In a room lit only by the dim blue glow of his laptop screen, a man who regularly turns down rides to post-work happy hours and invitations to see old friends in order to get into his pajamas as quickly as possible and watch TV shows he’s already seen alone in bed was suddenly overcome by the horrifying certainty that he is not truly known or understood by another single living human being.
This man — who makes a habit of giving the shortest, least informative possible answers to questions like “How are you doing?” and “What did you do this weekend?” — found himself mentally racing through a list of everyone he has ever met, wondering why it is that they seem perfectly content to let him slip from the surface of their lives, even though he has never given them any reason to trust in or rely on him in any meaningful way. The habits of yesterday (going home early from almost every event, making it clear in conversation that he would not welcome either vulnerability or honesty, concocting flimsy excuses to get out of doing even the smallest of favors) were now etched in stone; his life looked almost exactly like the life of a robot to an outside observer.
Why do I feel so goddamn alone, he asked himself, dimly aware that in any given moment he chooses creature comforts and mindless solitude over genuine human connection and even the slightest hint of social effort, the cumulative effects of which have turned him into a lonely man in a bleak room without even the muscle memory of friendship to sustain him. Why doesn’t anyone call me, he thinks, despite the fact that the only numbers that he has called in the last three weeks are his mother (he didn’t leave a message), his office (he thought he was going to be late for a meeting but then wasn’t), and a hospital billing service. His anguish, while genuine, led to exactly zero effective self-criticism; he failed to understand that a human being who chooses isolation at every turn will eventually become a person who is alone.
He could not come up with a satisfactory explanation for his loneliness, because one of the most horrifying hallmarks of social inadequacy is the inability to recognize itself for what it really is. He clicked “Watch the next episode” and waited for the vague sense of injustice to subside, which it eventually did.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.