The other day, my friend asked: “What’s your biggest fear?” I automatically responded: “dying alone”, cringing as I heard the words leave my mouth. It’s such a cliché response! And of course my friend immediately pounced on me and gave me the cliché retort to my answer: “every man dies alone… blah blah blah.”
I wasn’t thinking of literally dying alone though – as in not having someone
physically by my side while the last remnants of life slipped away from me. I’m not too worried about the
dying part of dying alone. It’s the alone part that scares me. I fear that by
the time I die, I will not have found true, unconditionally reciprocated love.
The fact that I felt like “dying alone” is a cliché of a fear, is reflective of
how common it is for people to fear loneliness. All people seem to have a natural aversion to
loneliness, after all, humans are beings who need each other. From the time we
are born, we need more care and protection than any other animal I can think
of. We are fragile and don’t have the same natural protections as wild animals.
We have no fur to keep us warm. We’re not fast enough to out run most predatory
animals. Except for some impressive par-corers, we don’t have the reflexes and
agility to make a fast escape in the trees, nor do we have wings to fly or fins
to swim away when we’re in danger. In short, if you take us away from all of
the collaborative efforts of the other people in the world, we are going to die
in the most pathetic lame way possible.
A while back, I watched a video of a Giraffe birth. The first moment of this creature’s
life was a four foot drop onto hard pact dirt. The little Giraffe not only handled
the fall like a champ, but it took its first steps within minutes of its crash
landing. A human baby can barely sit up without help for the first 6 months of
life. Clearly, we humans need each other in a way that most animals don’t. Our
relative frailty and dependence is a weakness to the individuals of our
species, but a strength to the species as a whole. The fact that we bond
together - care for, share knowledge with, teach and cooperate with one
another, is the only reason that our frail, hairless, uncoordinated species has
been able to survive and thrive. It’s through our social interactions that
we’ve been able to develop language to preserve and build on knowledge and
through cooperation have used that language and knowledge to manufacture our
own versions of fur, fins and wings as well as compensating for any other
natural endowments we lack. Thus, it seems like having a fear of being alone
just makes good sense.
Most people therefore seek out other people. I on the other hand, spent most of
my life dealing with my aversion to loneliness by avoiding people. I’ve always
worried too much about what people think of me -because I’ve always liked
people. (I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever met that I couldn’t see some
relatable or endearing quality in… even people that I don’t like or get along
with, I feel like I can at least kind of see why they are the way they are).
Ironically the fact that I cared so much rendered me painfully shy. I
would put so much pressure on myself to think of the perfect thing to say to
people to make them like me, that I couldn’t think of anything to say to them
at all and then I would chastise myself internally for being so awkward and
lame. At the same time I never wanted to put myself out there too much because
I worried that people would reject me and I wouldn’t be able to recover from
it. I think most people experience
social anxiety to a certain degree, but I had it bad.
I worried that if I exposed myself too much and was rejected by people, what
little faith I had in myself might be shaken to the point that I would just
become this dull cowering ball of mush. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy
though because whenever I was in a social situation I would freeze. I lacked faith in people. I didn’t trust others to accept me and appreciate me for who I was and at the same time I didn’t trust myself to act in a way that was worthy of appreciation or acceptance. I would be
the very lame person that I was so afraid of becoming, so I thought that was
who I was.
In the last couple of years, I’ve really started to come out of my shell
though. My job requires me to interact with people all the time, so I was
forced out of my shell and I translated that to my social life as well. I knew
that I could force myself to speak competently and confidently with clients at
work, so I made myself talk to strangers outside of work too, willing myself to
just fire out the first thought that was in my mind before I had the chance to muddle
my brain with self-doubt. When I wasn’t diverting so much effort into
protecting myself from ridicule, I let people I’d normally be guarded around
see what I was actually like and it turned out that most people liked and
I started to really enjoy talking with people. I started to seek people out and
my life has only become better as a result. Every once in a while I do get ridiculed
to varying degrees for stupid things that I’ve said or done. People sometimes
glare at me when I make a bad choice while driving or biking and I’ve heard a
sharp “what did you say?” or two when I’ve blurted something out that was
probably not phrased in the most sensitive way. There have, of course, been
instances where I’ve been rejected – be it getting turned down for a date or
struggling to find tenants to rent my house etc. Each incident that cast light
on my imperfections, would make me cringe, but it hurt less and less to be
rejected or ridiculed after a while because I realized at the end of the day, I
was ok. My life went on despite the fact that not every person I met adored me.
Enough people understood who I was and appreciated me for it, to make me feel
assured that I am a worthwhile person.
The more I put myself out there, the more I realized I wasn’t as fragile as I’d
made myself believe. As I tried new things, I discovered new capabilities I had
which made me feel more assured of the fact that I could rely on myself. I
could walk up to a guy and strike up conversation. I could fix the webcam on my
laptop. I didn’t need someone else to call and complain on my behalf when the
repair shop didn’t fix the issue with my car. I found out that I could fight my
own battles and take care of myself.
Now I am striking out on my own and taking charge of my life in ways that I
never have before, and though I do feel the nagging ache of loneliness at times,
I have enough self confidence to believe that eventually my perfect man will
want to be with me the way I want to be with him. For now though, I feel that I
can count on myself to bounce back after rough patches and press forward to
make my life what I want it to be.