It was a quiet night. Just me at the bar. She had tears in her eyes and I asked her what was wrong. “Aren’t you supposed to tell me your troubles?” She asked. “I don’t want to burden you with mine.”
“I’m all ears,” I replied. She poured me another drink, then propped her elbows on the bar and cupped her chin with her hands.
“Do you know what it feels like to be lonely?” She asked. “To watch people holding hands all around you and have no one want to hold yours. To see them kiss and be reminded that yours haven’t tasted passion for years. To go to bed alone every night wishing someone in the world wanted to be with you. Feeling ugly, rejected, and unworthy. To beg the universe for crumbs while watching those who have someone disregard their good fortune and throw love in the gutter. Have you ever cried yourself to sleep at night, wishing someone would hold you?”
“No,” I replied. “I’m lucky. I have someone who cares about me.”
She nodded, grabbed a napkin, and wiped her eyes. “Hopefully, you appreciate them and give them your all. I have so much love to give, but no one wants it. My fingers ache to stroke someone. My skin cries out for contact. I spend every waking hour hoping someone will kiss me and make me their own. At the end of the day there’s just me and my aching desire, trying to stay happy despite striking out again. I ask why no one can love me but have no answers. Everyone tells me I’m a good person. Funny, friendly, all that stuff, but the only hugs I get are friendship ones. No one hits me with surges of heat spawned by their desire. Loneliness is a dark deep pit where your pleas for companionship echo but find no resonance. I don’t want to die without the taste of love on my mouth.”
“Wow. I had no idea. You’re such a vibrant person. You hide your misery well.”
She noted that my drink needed refilling, then took care of it. No one else came in so we were destined to be fellow voyagers this night. I could leave but felt she had more to say and it might help if I heard her out.
“It’s not about sex. It’s about having someone to share the journey. Someone who likes being with you. Who enjoys your company. Who doesn’t care that you have flaws and make mistakes. Someone who’ll be there when things go bad and you need support. Someone who’ll give from the heart and allow you to do the same. I’ve quit making my bed since no one wants to sleep in it. I’ve stopped having dreams because they never come true. I just get up each day and do my job, smiling at customers who get drunk and go home and argue. Even that would be better than emptiness. At least I would feel alive. As it is, I’m growing dead inside. Not suicidal, not depressed and unwilling to go forward. Dead in the sense that hope doesn’t bring resolution. There’s just routine. Eating, sleeping, existing without the spark and excitement romance brings. The thrill of knowing someone holds you dear to their heart and thinks of you as special.”
By then, tears were flowing down her face and I felt awkward. What could I do or say? As if sensing my discomfort, she wiped her eyes again and worked at regaining her professional demeanor. Pouring me another, she said “this one’s on the house.”
Before I could say anything, the door opened and a couple walked in. They were in the midst of an argument and broadcasted tension. The bartender looked at me with an unspoken “see what I mean,” and greeted them with a smile. When I got home that night, I kissed my lover deeply and held tight for a long moment. We’d weathered storms together and might face many more. But those going it alone had nothing and no one to cling to but their own inner strength. Loneliness in a crowded world was an abyss they had to navigate without knowing how long they’d be mired there. Desperately reaching for a hand to hold.