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Sociability • Confidence

On Feeling Painfully Different

Much is said about the virtues and pleasures of individuality – of being someone who stands out from the crowd and delights in their particularity. But let’s also admit to how frankly lonely and frightening it can be to find ourselves (yet again) in a peculiar minority, where the differences between us and others strike us as bewildering rather than emboldening, when for example:

— Everyone wants to gossip but we prefer generosity and forgiveness.

— Everyone is at ease but we’re melancholy and self-conscious.

— Everyone is cheerful but we can’t let go of anxiety and apprehension.

— Everyone is confident but we feel suspicious and ashamed of ourselves.

— Everyone seems contented in their couples but we are still searching for a home.

— Everyone worries passionately about the future of the planet – but we feel cold and at times almost indifferent.

— Everyone seems to love life, but we’re not sure we quite do.

Painting of a young girl gazing out of a window
Robert Lewis Reid, Girl at the Window, 1885

At such times, we might benefit from a few thoughts to alleviate the isolation: 

— We don’t know reality as well as we imagine. What we believe ‘everyone’ is like may not be how they really are. We may have more friends than we think.

— We are getting statistics wrong: these four or eight or twelve people in a room don’t represent all of humanity. The 80 or so people in our social group are a miniscule part of the story. There are still so many friends left to meet.

— Perhaps our existing companions actually know much more about the material we feel alone with than we suspect; they, and we, simply haven’t found a way to share our selves.

— Maybe they will feel what we feel one day – just not yet.

— It may be fine to belong to a minority. Minorities have sheltered some of the most accomplished spirits. Isolation may be a price we pay for a certain complexity of mind.

— We have art to bridge the gaps between ourselves and others. Bookshops are an ideal destination for the lonely, given how many books were written because their authors couldn’t find anyone to talk to. 

— Maybe there are people nearby – perhaps in this community – who would understand very well indeed.

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