NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, Recovering Shopaholic.
I mentioned what my upcoming topics would be in my last post, but I decided I wanted to write about something else first. It’s a subject that has been on my mind for quite some time and about which I have many thoughts… loneliness. In today’s post, I share some of my thoughts about loneliness, as well as a selection of my photos which evoke this theme. The photos appear throughout the post, starting with an introductory image that is one of my favorites.
In one of my earliest posts, I wrote about the reasons people shop too much. Some of these reasons have been explored in greater depth in stand-alone essays. I have touched upon the topic of loneliness from time to time, but I have never devoted an entire post to it. However, in recent months, it has become abundantly clear to me that loneliness is a major issue in my life and has contributed to my overshopping behavior. In addition, as I looked at the images I’ve shot in recent photo sessions, I noticed lonely-looking scenes showing up over and over again. Clearly, my innermost feelings are being conveyed through my photographs.
A Life Lived Online
I have become increasingly aware of how much of my life occurs in the online realm. Most of the communications I have with other people occur through this blog, various Facebook groups, email, and other virtual modes. I have very few interactions with other human beings face to face. While the virtual connections can be highly meaningful and fulfilling, when I want to get out of my apartment and into the world, I have very few people to call upon to share my activities. I would love to be able to beam one of my online friends to San Diego so they could share the day with me, but that sort of technology does not yet exist outside of science fiction movies or television shows.
The only person who is regularly a part of my real life world is my husband. While I’m lucky that I have at least one person to be with outside of the virtual realm, I wish I had a wider circle of connections in my hometown. At this point, I really only have two friends with whom I get together in person, and I see both of them infrequently. Much of the time when I go out and about, it’s by myself.
Shopping as Respite from Loneliness
One of the main reasons I chose to go shopping was so that I could be around other people. Those people didn’t have to know me or even talk to me, but I enjoyed being in the presence of hustle and bustle… and life. Sometimes I did talk to others in the shops, and I even mistook salespeople for my friends for quite some time. I craved connection so desperately that I took it wherever I could find it.
In recent months, I haven’t been shopping very much, my overspend in April notwithstanding. Shopping no longer provides either the fulfillment or the connection that I used to believe it did. At this point, I don’t believe it ever really gave me those things. It merely provided a diversion from thinking about and dealing with the things that were broken inside of me and in my life. I thought about shopping and clothes and occupied my time with related activities so I didn’t have to feel the loneliness and emptiness that were intensely present in my psyche.
Taking Photos and Loneliness
Taking photos has replaced shopping as my activity of choice over the past six weeks or so. When I leave my house these days, it’s usually to take photos or for an appointment of some sort. I often piggyback the two activities and enjoy a photo-taking session either before or after a visit to a doctor or other health care provider. I truly love taking photos and feel fulfilled by it. I enjoy having something to show for my time, and the fact that it doesn’t cost me anything is a huge bonus over shopping. However, it’s still a very solitary activity and unlike shopping, I tend not to talk to a single soul while I’m on a photo jaunt. I am quite introverted, so I generally float around like a ghost, snapping photos as I go but speaking to no one.
Up until recently, I wasn’t even aware of how deeply lonely I am. But when I was out taking photos at a popular tourist attraction last Sunday afternoon, it hit me like a ton of bricks. There I was surrounded by families, couples, and groups of friends… and I was utterly alone. The contrast was profound and I was struck by intense sadness and regret. How did my life get to the point where I have virtually no girlfriends to meet up with and my husband and I have no couples friends? How did I let things get this bad?
When I got home that evening and looked through my photos from the two locations I’d visited that day, as well as those from my photo spot the previous evening, I noticed a striking theme among my shots. There were many lonely looking scenes, including empty benches, quiet pathways, and desolate beaches. Without even consciously thinking about it, I had echoed my mood through the photos I shot. Photography is a creative pursuit and I was subconsciously using it as a way to express the way I felt deep inside.
Afraid of Judgment and Rejection
I’m not looking for a bunch of suggestions for how to meet new people. Although I know such comments would be well meaning, I’m already aware of most of those ideas but have opted not to pursue them. I have been both hesitant and fearful of putting myself out there. I didn’t want to be judged or rejected as I have been in the past. I didn’t want to have to explain my unconventional life path and my health challenges and restrictions. So I continued with the status quo without realizing what it was costing me.
But once shopping stopped being the “fix” it once was for me, I was forced to face one of the primary reasons it had become so compelling for me over the years. I was using it as a salve for my lonely existence, as well as a way of being connected to others at a pseudo level without having to risk being hurt. I could spend a day surrounded by people, perhaps talking to a few fellow shoppers or salespeople from time to time, fill my connection storehouses a bit, and leave unscathed. No one could really hurt me and no one could reject me. I never let anyone get close enough to wound me, and I could pretend to be an outgoing, friendly, and gregarious person in the make believe environment of the local mall.
I Don’t Have the Answers… Yet
This is not a post in which I will come up with “the answer” or a fix for what ails me. It is merely a realization of a problem that I’ve been sweeping under the rug for far too long. It is an acknowledgement of something that I need to change before it destroys me. No amount of new clothes, shoes, or accessories can replace the connection that other human beings can provide for us. Clothes can’t talk to us, hug us, console us, or engage us in meaningful conversation. We need other people for that… And as much as I value my virtual connections, I’m tired of living my entire life online. It’s time for me to venture out, take risks, and make changes.
The photos were just the beginning. They have helped me to acknowledge how deep the theme of loneliness cuts through to my soul. I was able to see in photographs what I wasn’t willing to acknowledge in my heart. I need to have a real life in the real world. I will continue to cherish all of those who matter to me in other cities, states, and countries, but I need to have some connections in my home town. I need to have people with whom to share a cup of coffee, a meal, a movie, or a walk. I need to have more people who I can look in the eye and share myself with.
Willing to Take a Risk
I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. I may start with attending a Meetup here and there, or I may opt to attend a church service or take a class or two. I know what all of the possibilities are, but I haven’t been willing to pursue them. I’m feeling more ready now, and I am willing to take the risk of being hurt. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the story goes. I’m tired of living like a ghost. I want to be seen, heard, and loved here in the town where I live.
I love all of you and will continue to cherish the connection we have. I love that I have so many readers who regularly comment and email me. But I appreciate each and every one of you who reads my words and is touched by them in some way even if you never contact me. You are the reason I keep writing and sharing myself and my journey here. If any of you live in San Diego or nearby and would like to meet me, I’m open to it. I’ve already made one new local friend through the blog, but she lives somewhere else for half the year and will be gone for a while. She took a risk and contacted me and it paid off for both of us. Such meetings won’t always lead to a “friend connection,” but we won’t know unless we try. I’m ready to take risks again with people – and reap some rewards.
Now it’s time for you to chime in. I’m sure many of you have felt intensely lonely over the course of your lives. I’m sure quite a few of you feel that way right now and may use shopping as a salve for your lonely souls as I have done for years. I would love to have a meaningful discussion here on the all-important topic of loneliness. I’m sure we would all learn from each other’s experiences and insights. We are all at different stages of the journey, so please feel free to share your thoughts.