These days of distancing, mask-wearing, not hugging and isolating, people are talking about loneliness. Not the existential sort of loneliness, but missing the actual physical connections with one another. When you live alone, this is magnified. I used to be able to go out and connect with people in cafes, at musical events and other social occasions. This has been less available. Whenever I met a friend or acquaintance in public, we hugged. No more.
In the film, Shall We Dance with Susan Sarandon, her character is sitting at a bar and talking to a male acquaintance. She is experiencing some challenges in her long-term marriage. She says to him that the thing she found to be invaluable in her relationship was that the two are witnesses to one another’s lives. This really struck me as something important. Perhaps crucial to one’s well-being.
If you aren’t married or in a relationship, then you have to construct friendships that support this need. Extended family and therapists can also be witnesses–it’s not necessarily that we want to be fixed, rather we want to be truly seen and heard. A few years ago, a well-meaning friend trying to console me around the loss of an older gentleman friend, quoted a yoga sutra–something like, “We are going to lose everything–our bodies, our lives, our friends and family.” I thought, if this is meant to comfort me, it’s falling way short! Don’t I already realize this at some level? I took it as her saying, so don’t take it too seriously. Maybe she wasn’t comfortable with my feeling sad and wanted to dismiss it with a wise but inept saying. I responded by saying, “We are here now and we each face challenges and we learn how to be with them or take action around them. Grief is part of the human experience and it’s immediate for me.” Reminder to self my need is not to be fixed or judged. Rather, can she/he be a witness to my experience, to my life in a compassionate way? Can I be that for him/her?
I realized this morning that my feelings of isolation have more to do with not feeling so witnessed. That, at the end of the day, my occasional cynicism is about not voicing what goes on in my daily life to someone. When I meet a friend, I notice how I fast forward talking about my particular life circumstances because I don’t want to sound ungrateful or like a complainer. The message to myself then is that I need to minimize my life stuff in order to accommodate someone else’s potential discomfort. I might conclude that this friend doesn’t want to hear about what’s really going on with me which may or may not be true.
When someone else has a seemingly larger problem, that doesn’t diminish my or your need to be seen or heard. We’re not supposed to be so smart and so wise as to not face challenges over the course of life. I think that we’re meant to learn, grow and come to a place of self-understanding and self-acceptance/compassion. At what age can a person finally say “I’m completely together.” Age doesn’t necessarily equal wisdom. We’re still humans with needs. This is alright. Some things we handle alone, with other things there is benefit in sharing.
My friend asked “Are you feeling better?” “No, not really,” I say. She offers “It will pass,” which disallows what is here and now. Sounding to me like a dismissal again–as if she’s saying, “I don’t want to hear more of your pain. Can we move on to something else.”
I might be judging her responses too harshly. It’s likely that few of us were trained to feel comfortable with another’s grief or know how to best offer support. And, we’ve lost the ability, it seems, to just listen.