The Cure for Loneliness isn't People, it's Animals

And other answers to unsolicited questions.

“Jim, I’m lonely! What should I do?” — Lonely Lenny

I feel you, Lenny. Even though loneliness is an illusion like most of the other ubiquitous human emotions (love and happiness, chiefly) we think we are really feeling it. And really that’s the problem. Like the placebo effect, when we believe that vodka is actually helping to cure our social deficiencies, we feel something and believe it to be loneliness and therefore try to cure the loneliness. And loneliness is one of the most elusive afflictions to cure. Sadly, being with people clearly isn’t the cure for loneliness. In fact, in general, people are not at all the solution to any of our problems, people are the problem. And the introduction of more people into your life will make you yearn for loneliness again. It is a vicious round shape, a Tour de France bicycle tire forever spinning, until we are dizzy and miserable.

Photo: Zhao!/Flickr

Sometimes, not all that drunk or anything, I will send an ex a midnight email. Upon awakening, I will be horrified. Why did I reach out to this person in the middle of the night? Because I was lonely? Probably not. I was probably just bored and horny. Bored and horny can easily be confused for loneliness. Or bored or horny. I most likely yearned for attention. That is also different than lonely. My first reaction is to delete the email from my sent mail and never contact that person again. My loneliness was not cured. It was not loneliness in the first place. But my curiosity about other people was sated.

Some people really like hanging out with other people. But then why are we still always on our phones? Are the people we are already with not nearly enough for us? How many people will it take to fill the hole in ourselves? People are incidental to the hole. You could stuff that hole with anything: books, archery, Netflix, Oreos. People are nicest when we pass them as icebergs pass each other in cold water. Hello, nice to see you, how are you, goodbye. This is what I like about being a cashier at a bookstore. I get to have millions of tiny, inconsequential interactions with people. They are buying Doritos or 1984 by George Orwell. They smile briefly. And that’s it. Maybe I see them tomorrow, maybe I never see them again. We talk briefly about the weather. We make a joke about sports.

I live with Ben, so loneliness is generally at bay. Just having someone else around all the time will make you wish to be alone. Ben is a much better companion than I am. He always has delicious cheese somewhere, hidden from me. He is great at hiding things. We have a relationship like Dr. Smith and the Robot on “Lost in Space.” Why did Robinson Family not throw Dr. Smith off of the Jupiter 2 for betraying them so many times? Because he was the best character. You can’t get rid of the best character. Loneliness is not often my problem. My problem is that I can’t find the cheese.

But I do sometimes yearn for what I imagine is human connection. And so I got a shrink. I see her once a week. She has to listen to all my problems and appears to mostly be on my side. It really is the best human relationship possible.

Photo: Neil Mullins/Flickr

When that relationship wasn’t enough, I got one fish. And then another. I watch these betta fish in their separate large Container Store containers swimming about. Lying on fake leaves. Holing up in fake floating logs. If you put them in the same container, they will tear each other apart. Or make more betta fish and then tear each other apart. But I watch them. And speak to them. And ask them how they are doing. It’s pretty nice, Lenny. You can get cats and dogs, dogs are kind of needy and go crazy if you leave them alone for too long. Dogs truly do feel loneliness. When you leave they never know if you are coming back. That is true abandonment, they are bereft. Cats, on the other hand, don’t seem to really care about anything until it is 5:30 A.M. and they want food. Any other time you feel abandoned.

One of the best things I did to combat loneliness, Lenny, was feeding the birds. Ben had gotten his shoulder operated on. I thought he might feel lonely in bed recovering. So I picked up one of those bells made of bird food and put it on Ben’s air conditioner. Nothing happened for a week or two. I felt like maybe birds didn’t know and would never figure out that these bells were made of food! But suddenly the bird word got out. It was so gratifying. It must be like how it feels to open a successful restaurant that’s always crowded and everyone is always happy in. We had to open another location around the corner on the air conditioner in my room. Bigger birds started showing up. We had grackles, robins, some jays. And then pigeons. And I felt ebullient. Ebullience, however, is fleeting. The downstairs neighbor complained about all the bird poop and we had to close up shops. That did make me feel lonely.

The other solution may be just hitting your hand with a hammer. You stop feeling lonely almost immediately and then really focus on the problem of your hand.

“I have been watching soccer and I don’t get why these guys are always pretending to be injured. What is up with that?” — Confused Kate

The soccer this summer has been wonderful. Between the Copa America tournament and the European Championships, we’ve been treated to some wonderful matches and some incredible displays of skill. And not just the goals. I would argue that flopping is at least as great a skill as putting a ball in a goal. I mean, just try to make it look like you’ve been injured. Rolling around in the grass like you’ve been shot in the calf with a bullet. They shouldn’t just give out Cups at the end of soccer tournaments, they should give away Emmys for TV acting.

Photo: Bay Area Bias/Flickr

Soccer is a pretty boring sport. You can get up in the middle of a match, watch some porn in another room, take a short nap and a shower, and come back into the TV room when you hear the announcers’ voices get all excited. Rewind to see the goal you just missed. The only other thing I watch for is the injury play-acting. It’s a dramatic and essential part of the game. Try to enjoy it, Kate. The skill it takes to be slightly tapped in the shin and to act as if someone has stabbed you in the eye. If you’ve been kicked in the leg, why are your hands on your face? No one does this. They have these magnificent shin guards that will protect them from being hit in the leg with a shot put. Why do they act as if the slightest tap of another player’s shoe will send them falling, falling, falling? It is a ballet of lies, a dance of untruth. It is the most fascinating part of this banal sport. Soccer is better played in our heads as we imagine how wonderful a match will be throughout the week leading up to the match. What normally happens in a match is pretty boring, a lot of mistakes, and plenty of pretending to be injured. Enjoy the dance. You’ll be able to chat with all your animal friends about the outcome!

Jim Behrle works at a bookstore and lives in Jersey City, NJ.