Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Loneliness - A Guest Blog by Mark Shapiro

Dear Ariela,
You asked me for my take on loneliness (a great topic, by the way), and I came up with this:
In the fall of 1969 I moved into a small duplex on Venice Beach. It was the first time in my life that I lived without roommates or family. I loved the house and the location—it was perfect for me, and I even rented it sight unseen. I was so sure of its perfectness, the sight of a bloody sofa and the story of a double murder/suicide in the unit only a month earlier had no effect on me.
My first few days there went without much ado. I busied myself with all the details of moving into a new place; finding furniture, cleaning, painting, obtaining utilities; and just settling in. All went well for a few weeks until I started to feel uneasy. I felt a need to interact with people, but there was nobody nearby whom I knew, so I walked around the neighborhood until I met a couple of junkies. They were nice enough fellows and they even invited me up to their apartment and let me watch them shoot up. What the hell, it was company.

A few days later, they introduced me to a friend of theirs, a wild-haired artist who drew pictures of rockets and airplanes. I invited him to my place where he showed me his work and I bought one for a few bucks, but I didn’t think it was very good. I was uncomfortable with him in my house and wanted him to leave. In his psychosis, he could see my discomfort and he enjoyed the power of the torturer. When the junkies discovered I had a car, they wanted me to be their chauffeur. My need for company had a cost and I discovered that I didn’t like paying it.
I chose to be alone and it wasn’t easy. I desperately wanted to interact with others. The pain was intense. Where was it coming from?
At the time, I hadn’t a clue. But the pain needed to stop. I sought out friendships with anyone who was “normal” to ease the discomfort that just wouldn’t go away. A friend who was a psychology major told me that humans are social animals and the need to be around others is genetic. I didn’t find that answer very satisfying.

Another friend said I was locked up emotionally and needed to learn how to better express myself. I liked the idea of loosening up and spent the next two years studying theater. It was a lot of fun, but the nagging fear of being alone stuck with me like a shadow on a sunny day. Being a romantic, I thought the answer could be found in true love. I spent 20 years in various romantic relationships in my  next effort to keep the loneliness away, and it worked! Sort of.
A long-term relationship ended and I took on a roommate to cushion the blow of being alone again after all those years. But something had changed. I now wanted to be left alone. What had changed? Was the fear of that desperate feeling replaced by a desire for solitude? If so, why?
Psychologists may tell us that our genetic coding or unresolved issues of abandonment cause loneliness, but I don’t agree. On the surface they may be correct; however there may be a much deeper source.
How could it be that many of us have felt a deep and painful sense of loneliness while being surrounded by people? We are obviously not alone, so what exactly is wrong? It’s not people we want so much as a sense of connection. If we’re around a group of people and feeling alone, it’s because we’re aware we are not joining or connected, and the feeling of safety and belonging associated with it. This seems painful because we have isolated ourselves to the point of near incarceration. However, the awareness of isolation itself is not painful, but the effort of beating that awareness off is. In other words, the sense of non-connection is actually true.

In an effort to keep that unwelcome truth at bay, we make friends, find lovers, drink and use other drugs, -- all to distract ourselves any way possible.
Here’s the capper: even though I said that it’s true that we have isolated ourselves, and are totally alone, we are not. It is our individualized self that is always setting itself apart from others by comparing and judging, that actually wants this separation. Joining would actually weaken that sense of self, or so it believes.
Aloneness is a concept based on a belief that it is possible to be separate, or separated from something else. If I believe that you are different from me, it would then be possible to be separate. On the other hand, if I believe that you are no different from me, then logically, we must be joined. As distasteful as this exercise might be, just try and imagine that everyone in the world is exactly like you. Difficult, isn’t it? That’s because we value our uniqueness above everything else. And the cost of this value is the effort it takes to keep the awareness of being alone away from our consciousness.

Most of us try to go back and forth, from oneness to uniqueness and back, etc. Logic tells us that it’s impossible to have both at the same time, so the “compromise” we make is to vacillate. The problem is that the part of us that wants to be separated from others does not like exposure. It tells us that if we should join or connect with anyone or anything e.g., an idea, God, a favorite person, our most valuable possession will be lost­—­our personal self. The idea of this is very threatening, and we interpret this fear as loneliness.
Often, the pain is so intense, that when we do actually join or connect with another, others or anything, the memory of losing one's self is quickly dispatched. And we're able to escape from loneliness.
However, once we start feeling that we are compromising our self image,  ideals or values that are important to us,  in favor over oneness, we are back to where we started in the first place -- separated. Lonely.
So Ariela, the next time you feel lonesome, try sitting with it and looking honestly at why you want to be alone. You may find a list of pros and cons. Weigh them out in your mind and ask yourself if you made the correct decision. There are no right or wrong answers. Honesty is the key. Shedding light on darkness is never painful; only our resistance to truth is.
Yours truly,

Photo from

About Mark Shapiro: Mark was born in Los Angeles in 1948. He lived in California until he moved to Hawaii in 1991, where he currently resides. What happened during this time is of no consequence; the events are only stories.

When Mark was 8 years old, he liked watching old movies. At 65, he still likes watching old movies. On his 12th birthday, he surfed for the first time. At 13, he learned to play the tuba, which he enjoyed. He no longer plays the tuba but continues to surf. 

Mark was never fond of going to school, until he went to college, where learning was fun. He was one class short of earning his degree in Radio, Television, and Film, but didn’t care because he was working in Public Television. One of the programs he produced was about car repair. He later left television and went back to school to learn auto repair. He set up a business to help people learn about automobile maintenance and diagnosis.

In 1988 he retired because of health issues. He currently drives a 1990 Toyota Corolla Wagon with a 5-speed transmission. It’s the best car he has ever owned.

- Ariel Murphy


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. What a wonderful and rich contribution!

    "It’s not people we want so much as a sense of connection." - the crux of the success of FaceBook! Virtual friends from all over the world!

  3. Great Addition to your Blog Ariel. I Love living alone! I also like to socialize.

  4. I for one, enjoy my togetherness time, my socializing time AND my alone time. I enjoy [need?] them all.