As usual I’m typing this with no clear direction and only the general topic in mind, so we’ll have to wait and find out together what this post ends up becoming.
I’ve felt alone for much of my life, sometimes due to actually being physically alone and not knowing many people, and other times due to mostly interacting with people who I can’t relate to and who don’t seem to care about or relate to me. I suppose this is in some way a choice, since I willfully decline to be friends with people who I don’t find interesting and/or who I think may have a negative influence on me, but this being a choice doesn’t make the feelings any easier to manage.
When I first moved to Hawaii, I was basically unable to make friends or establish any sort of ‘friend group’ for 1.5 years, aside from occasionally meeting with coworkers. Me being a ‘white military person’ at the time also didn’t help with that (due to prejudice in Hawaii as a result of historical conflicts). I don’t hold it against the people there, but during that time I was quite depressed and anxious due to having little to no social or emotional support. The only way I eventually managed to make many friends was by going to graduate school and living in a dorm; it was incredibly easy to make many friends during that time, which bugged me in some way because I tried so hard in vain to meet people during the years prior, and then suddenly it was easy without even trying. At that time I initially couldn’t handle being around so many people and had to spend a lot of time isolating myself in my dorm room because I had gotten so used to being alone that I easily became overwhelmed with socializing, but it got better after a few months.
After finishing my master’s degree, I decided that I would not be able to accomplish my life goals in Hawaii and would start stagnating if I stayed, so I decided to leave all my new friends and social connections behind and move to Taiwan. I knew it was not going to be easy, but I had actually underestimated the difficulties I would face in Taiwan.
I have been here now for almost 2 years, and I find the situation to be similar to that during the first 1.5 years that I was in Hawaii (but more difficult). During the first few months things seemed fine because I was caught up in the newness of everything, but after a while I started to get really irritated due to cultural differences and language barrier (not to mention covid restrictions), which caused additional stress for me. I also had no real friends (in Taiwan) to hang out with to help me relieve this stress. On top of that, the large time difference makes it difficult to call people back in the US on a regular basis. Things got a bit better when I got a driver’s license and a motorcycle because I was able to get around easily, but the social situation has still not improved that much.
I have met many acquaintances, but few people have shown themselves to actually be my ‘friends’. So far I have tried everything I can think of to meet people, but even if I meet people that I find somewhat interesting, people are usually too busy with work, family, or their other friends to actually hang out. I don’t enjoy the feeling of putting in effort with others when they put in no effort with me, so I usually let these people just disappear. More often than not, if someone takes the initiative to reach out to me, it’s because they want to ask me some question about English. In some way I preferred the isolation in Hawaii because no one talked to me at all; here I get the feeling that people want to use me in some way to improve their English or just to learn about ‘a foreigner’. Better to be totally alone than to have frequent social contact with no actual connection or caring.
Ultimately all these difficulties were (and are) caused by my choices and actions. If I had stayed on regular active duty in the army, I would have felt a sense of belonging to the unit and always been around people. If I had stayed in California after university, I would have never had to deal with the difficulties in Hawaii. If I had stayed in Hawaii after making many friends there, I wouldn’t have had to deal with all these difficulties in Taiwan. If I chose to live in Taipei, it would be easier to meet people. If I was less picky about who to be friends with I may not even have these problems to begin with. But there is always a sacrifice with every choice.
Many people have told me that I need to be less picky with people, but I disagree. Although I may be able to feel a bit less lonely just by being around people, being friends with uninspiring or mismatched people results in a different, more difficult sort of loneliness – the kind where you feel lonely and not understood despite not actually being ‘alone’. For now, I still hold fast to my ideals of only being friends with people I genuinely like and relate to, and only spending my time and energy on people who put in an effort with me. Unfortunately, there has not been much overlap between these two groups so far.
I console myself with my belief that there is no growth without pain, and that comfort is a detriment to growth and improvement. I also find it to be a blessing to be able to choose who to be around, since hanging around people who do not embody your ideals will hold you back from achieving them yourself. If I can’t find good people, then at least I can be influenced by good people by reading books. Without all this discomfort, it’s unlikely that I would have been able to grow strong and independent (although some people have called me uncaring and self-centered).
Before these experiences, I was overly concerned with other people and what they may think, resulting in me being afraid of upsetting people, and censoring my opinions and experiences. After living alone with few friends in Hawaii, I learned that it is manageable and in some ways preferable to spend most of my time alone. It also taught me that there is no reason to fear upsetting people, because I can handle it if they choose not to be my friend anymore (I mean in general based on normal things – I’m not saying I’m mean or rude to people intentionally).
Lately I have been exploring the idea that loneliness only exists in the mind, and having people or not is irrelevant. I guess this is similar to the idea that poverty is often a state of mind rather than an actual circumstance. Feelings of lack and dissatisfaction usually come from a mismatch between what we have and what we desire to have. Some people are happy living in a small house with few possessions and little money, while others are dissatisfied despite having a large house, many possessions, and a lot of extra money. I suppose the same could be said about feelings of loneliness. Perhaps at times I compare my current life to periods of life in the past, wishing I had the same extensive social circle, while neglecting to appreciate what I actually have now. Of course, appreciating what you have and not comparing with other times or other people is much easier said than done.
I would not change any of my choices in life because I like the interesting experiences I have had and person I have become, even if it has been a shitty and painful process to get here. I am grateful to have spent those years alone in Hawaii because without all that loneliness, I may have not gone to graduate school in Hawaii and met all the great people that I met during that time. I hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for my life in Taiwan as well, but for now I will just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and try to be grateful for what I do have.