Diets and a Bug
A Minute to Myself (132)

Writing about Loneliness

At the beginning of class the other day I had my students write in their journals about being lonely. What does it mean to be lonely? When were you lonely? What does it feel like to be lonely? So you don’t think that I am a prying teacher, this is because we are reading Of Mice and Men and loneliness is a pervasive theme in that very sad book.

My students are all 14- or 15-year olds so I would have thought that by this time in their lives they would understand what it means to be lonely. But most of them wrote about being alone, and they certainly did not talk about what loneliness felt like. Most of them wrote that they had been lonely when they were left alone for four hours at home (oh, mom was home, but she doesn’t count), when what they were really talking about was boredom. One kid wrote about getting lost on his way home from a friend’s house in the dark and feeling lonely; of course, he wasn’t lonely, he was scared. One boy wrote about how he and his friends were hanging out together and only his girlfriend wasn’t there, so he felt lonely; this, it seems, is jealousy and not loneliness. Are kids so un-self-aware? Do they not even recognize what it feels like to not have anyone who understands what they are experiencing? Not having someone with whom to exchange ideas? Not having someone who “gets” them? Not having someone whose company they can take for granted?

There were a few who got it, especially the military kids who have moved so often that every three or four years they must revert to being the new kid at school walking in the loneliness of knowing no one in a building with hundreds of people. But the other kids, there was no real cognition of what it means to be lonely, which makes me think that perhaps they really don’t know what it is to be lonely. Perhaps they are so busy with their I-whatevers, and texting, and Facebook that they are never alone—they really don’t know what it means to be lonely. And even if they are physically alone, they have so many avenues to “call up” people and “meet” people, that the sinking feeling of being the only person in the universe to be so devoid of company never hits them. Even the least gregarious of children can find company somewhere.

Which makes me wonder: If these children never let themselves step outside of the hustle and bustle of interactions, do they know what it feels like to be themselves? Are their very minds being wired to only operate within a group? Can these kids be individuals?

Me, the woman who has known loneliness create a cavity of separation that all unknowingly step around, thinks that this is not good. From the depth of solitude (which is certainly an aspect of loneliness) so many thoughts finally have a chance to bubble up. Thoughts that aren’t able to come to fruition amidst the clatter of conversation. How can thoughts rise like dough if you haven’t even added flour? If you haven’t had the opportunity to have a thought that isn’t just in reaction to what someone else said or did, then what creativity and innovations can come to you? And if your life is always lived in company, or seeking company, then when do you have time to expand your understanding of yourself? Empathy is good, but how can you truly feel for someone else if you don’t even recognize yourself?  
But someone else, not me, who is forward thinking may see that perhaps society—people—will be able to create a better society, a more successful society than the one we have now that is always warring and contentious and competitive and grasping and materialistic. Perhaps this converging of selves might point to a society evolving, and not one that is devolving. Perhaps.

It’s still disconcerting that they don’t recognize that alone, lonely, scared, bored, and jealous are not the same thing. Truly, any society needs citizens who are introspective, at least to recognize what it feels like to be human. And to say that to be sad, happy, or lonely are the only emotions you recognize from within surely reflects paucity of thought.  

Lesson Plan for Monday: discuss emotions.


Jane Moneypenny

What an interesting topic! I guess when you're a kid, everything is pretty much the same feeling. Things are more black and white back then: happiness or sadness. There isn't an understanding of the difference between lonely and alone. Funny you write this b/c I think I'm currently going through a rut of loneliness, but at the same time, getting a lot of time for introspection.


Most of these kids haven't learned to deal with most of their feelings and who they really are...that is to come later. Many adults have trouble being able to discuss things like this too.

Many of these kids are in a place where even discussing or writing lonliness would be showing a weakness that would leave them open for ridicule and torment. This world has a way of turning weaknesses into wounds very quickly.

We have learned that a group of people can be one of the loneliest places in the world.


Maybe it is a good thing that they don't fully understand loneliness yet. As a result of a rather jaded childhood, I fully got it by that time and it sucked. It made me feel older than I was and not in a cool way, in a worn out from stress before I could even freakin' drive way.
On the other hand, I understand why this is concerning to you. We Americans already have the reputation of holding a lesser intelligence than the rest of the developed world, so I can see why you would really want to make sure students almost done with their public educations would know the different meanings here.
Very interesting.


