This seems like a topic I’ve probably written about before here, but I’m too lazy to dig through the archives to see if that is the case. So, forgive me if I cover some old ground, but I’m sure I’ll add anew. I mean, can the final word ever be written on loneliness and solitude? Doubtful.
This likely wouldn’t even have been a topic had a friend not mentioned that he thought some of my recent experiences seemed “lonely.” I’ve been in out in backcountry of the West for some time now, and I’d sent him a few pictures along the way, including some camping spots with just me and my dog, as well as some images of me (and the dog) alone at the top of a peak or at a remote mountain lake. He asked if I was out here by myself, and I said, besides the dog, yes – that’s what he found to be lonely. My quick and true response was that it wasn’t/isn’t lonely, I’m basking in solitude. He replied with a “like” notification.
So, this got me thinking: am I lonely? At the time of writing, I’ll have been largely out here “alone” for about six weeks. Sure, I’ve had some superficial interactions when I need to go into town for some things, like grocery, gas, or take-out, and I’ve had some more substantive exchanges with the people whose houses I’ve rented, though, those have been treated largely like basecamps between my overnights and daily hikes into the backcountry. (I’m not a through-hiker any longer; too poor of a tent sleeper to handle it, plus the desire of marching long distances over multiple days no longer holds any appeal. Instead, I hike every morning, depending on the trail/terrain and what was done the day before, anywhere from 4 to 12 miles a day. On occasion I’ll camp, and this is usually for trails that are longer or more strenuous that I want to get a jump on early – in those instances, often starting between 5:30 and 6am. Other than that, I like to appreciate the comforts of four walls and a roof at the end of the day, not to mention an actual bed.
Upon return from my daily adventures, I do as little work as I need to during the afternoons, and mostly read and relax for the rest of the day. I’ve yet to venture into town for a sit-down meal or to post up at a bar, and honestly, I haven’t been moved to drink much anyway (but this isn’t unusual, as my drinking has decreased a lot since Covid started – the opposite of a lot of people. But as I’ve aged, I don’t really have a craving for drinking like I once did, because it ultimately ends in poor sleep or a groggy morning, neither of which I’m a fan of.) It seems that the social bug doesn’t bite me as much as it once did.
A while back, I read a book called “Solitude and Society,” by Berdyaev. In it, among other things, he talks about “the manifestation of purpose,” something I think I’m called to search for; we all are, really. Anyhow, it’s out here, disconnected from my workaday life and routine that I’m able to think about that purpose, not that I don’t think about it at home, too. It’s just out here, I feel like I am where I should be always, though, that’s easier said than actualized. Romanticizing certain situations and places is natural when you’re on vacation and in an idyllic area. Once, or if, it becomes your daily life, I imagine the luster wears off, no matter how charming the surroundings.
But me being fully aware of being right in the thick of middle-agedness, another topic I’ve waxed poetic on in these here pages, I think I’m trying to carve out what I want to do, who I want to be, and where I want to be a little more quickly than my nomadic, lost, and aloof younger self did. Say I’ve got 35 years left in me (which is being generous), and probably only 25 of those are good, active years (again, if I’m lucky), then I need to be making moves now to make the most of it. Plotting. I’m always plotting…
Long ago I committed myself to a life free of children. Not much after that I committed myself to avoiding marriage or any contractual agreement that would bind me to any life other than the one I carve out for myself. Now, this doesn’t mean I’m against a long-term relationship, but she’ll have to be pretty amenable to my desires if it’s gonna work out. I guess what I’m saying is that I prefer a life of solitude, but I want some of the trappings of the other world, too, just on my terms. It’s a lot to ask, and likely unreasonable. But at least I’m clear on it with myself, even if it may be the wrong hand to play in the long run.
There are a couple of unrelated, older men in my social circle, neighbors, or people from work, who are nearing the ends of their life and single, and none are too happy about it. One was never married, never had kids, and seemingly had a life of bad choices and bad luck from the completion of his master’s degree on, and now is in his late 70s, and falling apart more and more, day-by-day. He’s perpetually melancholy. Another has had three failed marriages, two kids, and two grandkids, and feels he missed his calling, and is now, late in life, trying to make up for it, but finding it mostly out of reach. Alongside that, he also aspires to have a committed relationship again, all the while still wanting his third and most recent ex-wife, someone who wants him in her life as a friend, but not as a spouse or lover. He is often in the throes of depression. Still a third has two kids, four grandkids, and remains married to his only wife of going on 50 years. They’re platonic and collegial, but the flame, and often it seems, their mutual understanding of one another, have long since faded. He often remarks to me that the only people who understand him and truly like him are his grandkids, all toddlers. I guess he’s grateful for them, even if he believes none of the rest of his family feels the same way about him.
No matter how you shake it, you end up alone, even if you’re in the company of someone else. If you can learn to rely on yourself, and appreciate being with just yourself, I figure you have a lot better chance of enjoying the time you’ve got left, even if grace does shine down upon you with a lover or close friends to share meaningful experiences with along the way, even if only occasionally. Until then, learn to enjoy yourself. You may find that you’re your own best companion.