When I was about 13 and starting to realise how messed up I was, my uncle who is a therapist introduced me to some concepts from Transactional Analysis. I can’t remember the exact things he said, but the gist was that people needed to be with people. Strangely, that was some kind of revelation to me at the time.
I think I received mixed messages about this from my parents and society, but I know that when I was a kid I often thought that I should be okay without being with anyone. I certainly didn’t have a concept of sociality being something like food or water, where I needed a certain amount within a certain time to feel okay.
My uncle’s advice would eventually prove to be good, though in the beginning it messed me up almost more, because I then started to ignore any reasons I didn’t want to be with people and tried to force myself to be with them despite those. Unfortunately, being with just ANYONE doesn’t work either; it needed to be people who felt good to me.
Also, to begin with I think trying to be with people made me a bit of an energy vampire, because I was just trying to fulfil my needs and wasn’t aware of subtler matters of energy flow between people. I was being needy and not aware that I could fulfil their needs too without losing my own energy.
Finally, being alone was not the ONLY reason I was depressed, and I think for a very long time I expected being with people to make me feel better by itself when actually, I needed to do other things to feel better too.
So there are all these reasons why trying to be with people can be problematic. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it.
In recent times, I’ve often heard messages along the lines of “don’t look for happiness in other people”. I hear it a lot in spiritual and self-help circles, though I guess it’s a message which can be found subtly in society at large.
In particular, the last time I suffered a very painful breakup, well-meaning people told me to learn to be happy alone. I actually tried to take their advice, but then I began to sink into a very deep depression. The depression lifted instantly, however, when I realised that I just didn’t believe those people. I do need people. I even need romantic partners. A life where I’m supposed to be content alone sounds like hell to me. Suddenly when I chose these beliefs, life started to feel more hopeful again. I was no longer being untrue to myself.
Recently, I mentioned on Facebook how I had met a sweet guy, and how he had made me happy. I then got a comment on that saying, “You shouldn’t depend on other people to be happy.”
These ideas annoy me so much. I believed them for so long. But screw it, this guy did make me happy. And I’ve been trying to be happy without people, and failing. Can someone give me the secret of being happy alone? Because I haven’t found it in years of seeking. In fact, I believe there is none.
Sure, it can be good to not depend on a single person. It can be good to not depend on the approval of people who want to impose social conformity on you. It can be good to balance time with people with time to yourself.
It’s also true that you can go so far as to be needy or an energy vampire. But the opposite of that is not being completely indifferent about whether you’re with people or not. The opposite is being balanced, centred, and aware of how you are using your energy.
I recently heard about Adult Attachment Theory. I don’t know the theory in much depth, but one of the basic precepts is that we continue to need people after we are children, and in the same basic way (few can deny that children suffer horribly if they are left alone). When I read that, it felt so very true for me. Are we really so different from children? I guess we need social contact a bit less… but I figure not so much less, actually. Perhaps we just get better at coping with self-denial.
We need friends, family, romantic partners, whoever can fill that role, and we need them as much as a child needs their mother. Okay, we are better at taking care of our physical needs than children are. But take away our loved ones, and the world becomes bitter and cold and hostile and crushingly meaningless.
So I can’t take anyone seriously who tells me I need to “love myself first” or “learn to be happy alone” before I find a romantic partner or some similar sort of close friend who can fulfil my needs for deep intimacy and attachment. I don’t think there is any enlightenment in self-imposed solitude, quite the opposite in fact.
Looking at things from a wider perspective, I see that this message that we should be happy alone is pervasive in society. So many things are pushed on us as being more valuable than friendship. Money, of course, and the things you can buy with it. Education. Conformity. Social status.
When we are kids, we are taught how to say “please” and “thankyou”, how to cross the road, how to defer to authority, but we’re not normally taught how to be a good friend. We actually often learn to keep our distance, and to remain isolated from each other.
I’m feeling this particularly strongly in Germany, a culture which is famously cold. The contrast is great from the place I previously lived, in Northern Spain. While a Southern Spanish friend was complaining about how socially cold that place was, it was still a lot warmer than Germany.
Here, it seems rather a lot of effort for me to maintain a social life. I sometimes wonder whether everyone else just has too many friends to have time for me, or whether they’re doing the same as me, sitting at home wasting their free time on Facebook.
I went to a vegan picnic thing a while back. I went alone, expecting to make friends there. I looked around at the people, each sitting in their own little groups. Only a group of people who turned out to all be from other countries returned my gaze; I sat with them.
Bottom line is, we all like having friends. We like contact. We like approval and recognition. We like sex. Why can’t we do what we like, if it costs us nothing?
Advertising seems to know what we want. Different buyable items will, apparently, get you more social status, more friends, more sexual relationships, whatever. It seems to me, that some people would rather us not get what we really need, because it’s not profitable. Instead they want to redirect those desires into more lucrative (for them) channels.
So fight capitalism by recognising your own need, and fulfilling it. Don’t fill the hole in your soul with useless trash, but fill your life with meaningful connections. It’s not the ONLY ingredient to happiness, but I think it’s a damn important one.