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I was driving through Utah, heartsick and trying not to think about “him.” Orange mountains and crimson plateaus painted the horizon, a Thomas Moran painting behind the thin shield of a car window. It had been nearly three days since I had spoken to another human, save for the Love’s gas station attendant who sold me a Cliff bar and Diet Coke. As the sun shifted above the canyons I began to plot where I could set up my tent for the night, once again sleeping under the stars. I was wildly alone.
This was a few years ago, back when I left Los Angeles for a brief stint of living on the road, and eventually Portland. The loneliness I incurred was smooth and poignant, like a cold stone plucked from a river bed. As someone who had just spent nearly three years living in one of the nation’s two biggest cities, this isolation felt especially strange. I was accustomed to filling my time with social media, emails, dinners with friends, informational interviews, and Tinder dates. At first the loneliness frightened me—but tonight, alongside the warm siltstone and sage, it felt like a friend.
Loneliness is a complicated emotion, and an even more complicated state of being. Obvious occurrences of loneliness pop up after a break-up, following job loss, when moving to a new city, or while traveling solo. Sometimes we feel lonely on a Friday night when we’ve opted not to make plans, or when eating lunch in a quiet café. Loneliness can occur even when we’re surrounded by individuals, co-workers, and even friends. (If you ever experience LA traffic, you understand.)
Despite these complications, we tend to associate loneliness with negativity. We fight the feeling with distractions, numbing ourselves from ourselves. Alcohol, drugs, sex, social media, and even work are all tools we use to distance ourselves from our vulnerability. Our cell phones make distraction instantaneous—simply plug in and you have apps that will allow you to find a date or a bar or peer into the seemingly perfect (and non-lonely) life of another.
But what if instead of distracting ourselves from our loneliness, we stripped away the negative connotation and leaned in? What if we accepted, or even welcomed it as part of our journey? While it may seem tempting to run away, it’s actually very empowering to lean into these feelings. I know. I’ve leaned in—and I kind of love it.
When you decide to enjoy your loneliness, you’re really deciding to enjoy your own company.
Have you ever meditated or been in a yoga class where the teacher instructed you to lean into your emotions? Rather than to criticize yourself for feeling sad/anxious/angry, you notice those feelings and see what they have to say? Loneliness is the same way. When we listen to our loneliness, we’re communicating with new (and often exciting) parts of ourselves. We’re accepting an invitation to learn more about our beautiful, limitless potential.
Loneliness creates room for creativity.
We can’t expect ourselves to have original thoughts when we’re constantly flooding our brains with outside stimulation. Plus, a hefty dose of moodiness fuels some of the best work. Do you think Adele wrote “Someone Like You” without a feeling at least a trace of isolation? The vulnerability that comes with loneliness lends us to connect with our art in new and surprising was.
The next time you experience a bought of loneliness, find a way to channel it into you art, whether that be photography, poetry, cooking, or songwriting. Transfer the emotions onto paper. Make the personal universal.
Loneliness allows you to check in with yourself.
One of my friends has a ton of houseplants. Every morning, he takes ten minutes to check them out, observe their growth, and see if they need some more water or light or darkness. I watched him do this one morning and after a minute of tending to his plant babies, he said, “Why don’t I do this for myself?”
Loneliness isn’t something we have to “deal” with—it’s a necessity. It allows us to check in and see what we need. Through loneliness, we develop an imperative connection with ourselves.
Loneliness enables the development of life and personal skills.
Before I lived out of my car, I had never set up a tent or built a fire by myself. When I first moved to LA, another one of the loneliest times in my life, I taught myself to build furniture, use a fancy camera, unclog a sink, and clean an oven. But isolation doesn’t omit necessity, and from necessity comes strength and creativity. Forcing yourself to be in something uncomfortable ultimately strengthens you, making you more independent and self-confident.
Loneliness is an opportunity for intimacy.
Of course there are great rewards in companionship. I have immense gratitude for my partner and my friendships—they add so much light to life! But I don’t think those connections would be as strong if I had distracted my more lonely moments.
Emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy is crucial for a healthy relationship. It’s raw to be lonely. And if we want to be raw with a partner, we’ve got to go on that journey with ourselves first.
Loneliness is part of being a human.
Our girl Whitney Houston said it best, “Loneliness comes with life.”
Physical and emotional isolation is part of being human. You can be strong, courageous, independent and still be lonely and insecure at times. It’s a real emotion and experience—leaning into that feeling makes you all the stronger. Enjoy your journey of being human. Welcome it. Give yourself permission to be.
After that long drive up through Utah, I spent a few more weeks couch-surfing and at campgrounds, savoring the loneliness and teaching myself about my own inner strength. Two years later and I’m still learning lessons from those experiences—that loneliness is tool in cultivating confidence and contentment.
It’s not the loneliness that was my friend. It was me—I was that friend. And I had the most intense, rewarding, delightful, scary, and raw time. Listening to our loneliness means listening to ourselves. And thus discovering all the wonderful things we have to say.
Amanda Kohr is the editor at Wanderlust. You can find her exploring new highways, drinking diner coffee, and on Instagram.