What’s loneliness got to do with it?


Sex Panther

At Cocoon the other night, a short prompt, written on a small piece of paper, was handed out to the audience. We were asked to fill in the blank of “the last time I bounced back from something was…” Later in the night, amid some other responses, a submission was read aloud: “The last time I bounced back from something was when I realized that it was better to be alone than to be lonely in a relationship.” This statement was met with a sounds of agreement and knowing head nods. This got me thinking all weekend about what the connotations of being alone are here at Middlebury (and I’m equating alone here to not being in a relationship). I have decided on an amendment to the Cocoon-goer’s response — but first, let me explain what I mean by the “connotations of being alone at Middlebury.” 

First of all, it is a fundamental human desire to feel like you belong. Here, though, it seems like that desire is multiplied tenfold. Middlebury is a place where we are defined just as much by the people around us as we are by our accomplishments and the things we do. The population of Middlebury is pretty damn self-selecting, with the most important admission criteria being an affinity for the Green Mountains, a tolerance for sub-freezing temperatures and whether you like fair trade granola or not. There is a satisfying edge to talking about how busy we are — which breeds an almost gluttonous approach to life here at Middlebury. We are all so busy chasing success (working, socializing, generally over-achieving) and we congratulate ourselves for it, despite the hours of sleep we miss out on, the accumulation of darker and darker circles under our eyes, or the times that we forget to stop and look up at the changing fall leaves. My theory is that the Middlebury brand of loneliness comes from us being scared that being alone reflects that we are incapable of being truly successful here.      

Middlebury is a lonely place, more so at times for some people than for others. Still, while this loneliness varies in degree of severity, it might just be one of the constants of the Middlebury experience. Anyone who has experienced walking back from the library at 12 p.m. during winter finals  will tell you that the barren landscape doesn’t exactly foster a sense of community. I truly believe our deepest fear as Middlebury students is to be isolated, because isolation implies “aloneness.” Perhaps we fight to prevent the creeping sense of isolation by establishing safeguards that we then decide define success at Middlebury; staying busy doing something worthwhile, surrounding yourself with friends that you may or may not be happy to be defined by and — if the dating scene here/the universe so dictates — being in a relationship. Even when we establish these safeguards, we feel that there is something wrong with us which has rendered us isolated and alone because somehow the loneliness seeps in somewhere. Let’s face it, it is impossible to balance everything. People who aren’t in a relationship feel like they are missing out on what they’ve been taught is an essential collegiate experience, while people who are in a relationship feel like they are missing out on time with friends and feel isolated from their “alone” peers.  

Whenever the Middlebury loneliness comes knocking on my door, it makes me ask myself: What am I doing wrong? But I would never look at anyone that I love who is alone and ask them what they are doing wrong. Maybe the solution is to stop treating the people we surround ourselves with and the accolades we add to our resumes as vanguards against loneliness. Instead, we should use them as tools to get to the other side — belonging. Perhaps all we need to foster belonging is to realize that we all feel lonely. Talk about it, admit defeat and distress. Use your safeguards (friends, hobbies, engaging with things you care about) for catharsis, even if it just means feeling a little less alone for a couple minutes here and there. So, I guess my amendment to the anonymous Cocoon audience member’s response is this: I would rather be happy being alone but be honest about being lonely, than be unhappy in a relationship.