Battling Loneliness: Coming Out On Top

CNN recently published a story that claims a number of adolescents go through a period of intense loneliness. I couldn’t agree more. The feeling of loneliness is part of the human condition. There will always be times when we feel in want of that feeling of companionship and being loved. But that doesn’t mean it’s something we have to learn to live with.

My adolescence was not what you would call fruitful. I have come to discover, in recent years, that what I experienced is actually a similar memory I share with other people who are now what we call “normal.” My growing-up stage was a hard, emotionally grueling experience, the entirety of which I cannot hope to share with you in a college campus newspaper article. But I’ll do my best.

My parents divorced shortly after 9/11 when I was 12 years old, which I’m sure ended up causing some psychological damage that I won’t unearth until I’m 40. I grew up almost a total loner from about that point to well into my first year of college.

Though my parents’ divorce was not the sole cause of my loneliness, I’m positive it played some part. I’m talking about hardcore, spent-every-night-in-front-of-the-computer-or-video-game-system loner. For almost eight straight years, my daily schedule was: come home, do homework and sit in front of the computer until bedtime. No exaggeration – even now, writing this from within the circle of love and friends I am surrounded by, this memory still scares me.

As a result, I now harbor a profound aversion to TV and video games; they remind me too much of lonely nights spent in my parents’ office with nothing but the lonely hum of the computer and the glow of the monitor to keep me company.

The friends I made during that time were primarily all online. Since I’m being brutally honest here, I might as well tell you that these friends included “girlfriends.” For some reason, self-expression and being myself was so much easier through text and virtual conversation than it was in person, where an always-judging human face was looking back at yours.

What local friends (and I use the term loosely) I actually had never amounted to more than five in number. I was your run-of-the-mill creepy loser. Being small in size did not help either. I was picked on all the way into high school, beat up on occasion, and suffered a lot of verbal abuse.

Those eight or so years of constant torment and loneliness during the most formative and socially-developmental years of my life ground my confidence and self-esteem into dust. Pretty girls mortified me; like gorgons, just their gaze was enough to turn me to stone. Speaking to them was absolutely out of the question. My fear of girls was so strong that I had to make it a personal goal at the beginning of my sophomore year in high school that by the end of it, I would be able to talk to girls without screwing up, a promise to myself that I successfully fulfilled — barely, but I did it.

Because of that, I was able to find a decent-looking girlfriend at age 15 (she asked me out). After dumping me for not being assertive enough, she came on to me once more about a year later, and then dumped me for the same reason. I can’t say I blame her.

So great was my loneliness, so much had I come to rely on video and computer games as a substitute for human connection that when my journey to UCI began to approach, I believed I wanted to become a computer graphics animator.

I wish I could tell you that I experienced some definite and life-changing event in my first year that transmogrified me from socially inept loser to emotionally stable socialite. There is, of course, no such incident; life is not that cut and dry. I will tell you, though, that the dorms saved my life. They forced me to interact with people and therefore develop my social skills.

The merciless clutches of college dragged me away from the nurturing bosom of the warm computer in my parents’ office and dropped me in the middle of an unfamiliar environment where I had to adapt or ultimately succumb to the forces around me. Think of this situation as a flightless baby bird being dropped in the middle of a crocodile-infested swamp — the only way it can hope to survive is if it learns to fly, as I fortunately did.

I did not hit the ground of my first year running, but by the end of it I was better off in terms of my social capabilities. I had made several sociable friends that lived within walking distance and not online. I had begun to find some direction in my life. Surprisingly, I even lost my virginity to an attractive girl back home, a testament to how far I’d traveled from the lonely computer office that defined my adolescence.

I also began going to the gym, a habit that has admittedly made me an uncomfortably religious fitness nut; as a result of all those years of being picked on and belittled that ultimately obliterated my self-esteem, I began to rely on my physical looks, which drastically improved after I began working out — I was a skinny little bastard beforehand — as a way to seek validation to an unhealthy degree.

One could say I was overcompensating for my lack of social skills, and invested all my self-worth into how I looked since I felt I had no other value. This is a habit I have unfortunately retained even after significantly developing my social skills, but it’s a tradeoff I’m more than willing to live with. The computer’s lonely glow at two in the morning is the most terrifying noise I will ever hear in my life, and I will do anything to never have to hear it again.

Now, well into my fourth year of college, I am a more amiable, more functional (not fully-functional; after all, who is?) member of our social world. I have friends that I would do anything for. I have a loving girlfriend who consistently teases me that she’s only dating me for my body. Most importantly, I’ve discovered passion; I’ve written for several different online and creative writing magazines, to say nothing of the short stories I’ve written on the side. Herein lies the ultimate irony of my life; years and years of a life lived most prominently online (which is hardly a life at all) have molded me into a precarious and developed writer. All the social skills I never developed as a teenager fueled my writing skills that I used to interact with my “friends” online. My nightmare has led me to my dream.

Human beings were not born to spend their days bathed in the artificial glow of a computer screen; we are social creatures, and that is a need we should indulge. Loneliness is the emotion we feel when that need is not being satisfied. And I want to say — to everyone out there who feels lonely, who feels as if they just can’t connect with anyone in their current environment — all it takes is a little courage.