Lonely – Frequently Asked Questions
Why did you write about loneliness?
Because I had to. Because I absolutely, no-doubt-about it, had to. There was no other subject for me, no other interest. I’d been having trouble with loneliness my whole life, and – by my early thirties – my loneliness had become overwhelming. I was lonely every day, all day. I had social interactions, but these interactions didn’t seem to dislodge my persistent sense of aloneness. I felt overpowered by loneliness. I thought about it, I dreamed about it, and – when it came time for me to write – loneliness flowed out of my pen: there simply was no other subject.
Did it make you feel lonelier, writing about loneliness every day?
This was something I worried about. Once I made the decision to write about loneliness, I thought, How am I going to handle this? I felt incredibly lonely, and I wondered how constant reading about the subject would affect me. I foresaw (correctly) days and nights spent huddled in front of my laptop, mentally reliving my worst lonely moments, and I thought that all of this – the preoccupation, the reading, the endless writing – would make my loneliness worse.
The odd thing was that it didn’t. Experts often note that a project (be it writing, or devoting oneself to a choir, or embarking on the world’s best garden) can serve a substitution function, with the project partly filling the role that a friend or partner might otherwise serve. And this is what happened with the book Lonely. It sounds odd to say this, but the book became something of a friend to me. It felt alive to me. I’m still not sure why or how this happened. I’m not sure I want to understand why it happened. All I know is that the book about loneliness made me feel much less alone.
Do you feel lonelier, now that the book is done?
Yes. Submitting the final version of the book was a bittersweet experience. It felt amazing to head out to FedEx and send off on the final page proofs. But at the same time, I felt as though I were losing a friend. I thought this feeling would fade over time, but it hasn’t. Thinking about the book still makes me feel as though I just misplaced something. I’m glad that Lonely is out there in the world, but I still sometimes miss it.
What was it like, talking to other lonely people?
I get this question a lot. It’s often accompanied by a note of apprehension, as though talking to lonely people must have been a chore, or a drag. And the apprehension itself is rooted in stereotypes of the lonely as socially awkward, or clingy, or depressing.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Every lonely person I spoke to demolished stereotypes. I talked to people from across North America, and they were all friendly, open, and curious. Some were funny; others were droll. They came from all walks of life, but they all had one thing in common: they struggled with loneliness.
My talks with other lonely people – people who were so totally smart and fine – made me realize that there was nothing wrong with the state, that it wasn’t a mark of flawed character or horrible social skills. Rather, loneliness was something that simply happened to people, and people dealt with it as best they knew how. I enjoyed every single one of my calls with lonely people, and I think everyone I spoke to taught me something new.
Do you find it easier to talk about loneliness, now that you’ve written about it?
I do and I don’t. I’m past the horrible, choking-on-my-words phase of having to “out” myself as lonely. I can now say, “I’ve written a memoir about loneliness,” without feeling as though the ground is about to open up under my feet.
I know, from the stance I take in Lonely, that I should be the mood’s spokeswoman: I should be the one up on the rooftops, shouting “I struggle with loneliness!” But this is hard to do. We live in a culture that stigmatizes those who admit to loneliness, and the fact that I’ve written a book about the subject doesn’t make me an exception to this norm. I still sometimes struggle with a sense of having said the wrong thing when I talk about long-term loneliness.
About a year ago, when Lonely was nearing completion, a very smart woman said to me, “You’ll never have any real closure on this, you know. There’s never going to be one single way you feel about loneliness.” And her words ring true every day. My thoughts and feelings about loneliness, and about stigma, continue to change. I’d like to say I’m constantly moving forward, and feeling more confident, but on days when I’m tired, or less sure of myself, the confidence diminishes, and I feel shy and self-conscious about my subject once again. Loneliness, for me, is a work in progress. Not only do my own feelings of loneliness continue to ebb and flow, but so does the self-assurance I bring to talking about the state.
Have you written two books on loneliness?
I’ve only (so far!) written one book on loneliness, but the magic of publishing has made it seem as though I’ve written two. Getting a single name and “look” for the book was tricky. My American publisher decided to call the book Lonely: A Memoir. In Canada, however, you can’t call your book a “memoir” unless you’re a former Prime Minister, or a really famous hockey player. This meant my Canadian publisher had to call the book something else, and it decided on Lonely: Learning to Live With Solitude.
Since different titles were in place, it made sense to go with different covers. My U.S. publisher originally went with the flower in a bell jar image, while my Canadian publisher went with birds on a wire. People seemed to really respond to the birds image, so my U.S. publisher adopted that image for its paperback edition of Lonely. This means that if you see a blue book called “Lonely,” you’re looking at the U.S. hardcover edition. The important thing to note is that there are no textual differences between the two editions. There might be two covers floating around, but it’s the same book!
If you have other questions, just send a note to moc.koobehtylenolnull@ylime. I’ll try to answer as many queries as I can!