The uncool truths on how much do we really need each other

The chronicles of isolation in modern times

I tried to do a digital detox a few months back, over the weekend. I was roaming the city, scanning through my feelings: waiting for the withdrawal torments, distraction cravings, focus problems, the symptoms of dopamine deprivation. None of that came. The only unusual thing present was the hollow, muffled, dragging feeling of loneliness.

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I’m a single, introversive, shy girl who moved cities for years, repeatedly losing social contacts. I was sure I know how loneliness feels. I thought I learned to be fine on my own, defend my borders, and stay by my side. But it turns out that the reason I got addicted to the digital media wasn’t some sneaky dopamine-releasing algorithms incorporated by evil developers. It was the ability to reach out, on any day, at any moment, and feel that somebody is there. It was the feeling of being understood, even if through the fictional stories of random strangers far, far away. It was the hope of having somebody who thinks you matter that was rising with every notification.

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What the digital media got us addicted to was the pre-packaged, on-demand, mint-flavored surrogate of human intimacy, available without any risks and pains of actual human interaction. This “somebody is there” feeling is subtle, gentle, covering reality as a soft veil, but take that out — and you will see an independent, self-reliant, ambitious urban professional crumble before your eyes.

Human intimacy in quarantine times

The city I’m roaming in is Milan, Italy. As you can guess, we don’t go out much these days. We maintain our distance, forced to explore another angle of intimacy deprivation — the physical one.

A week had passed. We do sing-alongs from our separate balconies and share stories with strangers in a long supermarket queue, shouting from two meters distance; we share drinks over hours-long video-chats; we leave hand-written notes to neighbors; we flood our social media, documenting each stage of our solitary confinement — an advanced version of knocking on a prison cell wall.

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Yes, fear. Yes, apocalypse. But it’s the human touch deprivation that is suffocating, making civilized, snobbish, misanthropic urban dwellers invent new, sometimes comical ways to compensate for the loss.

The joy of incompleteness

Alfred Adler, the man at the origins of psychiatry and psychotherapy, said that all problems are interpersonal relationship problems, and, as a consequence, “all joy is interpersonal relationships joy”. As a person with creative ambitions in search of a life purpose, this hurts my fragile feeling of self-importance. But I wish for enough courage to recognize the truth in it.

Long gone are the days when we would lean on each other, half-naked and shivering around the bonfire, afraid of the wilderness, thinking that exile is the harshest punishment a human can bring upon themselves. Now, we celebrate individuality. These are the times when we refuse to conform, when we find our own true self and protect it at all costs. The times when advice is unwanted and commitment is burdensome. The times when we hook up with strangers just to hold a breathing human close, and check our phones every four seconds hoping for a sign that we still matter to somebody.

“I don’t need anyone” is easy to say in the world of delivery services, dating apps, and an abundance of content anesthetizing your feelings oh so nicely. Back in the caveman times, individualism was bravery, but now — it’s just chickening out. And what is brave is to actually care for another human being.

Right now, there is no courage in walking away or dropping the conversation. It’s in being open, loving, expressing, listening, caring, needing other people.

I wish to remember how precious we are to each other, even when the wilderness doesn’t go out of its way to come and get us.

I wish for enough courage to recognize how much I want to be loved, understood, cared for, and seen — when I have so many tools to help me forget all about it.

Just as horses, cows, and dogs, humans domesticated each other. We search for something bigger than ourselves — love, family, vocation, God’s will — because we are hard-wired to belong. And no matter where the quest for self-expression will lead us, we will always be desperately needing each other.

I wish for enough wholesomeness to be aware of my own incompleteness.

***

When asked what would they do if that was the last day of their lives, most people say that they would tell the people they love that they love them. Next comes the food, the hobbies, the travels, the sex, if they are being honest. Some items of this list are legally prohibited right now, but otherwise, I find it a rather good plan for the day.

Add Drama Button. Stories from another hemisphere. Russian in Milan, Italy. Get a letter from me: https://slidetosubscribe.com/adddramabutton/

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