Friendship and solitude

Amidst a period characterized by a pandemic, financial downturn, remote work and social distancing, relationships have been tested.

It is widely believed that a rise in divorce rates is imminent. This is not surprising, as financial difficulties can put a strain on a marriage, and also couples these days have to spend more time… with each other. Today, however, I would like to focus on our wider social circles and friendships. More precisely, I want to reflect on the potential advantages of being a loner.

Pandemic friendships: the orchid and the cactus

As humans, it is natural for us to seek social connections. However, with many living a simplified version of our previous lives, we may find ourselves reevaluating the nature and quality of our relationships. The people we choose to build relationships with have always been significant, but now we are becoming more aware of the impact these choices can have on our lives.

During this time, many friendships have either ended or evolved. Some have dissolved due to conflicting political or pandemic-related beliefs, while financial struggles may have slowly eroded others. Furthermore, some friends who we thought were close may have revealed themselves to be mere acquaintances, as the fun activities we once enjoyed together no longer mask our lack of true connection. In this virtual world, with just a Zoom screen to connect us, any incongruity in our relationships becomes more apparent.

Some friendships are like an orchid: Initially, they may appear appealing and promising, but in reality, they can be delicate and unpredictable. They require specific conditions and care to thrive, and even slight changes can cause them to wither away. For instance, overwatering or providing too much light can harm them. If not given enough attention, they may not last long. These relationships tend to prioritize aesthetics over substance and can feel a bit performative.

Maintaining an orchid friendship is a delicate process, and deep down, you are aware that it could easily fall apart even with the slightest mishap. It requires constant attention and effort, and any wrong move could potentially damage the relationship irreparably.

Some friendships are more like cactus. They are resilient, adaptable, and can withstand harsh environments. They’ll be with you forever.

But as the orchids have separated themselves from the cacti, I’m prompted to wonder: What about being a loner? Is it necessary to spend a lot of time socializing with friends to be happy and well-adjusted?

“Hell is other people.” – Jean-Paul Sartre

There are those who would identify with Sartre’s perspective and argue in favor of the loner life, which could involve having a small circle of friends or no friends at all.

It is important to note that chronic loneliness has been linked to physical harm, increasing our probability of early death, affecting our immunity, stress, sleep, cognitive functioning and mental health. However, it is crucial to distinguish between loneliness and the act of being alone for our purposes.

Can the loner enjoy being alone without being lonely, with only a few or no friends, and still maintain a high level of happiness?

The Stoic view

Seneca wrote a letter in which he discusses the common misinterpretation of the Stoic idea that “the wise man is content with himself.” While it may appear to be a motto for those who prefer solitude, the true meaning behind this concept is often misunderstood.

According to Seneca, while this quote means you are self-sufficient and doesn’t depend on others to be happy, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t desire friendships. He refers to a Stoic mind as “invulnerable” or “above all suffering”, so if you lose a friend, you can move on from that relationship. But friendships can still provide pleasure, love, and an opportunity to practice the skill of friendship. Seneca believes that the more virtuous a person is, the more they should engage in friendships because they provide a mechanism for collaboration and personal development for everyone involved.

Friendships are wonderful additions to life, but you can’t define your happiness purely through others. Happiness is an inside job.