Have you ever seen one of those movies in which, at some point, one of the characters looks into a room full of other happy characters through a window? The character is all alone and unhappy and wishing to be a part of the group he’s looking at from the outside, both craving a connection to the ones inside and wanting to be included.
Those kinds of movie scenes usually end with the character walking away and looking really sad and I always feel for them. I believe that everyone can comprehend what that kind of exclusion must feel like and if that’s not the case, I seriously envy those who have never felt this way their entire life.
Truth be told, I often feel the same way as those movie characters. Now rest assured, I don’t wander around town by myself, looking through people’s windows like a creepy person. What I mean is that I often feel left out. Left out of what, you wonder? Well, your guess is as good as mine. I usually can’t really pinpoint the exact source of this feeling, it’s rather a generalised feeling of being left out and not belonging. It literally feels like I’m looking in from the outside, like my life is on hold while everyone else is out and about doing exciting stuff, socialising and having fun. I’m in a cage, exiled from the outside world where everyone else is going on with their lives. I know that the actual outside world is not as untroubled as that and that the problem I’m having is probably one of those first world problems depicted in memes, but that doesn’t make it feel any less real to me.
The feeling of being left out is actually closely linked to the fear of missing out (FOMO). The joint forces of these emotions usually urge me to switch from one social media platform to another almost obsessively in order to feel like I’m in the loop which, in turn, only exacerbates the feeling of being left out. In fact, (over-)sharing on social media is often a sign of loneliness (and/or boredom) rather than wanting to share an experience with a social circle.
I’m not saying that everyone who posts on social media is lonely − social media platforms are undoubtedly great for marketing purposes, sharing opinions, pictures and stories with friends and for making yourself or a cause you believe in heard. I just know from personal experience that the amount of time I spend on social media platforms increases whenever I’m either bored or feeling left out and lonely − or both.
I would like to emphasise the importance of distinguishing being alone from being lonely, given that the two adjectives mean completely different things. As an introvert, I don’t mind being alone and even actively seek alone time as a way to recharge. I don’t feel lonely when I choose to be alone or do something by myself. Loneliness, however, is a painful emotion. Humans crave the connection to others by default, which explains why the lack of feeling connected both physically and emotionally makes us miserable. Therefore, loneliness isn’t necessarily tied to being alone. In fact, I believe that the worst kind of loneliness is the one that hits you when you’re in the middle of a crowd. I could always relate to the following line of one of the many Placebo songs that helped me navigate through the struggles of my teenage and early adulthood years (you may notice that in this case, the word alone should be replaced by the word lonely in order to reflect what I explained above):
“I’m in a crowd and I’m still alone.”
[Fun fact: the lyrics also contain the line “The back of the class is where I was” which, incidentally, is where I always used to sit in class − so I guess you could say that the song was basically written for me 😉 …]
In short, loneliness can (but doesn’t have to) be caused by being alone and being in a crowd / amid people isn’t necessarily a cure for loneliness. The only cure for loneliness is the feeling of being connected. Sadly, it’s troubling to experience just how difficult it is to really connect to people in times when connection should be easy thanks to smartphones and the array of apps that are supposed to make connection easier − and yet here we are, lonelier than ever.