I’m sure that I am raising a subject that has been practically trampled flat by the intellectual tread of masses of scholars far more erudite than myself, but it’s something that echoes in my mind, and an element of human nature I share an uneasy relationship with; Why is that I so quickly reach out for contact when moments of quiet descend on me? Why am I not more comfortable with my own company than with others, why am I gregarious, not isolated, expressive and not inward, open, and not reserved in my emotions. Most importantly, why does that sentiment turn back on itself when I finally get the social interaction I need?
There is the reductionist explanation, that we are born of communities, and evolution favors the togetherness rather than the alone for increased chances of survival. Explanations given by drawing simply from biological imperative are usually true to the mark, and in my stonier moments I’ve claimed that all else, poetry, love, art, music, is mere salad dressing.
However I am not entirely a slave to my impulses. I defy daily the back and forth of instinct – most notably the desire to do harm to those who hurt those I love, which is a prodigious moebius strip if there ever was one. Life is nothing if it isn’t conflict with our primordial selves.
There is the cultural imperative, born of base instinct perhaps, that trains us from birth to explore and learn via interaction and conversation, and that to be shunned by peers is an exile of the worst type. Mother and father and ones siblings form the first community, a stepping-stone to larger and no less complicated groupings as we age.
I frequently shun contact in a social groups, so that explanation is hardly consistently applicable. A good Burnham-style question is ‘Have you ever been in a room full of people and still felt utterly alone’ to which the answer is invariably ‘yes’. There is never more a feeling of loneliness than when being misunderstood on a crucial personal concept, and solitude is never more inflamed than when we are fundamentally unable to communicate with those we feel would best comprehend.
These, or any other explanations I’ve found, are inadequate as to the conundrum of social experience. As much as I know I need my space alone, I want to be with others. Then I achieve that and I don’t know what to say or do, my identity feels like a tangible thing to be asserted and defended, and its ethereal nature becomes frighteningly apparent. Then I crave quiet again, and all age has granted me is the slightly expanded perspective that I will again be unhappy on the other side.
And yet loneliness persists. “The loneliest sound in the universe is other people making love.” I couldn’t agree more, as it’s the empathy coupled with memory that tell me what I’m missing.
Single notes in music are ever more poignant and painful than a flourish of noise, because they remind us that we stand apart even when we stand together.