From fear of loneliness to embracing solitude

Young children have different hobbies and preferences while playing in every part of the world. Some things are universal, but many are influenced by the culture of that specific area or the living conditions of that family. In the subcontinent, young girls are very fond of playing with dolls. Most of the time, these dolls are handmade by their moms or the elder ladies of the family, usually made with wool, cloth, or clay.

Weddings in Pakistan and India are a source of great festivity and an occasion on which all the family gets together at the same place and enjoys good food and happy moments with each other. Children dress up and enjoy with their cousins and extended family. Every community and culture has its own different rituals which are performed in the presence of the bride and groom. Everyone enjoys attending these ceremonies, and this is a source of merriment for everyone. Young children observe this keenly since their childhood. So the girls in the subcontinent are interested in the wedding ceremonies, and they start organizing wedding ceremonies for their dolls since early childhood. They gather all their friends and cousins and prepare fancy costumes for their dolls.

This idea of getting married and finding someone to share your life with a partner is passed along from childhood to adulthood, and girls wait for their whole teenage years to get married one day. They think that one day, they will become a “bride” and will get lots of clothes and jewelry; a young “prince charming” will come, and they will just go to their own homes. In our country, girls are raised on the idea that one day they will leave their parents’ home and go to their in-laws, and that’s why they are raised with great love and care because they are considered a precious “asset” that will be handed over to a groom one day.

This conditioning is engraved in the minds of our girls, and they look forward to their “prince charming” and finding eternal happiness one day. This is a common concept in our society that girls who do not get married at a proper age will be a burden to society and their parents. For every girl who doesn’t get married, people make the life of her parents miserable by asking the same question again and again: Why don’t you marry her off? She will be left alone one day.

Even marriages are not that simple in our society. The groom’s family has a superiority complex, and they demand a lot of things from the bride’s family. Not all people are like this, but most people are. They expect an extravagant wedding ceremony and gifts for all of their family members. We are living in the 21st century, and most of this generation is educated and not following the orthodox ideas, but there are still people who consider the concept of “dowry” (a specific amount of money, jewelry, or gifts given to the groom’s family from the bride’s family) as a prerequisite to marriage.

Some months back in Kerala, India, a 26-year-old female doctor at a government medical college died by suicide after another doctor from the same institute, with whom she had made plans for marriage, backed out because her family could not meet the exorbitant dowry demands of the groom’s family. This is just an example that shows the typical mindset of the society in which we live. If educated people are still making the concept of Dowry a prerequisite to marriage, God knows what would be the state of affairs in the villages of the subcontinent.

Since childhood, I was fearful of the concept of ending up alone on my own. I made a lot of friends during school, college, university, and even when I joined the hospital. Maybe I was afraid of loneliness. Eventually, as time passed, all of my friends joined different universities; some became doctors, some got married and had children at an early age, some went into engineering, IT, and some joined humanities. I started making new friends at every new place, and ultimately, they left for a new venture, and the connection became limited to just texts, phone calls, and the occasional meetups due to the busy lives of everyone. Every time there was a thought to have someone by my side throughout my adulthood, I felt uneasy just to be with myself. Whenever I went shopping and eating out, I would take some friends along with me.

I have a younger sister who is just a year younger than me, and I share a very strong bond with her. We used to share each and every minute detail of the day with each other, and I relied on her opinion on most matters in my life. We selected clothes together, went shopping together, and couldn’t even order food without each other’s opinion. One day she got married, and I was very happy that she found such a kind and amazing person whom she liked a lot. I was overjoyed at her wedding and participated in each and every festivity with great zeal. Then she left me alone one day. I was happy for her. But I started feeling lonely. I started having crying spells because I missed her a lot. She was an integral part of my day-to-day life. But I couldn’t cry in front of anyone with the thought that my friends and family would think that maybe I was not happy for her. That was not the case; the thing was that I was just missing her.

This was just the beginning of my loneliness. Then, my friends got married one by one. I was considered lucky by everyone around me. Whoever became my friend got married after a few months of hanging out with me. My friends started joking about the fact that whoever hangs out with me gets hitched soon. We used to laugh at this joke a lot. But in reality, it actually happened this way; I kept attending the weddings until no single friend of mine was left.

One day I stopped looking for new friends anymore. I felt tired of making new friends, and most of them left me after their marriages. I was left just with my workplace friends with whom I didn’t share a very close bond. Obviously, they were workplace friends, and I couldn’t share everything with them. I had no hobby and nobody to talk to. I just started working a lot because that kept me distracted. This continued for a long time, but ultimately, I had to go out on my own. I started shopping on my own. I started ordering food on my own. I found like-minded friends even on my quest for marriage. They taught me a lot about life. They told me that being alone and feeling lonely were two different things. My male friends taught me that I don’t have to be afraid of the idea of being left alone in the end as long as I don’t feel lonely with myself.

I started walking on long tracks in my free time. I started journaling; I started reading. I started going for hiking on my own. I enjoyed being in nature, listening to the sounds of birds, listening to the wind hustling through the trees, enjoying being in the shade of trees. I discovered that I enjoyed solitude even more than I enjoyed being with people in the past. I still make a lot of new friends but not with the thought that they would be there for me every moment of their lives. I started accepting the fact that everyone has a busy life and lots of responsibilities.

I think maybe this is adulthood, that you get to choose whatever you do with your life, you have to be comfortable with yourself. You have to learn how to enjoy time on your own without feeling lonely or miserable. You have to find out new interests and hobbies. That’s the reason some people start painting, some start reading, some find solace in sports and running, and some start working a lot because they fear the thought of feeling lonely when they are free. But the reality is this: Being left alone and feeling lonely are entirely different. Sometimes there would be no prince charming in your life who will come to save you, but you don’t have to fear that you would be left alone in the end. You would learn how to be on your own because life will teach you this lesson one day. Nobody will come to save you; you have to save yourself. Life is cruel, and busy as hell. Everyone will leave you one day, your parents, your siblings, your friends, and only you will be there for yourself. Sometimes you may feel lonely even in crowds and in the company of very close friends, but that’s nothing to be afraid of. I read a very beautiful quote some days back, which I would like to share. “That’s the beauty of the human condition. You are never alone. And you are always alone.”

Damane Zehra is a radiation oncology resident in Pakistan.

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