From Rotary Magazine:
SOME YEARS AGO, before my wife and I had kids, we moved to a town in Wisconsin where we had no real ties. We made a few friends, but none of them had ties there either, and within a few years they’d nearly all moved away.
After our first daughter was born, we became consumed with the duties of modern parenthood. Still, we tried to find our community. Sometimes on a walk, I would try to think of someone I could drop in on to say hello, but there was no one. I tried to imagine who might notice if we picked up and left town, but hardly anyone came to mind.
A common measure of social connection is the number of people you can call on in an emergency. In that town, I couldn’t think of a soul.
Then I started having a strange fear. Whenever we were away for any period of time, I became sure that our house had burned down. My wife found this alarming and paranoid.
It was. In retrospect, I know it was a sign of something deeply wrong. It was becoming hard for me to envision a future in which my life was intertwined with the lives of others. The fear of fire, I think, pointed to the fact that everything that mattered to me was contained within the walls of our home.
In psychology, there’s a school of thought that holds that our identity, our “self,” is a story we tell ourselves. We recall the important events in our lives and the way they have made us into who we are. The flip side, however, is that everyone’s story needs an audience, real or imagined. The longer we lived in that town, the harder I found it to imagine any such audience. To me, that is the essence of loneliness.