to bed alone, having experienced very little human interaction throughout the day despite living in the second most densely populated city in the country. I enjoy the peace, control, and avoiding contrived social interactions because truthfully I often feel even lonelier around others than I do when I’m alone. I understand myself; everyone else either doesn’t or they simply don’t care. I enjoy my alone time 95% of the time, but that other 5% can be crushing, which is why I dedicated this post to talk about that 5%. The rest of this website is dedicated to the other 95%.
Final Thoughts and Why I Write this.
Today is my birthday, which is another daily reminder that I will never experience young love:
The innocent vibrant passion where two people at their physical peaks form a tender bond with one another based on genuine desire. This as opposed to the need to be with someone based on societal pressure to find a partner upon reaching a certain age. The previous sentence is just a fancy way of saying that someone in the future may settle for me, but it won’t be the same and in fact will probably feel as empty as the interactions (or lackthereof) I experience today.
Loneliness has taught me many things about myself. First and foremost is to enjoy independence to the fullest because many people would love even a quarter of the peace and quiet I get. Another thing it’s taught me is self-examination. For example, as mentioned in the opening loneliness is the #1 reason for my depression and so I now understand my adulthood love for chocolate. Chocolate releases the same endorphins as love. I’ve essentially been medicating. I now understand why so many people in this emotional state genuinely believe that food is the person who both understands and cares and is there exactly when they reach that moment when they cannot continue to feel as empty as they do.
We all feel lonely at one point or another. When we experience this odd emotion we desperately want to communicate it to the rest of the world hoping that a superhero companion will come to our emotional rescue. But we suppress our feelings because we live in a world where perceived negative emotion works against us. As we approach the edge of expressing loneliness we come to the sobering reality that the likely result of our expression is an audience wondering what might be so wrong with us that drives everyone else away. So we ultimately suppress these feelings hoping to maintain a baseline status level that will at least give us a chance to form positive bonds with others in the future without being judged and defined by our loneliness. However, it’s important to not run from this emotion. Like any emotion, it gives us an additional clue to discovering who we really are, both in that moment and in general.
Before I end this I must state somewhere that the last thing lonely people want to hear is “you’ll find someone” without any objective evidence as to why the lonely person should realistically believe that fairytale.
Thanks for making it to the end.