If you're single, most people you encounter will assume you are, but if you admit it, they will likely become uncomfortable. It's an unmentionable for clergy, a confession that might hurt or puzzle your congregation, or encourage them in inappropriate matchmaking attempts. The very nature of it leads you to believe that you are isolated, that you are the only one who has ever felt this way.
Of course, we have all felt lonely – yes, even the married people. You probably already know that, intellectually. We single people are just the ones who are actually asked, "Aren't you lonely?"
You can't win on this one, by the way. If you say no – even if you're being honest – the questioner generally assumes you're lying. Or crazy. Or somehow deeply faulted to the point of being incapable of having a relationship. If you say yes – especially if you're honest – you get pegged as that poor, needy, desperate woman. What ends up being communicated is something like this:
- Being single means you are alone.
– It is bad to be alone, even if you are happy; besides, it's not possible to be happy when you're alone.
- Since it is impossible to be satisfied in singleness, you should want a partner…
– but you shouldn't want one too much.
The truth is, most of us have moments of both no and yes when it comes to loneliness (which I suspect is true of partnered people as well). All the well-intended, "helpful" suggestions in the world probably won't change that. The question of whether we should feel lonely is a moot point; emotions rarely obey our shoulds. On the days when we preach and teach about the importance of community, and then send our congregants home for quality time with their nuclear families while we return to empty parsonages, it's hard not to feel like there is something not quite right with the world.
As an extreme extrovert, I've surrounded myself with reasons not to be lonely: a sometimes grueling work schedule, the band with whom I perform, volunteer activities, and a vast and varied social circle. Even so, I still find myself alone, and sometimes not entirely happy about it. I've begun to suspect that the answer is not finding yet another activity to fill that time.
I write this from a hotel room in Montreal, on another of my favorite diversions from loneliness: the random road trip. Today I had the pleasure of visiting the Cathedral Marie-Reine du Monde. The pleasure came not just from the beauty of this structure, a replica of St. Peter's in Rome, but also from the silence of it. Not that there weren't people there; there were many, but aside from the soft footfalls in the aisles, it was quiet. People sat, separated by rows of pews, heads bowed or lifted toward the domed ceiling, each of them in solitude, and yet so very not alone.
It is quite probably that some of these people are often lonely. Perhaps that was even the subject of their prayers, the longing that drove them to that lovely space. But in that time, solitude was not their enemy. They radiated the peace of people who are not alone.
We may sometimes be lonely. We may sometimes feel isolated. But solitude is not our enemy. We are not alone.