I pass this pavilion often on my way home at night. It’s tucked away in a park so I only see it from a distance. It’s brightly lit against a backdrop of dark trees, and the turquoise blue restroom doors stand out against the white brick. It’s a beautiful structure in my opinion. And seeing it at night fills me with an incredible sense of loneliness.
For months I’ve been trying to unpack this mystery. Why does this building make me lonely?
Recently the answer hit me–loneliness is wanting things from other people.
The bright lights and lovely doors seem to cry out, “Come enjoy me.” But it’s night and it’s dark and I should probably be in bed already and it’s possibly illegal to be in the park that late so of course I’m not going to stop. My not stopping makes me feel lonely on behalf of the building.
The loneliest I’ve ever felt in a traditional absence of connections sense was in college. I was smart and funny, and it seemed absolutely no one wanted to date me. My friend group wasn’t cohesive, and my closest friends all had significant others which amplified my awareness of not having “my person” I could rely on for companionship.
In college, I often ate alone and spent evenings alone. I enjoy being alone now, but at that time, I was on a small campus where my being alone was observable to all of those around me. Their knowledge of my being alone made me even lonelier.
I don’t experience loneliness the same way now. I’ve been in a long term relationship for twelve years. I teach classes and am involved in lots of different communities in Atlanta: the improv scene, my acting studio, my gym. Still, I experience loneliness.
Loneliness for me now seems to strike when I want things–opportunities, recognition, praise–and this mainly occurs in my creative life. I want to be cast when I audition. I want my students to love their class. I want people to come to my shows. I want my creative partners to be as excited about our projects and committed to them as I am.
Sharing my art endeavors with others often feels like serving my heart on a platter. I picture my heart as peeled tangerine–one that’s rolled around the floor a few times and been picked at so the skin is broken and the flesh spills out.
“Here’s a damaged piece of fruit that’s my heart,” I want to tell people when I start doing something creatively with them. “Please don’t hurt it.”
I don’t say that. Instead I take the risk. My experience of loneliness may be wanting things from other people, but the converse also sounds lonely–not wanting anything from anyone. And I couldn’t accomplish much if I didn’t rely on people.
So I’ll continue to serve my damaged tangerine heart and pick it up when it’s occasionally dropped on the floor. Or I’ll be like the building shining brightly into the night beckoning people to come to it–standing solid and continuing to shine even as they drive by.