We are Always More Capable Together

On loneliness, shared visions, and love

Can any of us ever become so self-reliant others appear redundant?

While this isn’t the way I approach life, I can see how much easier it would be not to need anyone else.

I do not like going it alone. It is dispiriting, exhausting, and stunting. Much as I enjoy my own company, it has never felt right or natural to me when it isn’t a choice.

I was forced to become my own best friend at a young age and throughout a very isolated adolescence when I sought refuge in books and languages, looking for a way out of an abusive home. I quickly found it in academia — which afforded me international mobility — and in the arms of a man nine years my senior.

Married at 19 and divorced three years later, I learned to count on no one but myself until I met my best friend around 1996. Supportive to a fault, he was always there for me wherever I was in the world. Alas, cancer killed him in September 2018. He was my North Star and I’ve felt utterly lost since then.

At this point in my life, this is a very sad realization. I got married again in 2013 and here I am, six years later, wondering where all this time has gone. After losing most of it to major depressive disorder that nearly killed me, I had to resign myself once again to the fact that I was quite alone for the duration.

The fight for mental health and survival is one I waged on my own — and on the page — every single day for the longest time.

This is American reality, the reality of millions of us too cash-strapped to afford the therapy we need and whose relatives do not consider sick but lazy.

And yet, I never once stopped believing in mutually empowering human interactions. Creative collaboration and shared visions are what our best life is made of because we are so much more capable when we’re not left to our own devices.

Intellectual symbiosis is something I experienced for the first time last winter when my mind collided with another and sparks flew. It gave me the strength to keep excavating my psyche and locate more missing pieces of my identity.

However, maintaining human interactions in the long term requires a level of curiosity, concern, and care many of us seem to have become incapable of. We’ve lost the ability to make time for others, to empathize with someone else’s plea, to share the unredacted nitty gritty of our daily reality.

Exploring our shared humanity means losing control of our carefully curated narratives and surrendering to vulnerability, and it isn’t something many of us embark upon willingly.

And yet, it is this very reluctance which often condemns us to loneliness.

Although endemic to our society, loneliness is still viewed as shameful.

Never mind that disconnectedness is a very real scourge, no one wants to be seen as a lone wolf, a misfit who lives on the margins of society.

Much as I have to remind myself I’m the only person I can ever truly rely on, it pains me every time I do. The little kid who looked askance at the world wondering why it was so cruel has grown into an adult whose heart is so full it’s always on the verge of bursting.

Love is the hallmark of everything I do and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Vocation makes my brain tingle, passion motivates me, and unexpected kindness from another human never fails to empower me.

To have someone take time out of their day to ask you about yours, to have them engage and listen with attention is the greatest gift.

And yet, I’ve often ended up in lackluster or abusive romantic entanglements that were more a way of escaping loneliness than joining forces or encouraging each other to achieve our full potential.

But two solitudes in parallel do not a relationship make.

Some self-help ghouls will argue that the only relationship you’ll ever need is with yourself.

This is so reductive and depressing that the thought of forever living an airtight, self-contained life or even ending up describing myself as my greatest fan or my own superhero makes me howl in agony. I like myself well enough, sure, but I certainly do not admire nor inspire myself.

That would be weird.

We all need validation, if only to prove to ourselves we’re not invisible.

Despite a start in life steeped in loneliness, I’ve always gone toward people. I’m that person who always gets asked for directions everywhere, the random stranger others pour their heart out to, unbidden. And I treasure every single one of those interactions as they reinforce my humanness, especially after depression sought to erase it.

Nevertheless, I still struggle to let anyone in. For the longest time, I believed love to be something you gave others and received from them in return, not something I could give myself.

Love was a transaction contingent on variables rather than the omnipresent force that rules the world. Love was sacrifice rather than a gift, love was subject to terms and conditions.

It’s not until I started listening to my heart that I realized love could only ever be free and unconditional.

To love another is to keep choosing them as they keep choosing you; to love another is to keep showing up for them as they keep showing up for you.

Love isn’t a prison; love is a pair of wings. Because the relationship you have with your own self does define all others, love starts with loving yourself, meaning that you have to stick those wings on your back first rather than wait for someone else to.

But once aloft, you’ll understand why there’s always a co-pilot as well as cabin crew on the plane. Individualism serves nobody and only leads to the fragmentation of society.

We all need one another to become our best selves and thrive, together.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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