January 7, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)


There are many hells, but the most intolerable hell is loneliness.

Don Marquis(1878-1937)

Walk into any bar in the country and you will always find lonely people. Not just an occasional lonely person, but everyone, with the possible exception of the bartender, is lonely. Why else would they be there? It couldn't be just for the booze. No one would pay many times the original price of the beverage if it wasn't for a crying need to be among similarly lonely people. People go to restaurants for good food that is prepared by someone else, but anyone can do as good a job of pouring a drink out of a bottle as a bartender can. The people in a bar are there because they are lonely and the other people in the bar seem to alleviate that loneliness.

Loneliness is not a disease; it is a normal part of the human condition. Everyone is lonely at some time in his life, and some people are lonely most of the time. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. I know that most of the time when I am alone, I am not lonely. When I am alone for a prolonged period, I get lonesome for companionship. My cat alleviates some of it, but eventually my loneliness can only be relieved by another person. I suspect that I prefer to spend more time alone than most people do, but I hate feeling lonely. I think that I have been less lonely in the country than I have ever been in a city. I have been surrounded by people and been painfully lonely. I have even been lonely in bed with someone I loved.

I suspect that a snake can't be lonely. Unlike mammals and birds, they are not reared by their parents. People have an intimate relationship with their mothers from the moment of conception until they are ready to more or less go out on their own. Most people establish a similar intimate relationship with someone else, usually a member of the opposite sex.

What alcohol does is to loosen inhibitions so that a lonely person can carry on a conversation with a stranger without worrying that he may say the wrong thing and be embarrassed by it. When a person is drunk, he will only be embarrassed after he sobers up.

Alcohol is a very poor solution to the problem of loneliness, just as intercourse with strangers is a poor solution. Alcohol leads to hangovers and cirrhosis of the liver and the solution is only momentary. What then is the solution? The solution is friendship, companionship, marriage and other things of a more permanent nature than what occurs in bars.

People who habitually frequent bars are often terrified of friendship, because friendship means revealing some of yourself to another. This, they believe, makes them vulnerable. Vulnerable to what? To being hurt. And they are right; it does. But more often friendship can lead to a long term end to loneliness; and what can be better than that?

I have read that solitary confinement is one of the most painful punishments that there is. One man wrote of having partly relieved the pain of loneliness by making friends with a mouse. He said that that mouse kept him alive until he was freed. Yet many people impose solitary confinement on themselves, but they are usually not aware that they are doing it. As I said in the beginning, "Walk into any bar in the country...."
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