Crossing the Rubicon

Rohan Swamy
Saturday, 14 April 2018

Distinguishing between loneliness and solitude often involves crossing the porous borders separating the two, repeatedly

I was in the middle of writing a paper on the ‘Empty Man Syndrome’ and its real world implications when the thought struck me. I had recently written a piece extolling the virtues of doing things by the self and this paper that I was writing forced me to give the previous piece a complete rethink. It was also partly because of a conversation I had had with a friend based out of Hyderabad that my brain was racking up the thought.

Having moved to a new city and restarting life after a series of tragedies, she was altering between trying to find bliss in solitude and despising the feeling of loneliness that came along, as an uninvited guest. 

Doing things by the self helps define the boundary between loneliness and solitude. With time, the distinction would become clearer and the boundaries between them well-defined. 
Or so I thought. Both, the paper, and the conversation, however, had forced me to seriously rethink an issue that I thought I had a fair grasp on. I began contemplating, what happens to a person who has learnt to clearly define the two sides of the human emotional pendulum when they return to the realms of loneliness.

The thought led me to an article on ‘Psychology Today’ which delved deeper into the subject. The Empty Man syndrome, while commonly affecting the male population of society, also has deep implications on women. It concurred that social support is an important aspect of the process of rehabilitation of a person who is caught in the throngs of depression, is struggling to find the balance between loneliness and solitude and tends to return to the feral state of being lonely as it is an escape/ defence mechanism that enables the person to feel safe. 

The article delved deeper into understanding the cause of depression in men, but it provided me with a vital marker to understand why people, despite having found peace in solitude, continued to go back to feeling lonely. I realised that even though (with the passage of time), people tend to move ahead and find their comfort in solitude, there is a deep desire for companionship or social support. It is a thought that I confess I have altered between, myself. The reason, I realised was a simple one. Even though situations force people to move on, they don’t do so in the literal sense of the word. A person beginning from ground zero may initially find loneliness mitigated, owing to other intrinsic and extrinsic struggles, but once the struggles are accounted for, the person may revert to the original feeling as there is nothing new left to explore, or use, to divert the mind off the loneliness, back to solitude. 

This in turn would lead a person to withdraw completely from social life, despite being present everywhere and would cause the person to feel loneliness intensely until the next problem, or challenge, or struggle would arrive to rescue him or her back to the realms of solitude. 

Did I have a solution to the problem that both the paper and my friend had posed? Of course not. But it has definitely set me on the path to find an answer. And there is a good chance that the answer might come to me just like that on an early evening run, a trek through the mountains or a walk along the Grand Canal. 
Till then perhaps, it is important that we cross the Rubicon. 

(Rohan Swamy is a former journalist, writer, photographer, now working at Trinity College Dublin)

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