Over the past year and a half or so, I’ve found myself thinking that it’d be a good thing to let people into my life more, so, you’ve probably seen me writing about relationships with people a lot. In a small way, I’ve sort of stepped out to connect, talk, and just get to know the people I’ve been meeting. For a long time, I showed no interest in getting to know anybody, so maybe it’s a small improvement. Some are students I’ve met at the university, others are women I’ve met by various means. I’d like to share a little about the loneliness I experience, and my attempts to overcome it and have more of a social life.
It’s extremely difficult for me. Surprisingly, I make friends easily. I’m on good terms with pretty much everyone I meet. Nobody dislikes me. If I’d rate where I think I stand in their eyes, most would either be neutral toward me, or slightly positive. That’s not really my problem. The thing is, I don’t connect and relate to the people I meet. None of it ever feels right. When I reach out, that feeling of “this isn’t it” becomes even more apparent than it used to, and I can see why I sort of burrowed into my own world years ago. I sort of just gave up on relating or enjoying other people’s company. I’ll try to paint a picture of the sort of loneliness I experience.
I’ll go to get my haircut and there will be all these men in the barber shop. Sometimes they’ll all get to talking politics and I won’t agree with anything they’re saying. They’ll discuss their right to pack guns everywhere they go, how the poor and immigrants are responsible for the U.S.’s current fiscal mess, their disdain for universal healthcare, and those sorts of things. The worst part of it is, their “opinions” are just regurgitated talking points from political pundits and television news.
I’ll visit with my family and they’ll tell me, “Jason, you need to get out more. Come to our church picnic.” After a lot of hesitation, I decided to go to one. So I made it to the park, pulled up to their pavillion, and right as I got there, a man came up to me and said, “Can I ask you a few things?” “Sure.” Then he pulls me aside and asked me if I believed in the devil. I said, “No. I don’t think the devil exists.” Then he looked at me with pity, “You know, the greatest lie ever told was that the devil doesn’t exist. He’s out there and he’s deceiving you.” That’s the basic gist of how I was treated and the general tone of the conversation with people there. It’s not, “Hey Jason, it’s so good to see you! How you been?” I’m just the heathen, backslidden child who has lost God, and they all just look at me with pity. Not much of a good time.
It’s painful for me to endure that. A lot of the church members were people I grew up with. I can remember being with all of them when they were younger, playing football and basketball together. We played video games together. We were all family then. My entire childhood revolved around those people and that church, considering I was the pastor’s son. Now it’s like I have this mark on my head, almost like a contagious disease. Many of them are so steeped in religion that they fail to realize that I’m the exact same person I was then, and that the same love I had for all of them as a child is still there. I have so many memories. I can remember crashing the arcade, rollerblading, paintballing together, and everything else. Considering the memories and good times we had all shared together, it’s painful to think that now, just because my beliefs are a little different than they were, it’s all gone. I’m just sort of cut-off and forgotten.
At the end of my late teens, the whole social world I had been a part of as a teenager, with the church and all that, all that came to an end. I couldn’t believe in any of it anymore, so I stopped going. Then I graduated high school and all my friends moved off. So what did I do? Like most lonely people, I was totally absorbed in my work, and it wasn’t work I was particularly enjoying.
I was hoping to become very wealthy so I could pursue things I was much more interested in, but I saw that in order to achieve the success I was after, it would consume my entire life. My whole life would be business meetings discussing software projects, and I’d have a lot of long hours, alone, writing all the code for these large projects. And for years, that’s exactly what I did. Twelve hours a day, sitting in front of a glowing screen, writing all kinds of code for different companies.
I was making good money and I could have easily gone on like that. But one day I was sitting there in front of this glowing screen, and I started thinking about my goals at the time. I had them all written down in this notebook, and it was all so lonely and empty. My biggest dream was to buy a log cabin out in the middle of nowhere, next to a lake, and own all the land for as far as I could see. I didn’t want anyone around me. I wanted total isolation and no contact with anyone.
Then I got to thinking to myself, “When did I become this way?” Even if I achieved that kind of goal, what kind of life was that? I just went for long walks by myself thinking, “What am I even doing?”
After that realization, I just sort of quit it all, cold turkey. I very quickly cut off all my relations to that world, and I took what money I had saved up and spent years reading books. I went back to the roots of what I was interested in as a teenager. Philosophy, science, history, and all sorts of things. I wasn’t going to wait until I was old and tired before I pursued the things I’d always wanted to do.
And while I learned a great deal, this new life wasn’t really a very social either. Most of it was once again, me alone in a room, but instead of staring at a glowing screen, I was staring at these books. I read a lot of books. All I did was think. Think think think. Study this. Read this. Think about this. Long walks, thinking, thinking, thinking.
Then I thought, “I should do this sort of thing for a living. I should research the nature of space and time. Physics would probably be best. I’ll be around other smart people, we’ll talk, discuss ideas, and it won’t be so lonely.” So, I enrolled to attend a university.
I had a very romanticized view of the university. There were going to be these groups of students, sitting in open grassy knolls, discussing politics, science, and philosophy. I was going to meet these other intelligent minds and we were all going to go for long walks and discuss our ideas, help each other grow, and become lifelong friends. There would be intelligent women, and we’d also go for walks, and we’d discuss our lives, our interests, and our research. We’d recommend books to one another, fall in love, and have all kinds of sex. We’d save up money and travel together. She’d hop on the back of my motorcycle and we’d go visit beautiful places. And on and on. I had some beautiful plans.
Reality quickly set in though. I don’t want to be spiteful or mean, but I became disillusioned very quickly. I was surrounded by immature kids, ten years younger than me, and none of them wanted to be there. Most of them just wanted to play Xbox and Playstation and barely put any work into their studies. As for the women, they were immature, boring, and even worse, had no life in them at all.
