I have been meaning to write about this for a while already and I think in earlier blog posts I have already mentioned or referred to this. I think it still deserves its own article, though. Not to mention that after having been sick with the flu for over a week and only just beginning to recover I have had some time to think about this subject. Namely that of being lonely and alone in a world full of people who seem to at the very least not dislike you.
The first time I began to think about this issue in any concrete manner was while watching the (in)famous anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE), which - must be said - is not for the faint of heart. The main character in it (Ikari Shinji) grows up alone for most of his life, with his mother and father busy with a research project. His mother dies during experiments after which Shinji doesn't see his father for many years, until suddenly he gets called by his father. He's needed. The setting of the series isn't important, but what is important is how Shinji feels: abandoned, socially and emotionally insecure and uncertain.
I felt a lot of sympathy for Shinji the first time I watched this series, and I still do. Despite the best efforts by those around him to make him feel welcome, they quickly decide that he's an unruly, unsympathetic boy who will just never get along with people. The truth of the matter, however, is that this is the complete opposite from the truth. Years of solitude have led Shinji to build up a shield around himself to protect against the harsh, unforgiving world around him. Trapped inside this shield he cries out for warmth, for a loving embrace, for someone who'll break through his defences.
Yet every time someone comes close enough, these defences ensure that this person will get hurt, resulting in them concluding that Shinji doesn't want them to be close and thus they retreat again. Every time Shinji is thus abandoned, further increasing his loneliness and feeling of being abandoned. This continues until finally one person understands what is going on and manages to break through his defences. She calls what Shinji is dealing with 'the hedgehog's dilemma'. The moment someone comes close, one can't help but raise one's defences, which will inevitably injure that person.
After the decade following the first time I watched NGE I have come to recognize a lot in another character in this series: Rei. Due to her background as a (medical) experiment and being raised in a sterile environment, she has virtually no emotional side or feelings despite being intellectually very mature. This in many ways reflects my own youth and move into adulthood: detached from my emotional side, unable to connect with others in any meaningful way. In many ways these Shinji and Rei characters overlap, which is why they begin to turn into good friends as the series progresses. Who else can fully understand what it's like to be so lonely than another person who is just as lonely?
Growing up I found myself unable to associate with children of my own age. I found solace in intellectual pursuits and the consumption of hundreds of books, preferably as difficult as possible. With the internet I read up on anything related to science and technology, making me intellectually far more capable and well-versed than people many times my age. Yet I was still lonely. Nobody came to me to hang out. I never went to anyone to hang out either. At school I wanted to belong with others, but nobody was really interested in hanging out with me, or gave up soon after I showed little interest.
I dislike being lonely. I like being alone at times. I often think about what it would be like to have friends, before realizing that I have never been capable of actual friendship. Anyone who tries to be friendly to me inevitably ends up getting hurt or gives up on me after a few attempts.
Maybe it's a feeling of not really belonging. I can be plenty friendly to others and yet there is only one person in my life I would consider to be an actual friend, incidentally someone who has gone through the same kind of loneliness as myself. Maybe that's at least part of what's required: a matching life experience. A kind of compatibility which becomes more rare the more unique one's life experiences become.
Not to mention the prickly (hah!) topic of relationships. I can honestly say that I have zero interest in a (romantic) relationship at this point. The past decades have involved a series of painful lessons realizing the many sources behind what I thought was 'attraction'. Much of this was merely a desperate search for myself in the faces and bodies of others, trying to glimpse fragments of that which I had lost or perhaps never known. The other part was disgusting, instinctual carnal lust, something which still fills me with a sense of loathing at the mere suggestion.
In the end what it all comes down to is finding at least one friend with whom one is compatible in terms of life experiences, mutual understanding and intellectual goals in life. Anything beyond that is mere decoration and the subject of irrelevant details.
To just about everyone I'm still a hedgehog: cute to look at from a distance, but don't get too close or you'll injure yourself. And I'll feel as ever so terribly sorry and lonely for causing so much pain and hurt in this world.