Recently, Facebook claimed I had a new friend request, alerting my suspicions of some sort of privacy violation, as my strict settings are meant to keep people away. I primed my account to send a strongly worded email to security before my cursor spasmed over the “accept” button, obliging our short-lived virtual friendship.
I panicked, gulped down two glasses of chardonnay and thought about deleting my whole account before resolving to “unfriend” this co-worker and respond with sheepish confusion if asked about it (I never was). Although my number of online friendships feels like social currency exchanged for self-validation, drawing a smaller and smaller circle around my virtual and in-person friends gives me tremendous satisfaction.
“Can my circle get even smaller?” I thought to myself after unfriending 200 people I hadn’t spoken to in a decade. Yes, it could and it did. Once left with a measly 75 Facebook friends, I stumbled into bliss; finally freed from unsolicited political commentary and wedding invitations, I marveled at my home page’s emptiness, basking in the symbolic blue light reflected at me. Deepening the wedges of friendship to full separation was like acknowledging that my lackluster social skills solidified my self-imposed solitude. But the separation also created peace.
I can get good at being alone.
For me, solitude is like an endurance game — how much longer until I call my parents or worse, go on a date? It’s OK to cry, to feel helpless in order to continue practicing avoidance. My pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps family instilled the idea that I could only depend on myself, wisdom I had rejected for so long until I found myself alone.
I give myself permission to experience loneliness in this isolation, and I challenge myself to even love it and come to prefer it over the company of others. Days begin and end with rewatching depositions about tax fraud, which have become my ASMR, soothing away wrinkles of recollected awkward conversation. I like these scripts, which become soft lulls while I doze off or read, because I like knowing what comes next: Relationships sour, turn tumultuous and die. It bothers me that my dad just knows the unknowing — how long a marriage will emotionally last — and all I know is that the lawyer will interject after the pastor claims he doesn’t recognize his 2012 tax dependents.
Then, the thinking spirals: I’m not unhappy, just a little depressed, and I’m waiting for something like transcendence to begin because life and death are the same, both muddled with uncertainty. Aloneness makes me wonder, am I practicing dying?
I’ll cut my losses while I’m ahead. So, I proactively end relationships with a harsh ghosting approach embodied by the mantra, “B—h, get a clue,” because I’m thwarting off potential pain.
In my defense, we belong to a digital age in which finding relationships is reduced to an algorithm, easing the process. You don’t need me because there are thousands out there, and even if you really do need me, just say you’ve been arrested or that you’ve fallen and can’t get up (hire me, Life Alert) because I respond to urgent situations more than I catch up on life conversations.
I don’t hate people. I’m just tired and can no longer muster the emotional breadth to be good to them. In other words, I can’t feel guilty for being a bad friend if I don’t have any. I could blame my unresponsiveness on the unflattering images my depression breeds of myself, but really I don’t want to deal with the intense feelings friendship generates. Old age has withered me into a cynic, and though I’m abandoning principles of community and sociality, I want to survive.
Levels of evolution have taught us that mistaking someone for a friend could cost us our life. In fact, the last time I let my guard down and bestowed the coveted “friend” label, I almost died — at least, it felt like a death, unamenable even with large consumptions of Ben & Jerry’s. It hurt so badly that my subconscious condemned friendship altogether, and I resigned to relegating relationships into one of three categories: co-workers, acquaintances or family.
This isn’t a way of living that I espouse. People shift and build lives because most want closeness, a semblance of love in all its distinction. Self-love, platonic love, familial love and romance are powerful, and my trust issues don’t make them any less so. My Shih-poo, Lola, fulfills my threshold for emotional connection, but others may seek connectivity on social media; neither is the “correct” or “incorrect” form of being.
While I choose to be nonparticipatory to exclude the hurt that comes along when something ends, others are more resilient. I actually envy those who freely invite people in their lives without worrying about potential endings and those who move past rejections.
But I have gotten comfortable with my loneliness even though it looms large on weekend nights. When I can no longer fight myself and my senses are exhausted from being overwhelmed, I reach for my phone and compose a message to an old friend that I don’t send because too much time has passed. I could have done things differently, I’ll think, before slumping farther into my bed and massaging the lingering hurt.
Tomorrow will be the same.