Every so often, on an odd Monday night, after a conversation with a friend reminds me how much I love this school, I’ll return to Marina Keegan’s “The Opposite of Loneliness.” It might be one of my favorite articles ever written. It is certainly my favorite article ever published in the News and it has aptly become required reading for every graduating class of Yale seniors.
Keegan’s point is simple: “We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness.” But that is what Yale feels like, what we fear losing when we grow up and enter the world of long commutes, promotions and grown-ups. Don’t let my use of the word “grown-ups” deceive you. I am extremely comfortable teetering on the precipice of adulthood. I just tend not to look down.
It seems self-evident to declare that I’m scared of being lonely. Who isn’t? We were made to be social creatures, to join mock trial and improv. groups and student bands just to find a family, to fall in love so we have a warm body to sleep next to on a cold New Haven night. But what I’m concerned with isn’t solitude.
I have grown to enjoy silence, the spaces between conversations, a Saturday night spent in bed reading “War & Peace,” solo bike rides up East Rock. What I fear is the sense that I can no longer countenance loneliness. I have become so accustomed to the opposite of loneliness that its resurgence will be debilitating.
I worry Yale has made me worse at experiencing loneliness, not that it hasn’t taught me to appreciate solitude or rest, or even that I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m lonely. Rather, it has made me unaccustomed to the eventual presence of a profound loneliness in my life. The moments when the world breaks and you have to put it back together all by yourself.
I fear the nights like the Monday before fall break. I hated how vulnerable it made me feel, how much I missed my friends and family. I went through a number of people in my life and listed the reasons as to why all of them were inaccessible: traveling, indisposed, having a wonderful time that I did not want to interrupt. I hated how difficult it was for me to sit mired in those feelings, telling myself I should be better than this, I shouldn’t have to need anyone.
More than anything, I was afraid Yale had bred a co-dependency that I would never be able to break. Loneliness should be nothing to me. I should be comfortable having no one to go to.
I hesitate to bring up dialectics, but perhaps what I am gesturing at is the opposite of the opposite of loneliness, the negation of a negation, a synthesis. In experiencing loneliness and its opposite in equal measure, or at least in some dialectical conjunction, we ascend to a degree of comfort with our subjectivity and our need for intersubjectivity. Consciousness as a glass prism with an open face: in other words, an aspiration to emotional independence.
We evolve through this dialectic, becoming the type of people who are both adept at solving our own problems and at reaching out when we are drowning, the people who are neither oppressed by loneliness, nor connoisseurs of it — just the type of people for whom loneliness is a moot point.
Maybe people like that don’t exist. Perhaps I thought too much about Nietzsche and then too much about human perfectibility and found another reason to think about my inadequacies. But I fear Yale has led me further away from emotional perfection than I’ve ever been.
There are few places in the world where I feel so remarkably, unbelievably safe. It is the assurance that if I fell, there’d be a community of people to catch me. I wonder if I’d feel the same as a graduate student.
I know it must seem ill-conceived to take one of the best things about Yale and distort it into a personal failing. Who said any of my projects have been well-conceived? If my logic were consistent, would it be better to surround ourselves with silence, space and rest, and immerse ourselves in sensory deprivation tanks? Why bother with the distractions of human noise and sensory experience? Better to get accustomed to the sensations of death while we are alive. Till we are “Roll’d Round in earth’s diurnal course / With rocks, and stones, and trees.”
I don’t mean to preach some kind of self-imposed solitude as a lifestyle choice. Or to make it seem like I’m not grateful for the communities I’ve found here. I just don’t know how I won’t depend on them anymore.
Last week, a friend told me that you retire on your memories. I’d never thought about it like that before. To retire is to become comfortable with nostalgia, to give up on the illusion that you can recreate the past. Or the only things that matter are the recurring or persistent things, a form of radical gratitude that makes no claims to past experience except as past experience, the notion that our memories can protect us from a fear of loneliness in the moments we choose to immerse ourselves in them.
It was the middle of my sophomore spring semester. In the midst of the treacherous cold, I walked to the top floor of the old Edon house and stepped into a room full of all my favorite people from The Good Show, my sketch comedy group. We talked for what felt like three hours about our recent show, about the seniors’ post-graduation plans, about how much we’d miss each other. I came up with the idea for Lynn K Din, a human parody of LinkedIn in that room. Then somebody handed Kyle Mazer a microphone and said, “Karaoke.” An hour later, Will Gonzalez and I were dueting to Adele’s “To be loved.”
I was grateful then. I’m still grateful now. To be loved.
PRADZ SAPRE is a senior in Benjamin Franklin College majoring in Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry and the Humanities. His fortnightly column “Growing pains” encapsulates the difficulties of a metaphorical “growing up” within the course of a lifetime at Yale. He can be reached at email@example.com.