You touched on some great points here. I think there is a lot of truth to the fact that there are so many avenues to keep kids(and people in general)busy even if they are sitting home alone on the weekend...most have phones and computors so connected constantly with other people...then you have video games, and tv to keep them constanly occupied. I think all this busyness keeps people from being in touch with themselves on so many levels.

I think there are a lot of people, not just teenagers, that don't have a clue to their emotions, either because they don't want to acknowledge them or they are aware, but just cover them up with outside things...busyness, food, alcohol, drugs, sex...ect.

There are teens that I know, that would not "get" what lonliness means but I know plenty that totally "get" lonliness...most of those teens come from tough homes and have experienced the hardness in life. They live a life of lonliness and it shows on their faces.

I had a teen talk to me about how lonely she is, this past week. Outside of school she spends much of her time alone in her bedroom to avoid the chaos she lives in. There is no computor for her to connect with phone. She lives in the country so she is more isolated. She has few friends because she stopped doing drugs and drinking a year ago. She told me that although she feels lonely at home alone, she feels even more lonely in a group of people. I get what she is saying because I have felt that way before. She journals, writes stories and poems and shares them with me. She totally gets loneliness. I wish she didn't.

Great post...I hope that your discussion on emotions goes well on Monday!


You made a good first step by just opening up the topic.
I think that the fact that they have these online groups and forums really help people that use them for finding people they can connect with by just being them, and can be seen as an evolution.


Teens may have trouble verbalizing their feelings or, as morethananelectrician said, to open up about feeling lonely would show weakness on their part. Even doing so anonymously is admitting it to themselves, and it's tough being honest with ourselves. The world is so different today. I was just reading on a professional forum I belong to, one of the parents was talking about their daughter having texted her friends 6,000 times in one month. How is that possible? I can't relate to that. Wouldn't it be easier to pick up a phone or see the person in person?


Hi, thanks for your comment on my 2009 entry :-)
I too am a teacher, though of 8/9 year olds and I know its tough to get the kids to think of emotions beyond happy/angry. They come up with lots of synonyms for those emotions, but at the end of the day, its the same emotion they're coming out with.
I work on creating an atmosphere where my students can identify with other feelings in a safe environment. I hope by the time they reach 14/15 they can relate to deeper emotions.

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Ms. Moneypenny, I guess my major concern is the introspection; since they are always occupied in one way or another they don't have time explore their own thoughts and emotions.

morethananelectrician, interestingly, most of the students didn't even realize that possibility: of being lonely in a crowd. They saw thought to be alone is to be lonely. I certainly get what you are saying about revealing any weaknesses, especially with the boys in my classes (not stereotyping, just observing), but they should be able to at least understand what the word means.

Shonda, I would like them to be "emotionally literate." Aha, I just coined a phrase (I think). The whole multiple intelligences theory shows that we have many intelligences, but we teach math and logic in school--to everyone, but we only teach sensitivity to others once a year when we have our annual anti-bullying discussions. Maybe we should just do more of that. Sorry about needing to run-away from home.

Lori, I hope all of that time alone helps her to create a pillar within for herself. April, I'm thinking that the avenues of find the like-minded and like-interested is good, but it seems that they have gone overboard. Seriously, I don't think that my younger daughter is ever out of communication with someone (except now when she is straightening her hair).

JC, why is a phone call or an in-person visit better than a text? I think that they are better because it's a more complete interaction and the ideas at least have a chance to develop more than if you are going back and forth every few seconds with a comment. And seeing the other person and hearing the tone of voice also adds to the complexity of the experience. Maybe that's the problem with just texting: it's so simple, so basic. No nuances of language--oral or verbal. Oh, and it's hard for use big-fingered people.

Vicki, I can't wait until we get to Romeo and Juliet with this group of students. It will be interesting if they can relate to Romeo and his love/obsession for Juliet

Stepping Thru

I wish I had had teachers like you in school. No one challenged my mind. Those students are very lucky.

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Stepping Thru, neither did I. I hated high school. What I find especially interesting is that I skipped 9th grade, and wouldn't you know it, that's the grade I teach. Maybe I can give them what I never had. It's certainly a goal.

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