The Cure for Miss Lonelyheart
Where are “your people?”
In the film Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954, marvelous), Jimmy Stewart’s character has broken his leg and is stuck recuperating in his Greenwich Village apartment. The entire film takes place in those couple of rooms — and, critically, in the courtyard and apartments of his neighbors that he can see from his window. He and his girlfriend, played by Grace Kelly, dub one of his neighbors “Miss Lonelyheart,” a woman who lives alone and can’t seem to find a man (watch this heartbreaking scene of pantomime where she sets up an entire dinner date in her apartment for an invisible suitor). She eventually starts going out with a cad who tries to force himself on her. She kicks him out and dissolves into tears. Jimmy and Grace watch her prepare a bottle of pills to down, but she is stopped when she hears the beautiful music that her neighbor is composing, having been moved by the song.
Aside from the Hitchcockian murder mystery that the film unfolds, much of the other humdrum elements of the story are about the day-to-day lives of people and their feelings of loneliness and desire for connection. A young woman (“Miss Torso”) throws parties in her apartment with oodles of attention from well-heeled men, but she isn’t really interested in any of them. A newly married couple comes home aglow and affectionate, only to quickly default to a pattern of her nagging and him avoiding. Grace Kelly has a fashionable girl-about-town job, but what she really wants is to settle down with Jimmy. A long-married couple bickers and the results end up sinister.
I love this film because it takes the “small” and prosaic (literally what the main character can see from his window in the day-to-day lives of people), and elevates it to something cinematically captivating, thrilling, and glamorous.
But back to Miss Lonelyheart…
Aren’t we all kind of Miss Lonelyheart, in a way?
You can feel lonely living alone, and you can feel lonely living with someone. You can feel lonely in isolation, or in a crowd. You can feel unbearably lonely in silence, or you can feel content. You can feel in deficit being by yourself, or you can feel full. The sneaky paradox of loneliness is that she is a universal emotion, and yet when we feel overcome by her, we are convinced no one else has ever known her like we have.
In some ways, loneliness has been a theme in my own life.
I am an only child. The way that played out is that I tended to feel alone, rather than the shower of over-attention and indulgence people often associate with only children. My mother left when I was ten, and from then on, it was just my dad and me. I had friends as a teenager, but honestly more often than not, I felt as though I was looking in from the outside. I had a hard time connecting with my peers. I was not a “typical” teenager or young adult. (Case in point: at 18, I would rather stay home and watch films like Rear Window and bake while twirling around the kitchen in a cocktail dress to Frank Sinatra.)
I am also an introvert. Now, as a 34-year-old, I like to say I am a "high-functioning introvert,” meaning I can act very outgoing and feel pretty comfortable in most social situations. But growing up, I was painfully shy. (Shy, and poised, a deadly combination.) I remember in my early 20s being absolutely terrified to go out and hear some music that I was interested in by myself. I really wanted to go hear that jazz, but I stayed home. I couldn’t. The notion of getting ready and navigating out by myself and finding a seat at the bar or restaurant by myself and ordering something and feeling the deafening pressure of strangers around me — it was too much.
As an adult, although I have had several serious relationships and lived with an ex, I am still alone. Facebook, that dangerous time-suck of self-comparison, tells me that most everyone in my peer group is attached. Mostly they have all gotten married, are having families. I wrestle regularly with the side-by-side paradox: I desire that in my life, and yet I am learning to be not just OK, but feel full and happy by myself. Those things are strange bedfellows.
All of this is to say: part of navigating the universal loneliness of life is having a strategy. We have to combat that confounding ability of loneliness to make us feel like we are the only ones. So, you have to find “your people.” What do I mean by that? I mean finding a group where you feel understood, connected, accepted for who you are. I mean even a small group where you feel some kind of easy kinship. Maybe that is around a common interest. It doesn’t have always yield the deepest best-friends-forever kind of relationships. Connection can run surface to depth. But hopefully we do find a few kindred spirits somewhere in those connections where the bond goes deeper. We all need that.
For those of you over 25, you may know how hard this can be as an adult. Childhood, high school, and college have a way producing automatic environments for connecting with and finding your people. However, those of you who have found yourselves single, moving to a new city, changing jobs, etc. as a grown up will know what I mean when I say that that can get much harder once you “age out” of those environments. Some have it easy: you marry your college sweetheart, your best friends are those you’ve had since you were 19, or 15, or even five. You still live near your family or where you grew up. But for those of us who boarded the Single Train in our 20s and rode out of town, you’ll know you have to get creative about connections if you get beyond your mid-20s and find yourself still in search of your people. Of course, the coupled also face the same challenge when they uproot and move somewhere new.
In my 20s, I (re) found theatre and dance. I had done these things in my childhood but had taken a break to get serious about school and other extracurriculars. Getting involved with these again helped me come out of my shell and find my confidence. In a beautiful twist of karma, I then became a teacher of these subjects and (hopefully) helped young people find their voices and confidence too.
Now, in my 30s, uprooted again and at a major life shift, I am asking myself again how I can “find my people.” Right now, it is two things for me: Transcendental Meditation, and dance. Wherever I am, and I will be six different places in the span of four months, these are the things I plug into. Meeting new meditating friends, going to group meditations, or going to communities where TM is strong, consistently produces meaningful connections for me. Additionally, wherever I go, I get online to find classes or dances that I can attend. Tap and tango! Is there a good tap class nearby? Is there a practica or milonga where I can go dance tango? With these things, at least I feel I have a formula to combat the loneliness.
What’s your formula? It could be anything. Spin class. Book club. Photography. Wine tasting. Mindfulness. The local audio society. Volunteering for a cause you care about. I personally think the formula should be simple: two good things you love doing. What gets you excited? How have you met the people you enjoy being with the most, or what do you have in common with them? Get out there and find that. Miss Lonelyheart would approve.