This has happened to me before. It will happen again. Maybe it’s happened to you.
I got into my car Wednesday evening after a long day at work. Nothing earth-shattering happened, but it was busy. Interesting things happened. OK, more like “mildly interesting” things. But as I absentmindedly left the I-65 ramp to merge onto I-459 heading home, I picked up my iPhone to make a call. And then I stopped.
What was I doing? Oh, yeah. I picked up the phone to call her.
It wasn’t a conscious impulse. Nothing in me decided it was finally time to call her out of the blue. It was just an automatic reflex of my body to a yearning that I’m accustomed to squelching all the time.
Oh, yeah. We don’t talk anymore. I can’t call her. I can’t tell her what happened today. And I felt it again — that painful jolt that hits my nervous system every time this happens — as though something inside dies once more to realize how things really are.
I’ve started to realize lately just how many people experience something similar. One of the most-read articles every day on my site for the last year or so has been something I wrote about three years ago called “Missing someone creates incredibly intense physical sensations in heart.”
I wasn’t clueless enough when I wrote it to think that nobody else experienced such things, but because people frequently write me after reading that article, I’ve become aware of just how devastating it is for others.
I can’t tell you everybody else’s stories, but I hear a lot of them. I hear about people who can’t be with someone they love because their families keep them apart. I hear about unrequited love. Some of them know they’ll never be loved in return. Others hold out hope. I hear from those who are kept from another person — the one to whom they’ve given their hearts — for all sorts of reasons.
And they all hurt.
I recently discovered that the kind of loneliness experienced by these people — and by me — really does create a physical reaction in the brain. The feeling of loneliness is processed by the same part of the brain as the area in which physical pain is processed. It’s called the anterior cingulate cortex. So when you feel that jolt of emptiness — such as what I felt in the car Wednesday evening — it’s not just your imagination. You’re feeling real, physical pain.
A lot of people misunderstand this sort of loneliness. They say, “Well, here’s how you can meet someone.” But just “meeting someone” isn’t the issue.
When I’ve gone through times in my life when I loved nobody — and I simply wanted someone to whom I could give my love — I’ve experienced that need to just “meet someone.” But this is different.
This is the desire — more like a need, according to my gut — for a particular other. A particular mind. A certain soul. A loving heart. A beautiful voice. Everything.
It’s not just a need for human companionship. The people who write to me aren’t saying, “Hey, I don’t know how to meet people.” They always have somebody in particular who they love and don’t want to live without.
I’m sure this story is as old as humanity itself. Our literature is full of stories of broken-hearted people missing those they can’t have. It’s the stuff of popular movies. And popular music frequently explores the theme.
There’s not much to say about it that’s new. I can never give good advice to those who write me about it. I can’t even change my own stubborn certainty about how my life ought to be.
I can only offer love and support to those who are hurting. For those who can end up with the object of their desire, I can only wish the unification to come soon. And for those who can’t end up with the object of their love, I can only wish they can find a greater love — a new love — which can take its place.
Every time I’ve loved — not that many times in my life — I’ve thought she was the only woman in the world. But in each case, someone has come along and made me feel that someone even better loves me and wants me and chooses me.
That’s what I wait for, but it’s hard to know whether this time might be different — whether this time might be the one who can’t be replaced. It’s a heartbreaking way to live, but some of us have no choice.