I still remember — it must have been over a dozen years ago — the profoundness I felt when I first heard the condition of the elevator: people are there in close proximity, but psychically everyone is in their own world, trying their best not to make eye contact or interact with others. I also remember thinking while riding the bus in Berlin (also so many years ago) that this “loneliness in the crowd” was attenuated by the fact that at least I didn’t speak the same language as everyone else. There’s really no “excuse” for our quotidian interactions.

It’s a strange world that we live in, where physical distance doesn’t have much bearing on our associations and empathies with people. Of course, the internet and other technologies make this worse. I, of course, am very guilty of indulging in this trend: most of my best friends I rarely see or even talk (as in, on the phone) to, but we keep communication online. And outside of the college dorm community, which in some deep sense is not representative of any standard cross-sectional sampling of society, I have never really built rapport with neighbors.

There is something comfortingly defensive about this passive stance, however. Especially for the introverted like me, it is one of the only ways to manage to fact that there are so many people in this world. The number of people we superficially see or come in contact with each and every day is mindbogglingly larger than what our evolutionary social senses are adapted to comfortably accommodate. I have a hard enough time remember the names of people, a situation of which my sectionees are painfully aware; and I have little interest in getting to know or befriending thousands of people. Those people that I know are just fine, thanks. (Well, except for the, you know, girlfriend bit.)

Perhaps this is one reason why I like ballet class: this feeling of forced solitariness (loneliness?) in a crowd. Outsider, no talking, intense concentration on something that’s not the people right around you (tp girl ruins this, (un)fortunately [can’t blame her for being so cute and good at dancing, though {am I nesting parenthetical comments correctly?}]). Everyone is focused on what they’re doing, and their neighbors are present in mind but incidental. One gets lost in the moment, each building a similar world with obviously different precision.

There is, however, an unshakable difference between the “loneliness in the crowd” and the “loneliness in your room.” Namely, that despite efforts to deny it, the presence of people does have an effect on you, even if, for the large part, you choose to ignore them. I think it is one of my deep, Emersonian wishes to be somehow completely self reliant, able to do things by and for myself and without consideration of others, “an island unto myself” or such. Mostly, to convince myself that my actions would be based off some universal imperative (whatever that means), as opposed to peer pressure or the dictates of society — the crazy lives of secular humanists. I am more antisocial than most, but I can say that almost surely (that’s a probability joke, which I don’t get) this wish is bound to fail. We humans are just too intertwined to be able to give up societal interactions.

But the mind is a difficult thing to satisfy because it knows absence as well. That is why, e.g. I am dreading going to tomorrow’s party. The people there will be the nicest in the world, friends that I really do want to see, but at the end of the day, only that emptiness will be felt. “Every night I shiver alone before I sleep,” etc. Just like the “exercise high” dissipates after a few hours, so does the “social high.” This, along with the arbitrary artificiality of enforced social interaction, is why I dislike going to bars and clubs. But even after seeing good friends, there is still that lingering hollow aftereffect. At the end of the day, when all the fun is done, my only companion is myself, and everything fades.