I figured I’d make the most of it, so I went on some dates. On one date, we were sitting there talking, for hours. Five or six hours – a rather long time to sit and talk with someone. And we talked, a lot. Within that time, I got to know all kinds of things about her. I learned all about her career aspirations, things she’s into, food, music, and everything else. And you want to know something else? She never asked a single thing about me. It was totally one-sided.
University aged women I’ve met tend to talk about drinking games, movies, random things that happen which they find amusing, funny Youtube videos, Facebook, and their phone. They love their phones.
I was sitting with this attractive woman as she talked about her phone for an hour and a half. Suffice to say, it’s difficult to feign interest for that long. She had one phone that she had left in a taxi cab. Another phone she dropped in her toilet while fixing her hair. Her father bought her first phone but wasn’t going to buy her another one, so she had to get a job. So she saved her money and bought her new iPhone and wasn’t going to make that same mistake again. She got an insurance policy on it. Then she informed me about each and every policy available, in detail. Blah blah blah. Every ten minutes or so, she’d get a text from someone and she’d say, “Oh, one sec.” Then you’d see her working her thumbs, mashing on this little screen. We were interrupted probably ten times within that hour and a half.
I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to experience any of the things I had wanted. Very few of the students had enough interest in their studies to even do their homework, much less spend their free time further discussing it.
In fact, I sometimes tutored girls who would ask me to help them. Never guys, but I’d tutor cute girls 🙂 I can remember tutoring one girl in the library. She was so pretty. I was sitting right next to her and she’d look up from the paper, asking me if she did it right, and for a brief moment we’d be making eye contact. She was probably 20? 21? The physics was so easy to me, but I was easily distracted. I tend to space out, and as these girls would work problems, I’d just glance over at them and think, “My gosh. So beautiful.” Then they’d start talking. “I hated Calculus. I can’t stand it. I can never remember any of it.” Then I’d gently smile, “That’s ok. I’ll help you through it.” Then we were doing a physics problem involving work and the conservation of energy. She was so frustrated. “I hate all of this.” Strange thing is, I was having a great time. It’s a bit painful hearing someone say how much they hate the things you’re most passionate about.
I had always imagined sitting with a beautiful woman like that, she’s new to physics, and I spend an hour or two talking about how I became interested in the nature of truth, what can be known, the nature of space, time, and reality, and how interesting it’s all became, especially the further I’ve explored the topic. In reality, I sit beside the beautiful woman, she hates math and physics, has no interest in it whatsoever, and as she tells me how much she hates it, it feels like a strange time to tell her about how passionate I am about it, how I got interested in it all, and what it all means to me. It’s a very lonely experience.
I’ve had that experience happen in my life too many times to mention. I can remember in high school, I was a jock on the basketball team, and I was with this beautiful woman in the hallway. She asked me what I was going to do once I got out of school and I told her I was interested in computer programming. I thought computers were neat and would like to learn even more about them. She gave me this what-in-the-world look I’ll never forget and said, “Why would you want to do that?” I was too embarrassed to even reply.
Another woman I met at the university treated me strangely. She would randomly throw numbers at me and ask me to add them, multiply them, divide them, and so on, all in my head. I would and she’d just laugh and laugh. I didn’t know if she was just being playful at first, but she was actually mocking me. She told me I was a machine and then laughed. You know, she was the liberal, artistic type. She danced, and sung, and was in touch with her emotions, unlike us mechanical, droll physicists. I’d never felt angry toward anyone on campus before, but her, I was rather furious. I was going to say some mean things back to her, but I kept my cool and said nothing.
I realized that the sort of magic I was wanting, the group of friends which discussed important ideas, the fun, all of that, it was never going to happen. Like many things, it was all a fantasy in my mind.
The only good part of the university experience for me has been meeting and talking with the professors, who are great people, smart, knowledgeable, and very thoughtful. My experience with them has been that they’re very busy and not really in the mood to spend hours discussing difficult things with students. They’ll help you with your homework, and if you ask deep questions beyond homework problems, they’re glad to contribute, but you can’t just come into their office and say, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about this or that. What do you think?” They’ll avoid you.
I’m starting to hit that age where I no longer care. I feel myself getting older. Time is passing and there are things that truly interest me. I wonder why the stars shine, what the world is made of, how the mind works, what space and time are, the economy, how to build a better world, social and political issues, and a whole slew of other things. I have things I want to do and things I want to understand.
The sorts of people I’ve been describing are not really worth my time. I’m not going to try to get the pretty girl to appreciate physics. The artistic dancer can keep her narrow world-view and tell herself that her dancing and art is the only thing in life worth having, not unlike a religious fundamentalist. The religious folks can shun me if they want to. People can say I’m a machine. They can run me down for thinking it’s possible to infuse intelligence into our machines and build beautiful technology like Google and smart-phones. Whatever, I really don’t care anymore.
It’s coming a point to where if my relationship with you doesn’t bring me closer to the universe, if it doesn’t draw out curiosity, wonder, and awe for this existence, if it doesn’t help me grow, develop, or become a better person, I need to be spending my time elsewhere.
When I was recently employed to work in this lab to do research, I had this picture of meeting with this group of fellow scientists, all of us focused on solving important problems, sharing ideas, hanging out, and working together. I found myself in a place I’ve been before. I look around me and I’m alone in this basement, tediously calibrating equipment, mixing chemicals, and writing computer programs to analyze and take data. I was down there, listening to the hum of vacuum pumps and thought, “I’ve been here before. I know this place.” I stepped outside into the July heat, leaned against the physics building, and stared off at the clouds. “It’s not here either. I wonder if it even exists?”
I’m probably a very lonely person. Whether I’d know what it’s like not to be lonely, I don’t know.