Recently we had a discussion in a comment thread about loneliness. It’s not something I’ve written about much here before, so Anya (@letthelovein on Twitter) kindly volunteered to write a guest blog – on loneliness in a world of desire…
When everyone else is ‘at it’; the shame of loneliness in a world of desire
Honestly, you can’t get away from it. There’s a new article about today’s hook-up culture at every turn.
Half the time they’re warning us against it, half the time saying how bloody marvellous it is that women can enjoy ‘zipless fucks’ with the best of them.
Wait, you’re not having sex all the time, in fact several times a day, with different people you’ve only just met? Holy shit, how do you even look at yourself in the mirror? What’s so wrong with you that people are not prostrating themselves at the altar of your bed-stand?
God forbid you’re looking for more than someone who’s back on Tinder right after you have sex. As the author of The New Rules of Sex, Lauren Brim, pointed out in an interview with The Telegraph last year:
“I looked around and saw there were many single people around me, all of them attractive, talented and intelligent people,” she says. “Some of them hadn’t been in a relationship for years.”
There are times when I wonder if it’s more socially acceptable to say “I want to get laid” than it is to say “I’m feeling really lonely”?
This thought struck home after one woman’s courageously vulnerable comment on a guest post by a male escort;
“.. Hiring an escort, for company or sex, when my own personal life is lonely and dating seems like an impossibility .. well, it would feel like a final nail in the coffin of my own humiliation. Paying someone to pretend to like me for a couple hours? Paying someone to sleep with me because no one else will?
“It’s not the taboo of sex work, it’s more the fear of forcing yourself on someone who sees your company or your body as a chore. That’s just … it’s too much to bear.
“The bare bones of the shame of self doubt/loneliness etc etc. is far more taboo a topic than the concept of hiring male escorts is, tbh.
“It’s not about the stigma of paying for the sex or affection you want, it’s about the stigma of admitting to why you’re not getting it in your personal life in the first place.”
The pain of loneliness isn’t just about not getting laid; the shame comes from feeling unwanted, untouched, undesirable, invisible.
If it’s raining men/women and you’re still bone dry, loneliness feels like a personal failure: it confirms your worst fears about your lack of desirability.
In an interview for her new book The Sex Myths: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality, Rachel Hills addresses the stigma head-on;
“We’ve moved from a culture in which we were told that sex is bad and dangerous and should only be had under very particular circumstances, to one in which we’re told that sex is pretty great, really – and if you’re not doing it, something must be wrong with you ..
“We are told that our desirability and likeability is tied up to our sexuality .. Because why wouldn’t it be if there are no barriers any more ..?
“But the reality is that many people go for long stretches of time without or between having sex, especially if they are single.”
Not that those who are having all the sex are having a completely better ride of it. In Nancy Jo Sales’ controversial article Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse” for Vanity Fair, a group of young women share that
“It’s a contest to see who cares less, and guys win a lot at caring less”;
“Sex should stem from emotional intimacy, and it’s the opposite with us right now, and I think it really is kind of destroying females’ self-images,” says Fallon.
“It’s body first, personality second,” says Stephanie.
“Honestly, I feel like the body doesn’t even matter to them as long as you’re willing,” says Reese. “It’s that bad.”
“But if you say any of this out loud, it’s like you’re weak, you’re not independent, you somehow missed the whole memo about third-wave feminism,” says Amanda.
Talking to another group of young women, this time in Delaware, Sales reveals that for some young women, the sexual freedom they’re experiencing doesn’t even have the expected pay-off:
“A lot of guys are lacking in that department,” says Courtney with a sigh. “What’s a real orgasm like? I wouldn’t know.” They all laugh knowingly.
Loneliness isn’t just lack of company; it’s about not having our emotional and physical needs respected, acknowledged and met. It’s about our sense of value.
I’m not going to patronise you and give you tips about how you should ‘get out more and find a hobby’ (although competence in an activity often brings a more general confidence). But I am going to make five points which I truly, deeply, hope will help;
#1 – You are not alone
At your loneliest, when your bones feel waterlogged with loneliness, shame, self-loathing, sorrow, when you ache to feel the touch of another on your skin, remember this:
Right now, at this very moment, as you read these words and your sense of shame burns the very air you breathe, on a planet of 7 billion other humans, someone else is feeling the exact same way RIGHT NOW.
You are not alone. If you take nothing else away from this article, take this.
As someone whose lifestyle and health means she can go for days without seeing or speaking to another human being (let alone being touched), it brings me a strange comfort to know that while I may be alone in a physical sense, my fears, feelings and emotions connect me to hundreds, thousands, MILLIONS of people.
I may never meet them; I may pass them on the street and never know. It doesn’t matter. The very fact I’m going through what I go through (whatever it is), is proof that I’m a member of the human race.
Even if that sucks royally at times.
#2 – You are normal
“Love will never be certain, but after collecting thousands of stories, I’m willing to call this a fact: A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all men, women, and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.
When these needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We grow numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. There are certainly other causes of illness, numbness, and hurt, but the absence of love and belonging will always lead to suffering.”
So seriously, yes, you’re normal. Whatever the state of your love and/or sex life, whatever it is you do or don’t do, I hereby give you permission to give yourself a break from feeling like you’re different from everyone else. OK?
#3 – You need and deserve support
Yes, you do. On both counts. While we tend to think of Relate as an organisation for couples, they welcome single people, too. Not only do they have a sliding scale for fees to ensure accessibility for the widest number of people possible, they also have a free web chat service with a trained counsellor.
One of their counsellors with over 25 years of experience, Andrew G Marshall, has written The Single Trap, a fantastic resource for both the newly and long-term single.
Other ways to find support, or to just receive sensual, consensual touch? Try Biodanza (great for renegotiating your relationship with your body), Cuddle Workshops (check out this hilarious review by The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage) or even good ol’ Tantra.
All too tree-huggy-hippy-shit? Then White Mischief, glorious purveyors of immersive party and cabaret experiences, now hold retreats “exploring community, connection, intimacy, performance and self-expression” in August and February each year.
#4 – You deserve self-compassion
“We see things not as they are, but as WE are.”
We’re our own worst critics. We compare and despair on a daily basis, regardless of whether it’s helpful or not. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever come across is, ‘don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.’ We can never know what other people are going through, and appearances can be deceptive. Yes, they can. Are you keeping up appearances so no-one knows how lonely you’re feeling? Guess what, other people do that shit, too (see point #1. AGAIN).
Rejection, whether it’s real or perceived, is painful (literally). Don’t add to it by rejecting yourself, too.
#5 – You are enough
“There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy .. the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not worthy of connection”
It’s so easy to overlook this detail, and it can be a tough one to swallow. But write it on your mirror, put a daily reminder in your phone, tell yourself it anyway: I Am Enough. I Am Enough.
I Am ENOUGH.
Feeling like a sexual loser in a world full of hook-ups and hot stuffs can be lonely, debilitating and shameful. Remember: you’re not alone, you deserve support, and you’re already enough no matter WHAT may or may not go on between the sheets.
Regardless of our gender, our orientation, whether we’re feeling lonely or not, it’s time for us all to remember that.