Valentine’s Day reminds us to celebrate love.
But no matter how much chocolate we eat, how bright our flowers, how much we say that it’s a silly holiday, or how happy or unhappy we are about the state of our relationships, this love celebration often comes with some serious pangs of loneliness.
While we might fantasize that love is a cure for loneliness, and imagine that someday we’ll stop feeling lonely, or that other people don’t feel lonely, the reality is that love and loneliness go hand in hand; when we open our hearts to feel love, we also open our hearts to feel loneliness.
Loneliness does not mean that we are doing something wrong or that there is something wrong with us. Loneliness is not a contagious disease that we can ward off by never being alone or manically pursuing relationships. Loneliness is not a sin. Loneliness does not mean we are ungrateful.
Loneliness is not reserved for single people, depressed people and introverts. Loneliness is a part of every human’s experience, whether we are looking for a partner, married, the life of the party, or a certifiable hermit.
There is the loneliness of having a secret we are afraid to tell, the loneliness of illness, and the loneliness of being misunderstood. There is the loneliness of having a face, body, or brain that looks or behaves differently from the people around us. There is the loneliness of looking around at our family and wondering ‘who are these people? Was I switched at birth?’
There is the loneliness of feeling disconnected from our spouse, invisible to our partner, ignored by our lover. There is the loneliness of being the one who is financially responsible for our family and the loneliness of being financially dependent on a spouse. There is the loneliness of feeling imprisoned in a box of other people’s expectations and the loneliness of yet another ‘eat your carrots’ negotiation with our 3-year-old.
There is the loneliness of having to keep on living without that someone who is suddenly, or not so suddenly, just not there anymore. There is the loneliness of caring for someone who used to care for us, or for someone who no longer even recognizes us.
There is the loneliness of not having our perspectives on politics, religion, or life in general shared by other people. There is the loneliness of trying so hard to have our gifts and work valued by others, and still feeling unrecognized, unappreciated, and unseen. There is the loneliness of being alone on our path of life, with no one showing us the way forward, or telling us it’s going to be okay.
There is the loneliness of bad things happening and wondering why we seem to have been forgotten by God or the universe, or wondering why we are being singled out and punished. There is the loneliness of coming home to no one and the loneliness of feeling like we are trapped behind glass while the world goes on around us.
There is the loneliness of feeling disconnected from our own thoughts, feelings, and sense of self — a loneliness that comes in the shape of confusion, scattered energy, and a sense of being lost.
So, on this Valentine’s Day, as we open our hearts, let us also open our eyes to see that life is an endless arc between loneliness and love. We are capable of love because we know loneliness, and we know loneliness because we are capable of love.
It takes courage and strength to keep swinging on the pendulum. We may wish that we could stop time and hold on to that moment of love, and when we can’t hold on, we may be tempted to throw our hands up and simply define ourselves as all alone. But time marches on, and swing we do, in a journey through loneliness and love that is fluid and complex. We are alone and we are fully connected. And we are, all of us, in it together, everywhere in between.