Something that’s crossed my mind a bit this past month is the idea of being alone, being lonely, and feeling lonesome. It isn’t because I feel alone, neglected, or overseen but rather how today’s advances isolate us in ways different than the past. In February, I read The Lonely City by Olivia Lang as well as You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy. Together, these books examine how loneliness doesn’t discriminate. Together they focused on two thought-provoking topics. On,e is how even in a city as populated as New York City, you can feel incredibly alone. Another being even if we have people who we care about us may do little to make us feel acknowledged instead somewhat ignored.
Something I felt when I first moved to New York was his it’s sheer size did, in fact, isolate me more than I already felt. I moved to the city of opportunities for a new life in New York. But, I moved here heartbroken.
The man I love ended our last conversation by telling me he never wanted to hurt me. What he never understood was, saying a final goodbye to someone I wanted to always say hello to, was a pain that I could not numb. He propelled me into the loneliness of heartbreak while I was alone, surrounded by strangers.
I was smuggled by the emptiness each evening. Those who supported me felt the timing of it all was perfect—the only baggage that I would have was the emptied suitcases stored on the top shelf in my closet. I struggled to see how lost love would be a silver lining when I had no desire to find it with the city or the men who filled it.
I used to say my hardest goodbye was London; a city that propelled me into the best version of myself. When I found love that was reciprocated in a way a city could not, I realized there were goodbyes that would drop me to my knees. I knew I couldn’t love like that again soon, so I took to explore New York.
The first week here I found my, past intertwined with my future. A chalkboard that leaned against the window of a bar, just a block away from my apartment on 9th Street, caught my attention. It displayed happy hour prices that were grad student reasonable, but it was the bartender of the evening’s information that had my feet moving downstairs into the dimly lit dive bar.
His name, Alex, was the same as my older brother’s. He was born the same year as me, and only eleven days separated our births. We grew up in the same town in Southwest Florida, and somehow our paths crossed in New York. The serendipitous meeting was my first shot at finding a community in a place that associated closely with my lonesomeness.
He introduced me to everyone he knew. Soon the other bartenders knew my drink order, and the regulars knew my name. The owner learned the story of how I came to be a regular and told it to everyone. Inside the bar, New York shrank in size.
Several times a week, I entered the watering hole for adults. I took notice of the novelty decorations that hung all around and seemed to have no reason to be there. I paid homage to Einstein, who overlooked the entrance and the knight amour who stood tall over the bar. Christmas lights colored the low ceiling, while small amber lights attempted to illuminate the faces who lined the mahogany bar.
I’d press my fingertips to the cool copper countertop; lean in to greet my friend on the opposite side. Over their head was a wall of confiscated IDs, an underage drinker’s most wanted that filled the empty space above liquor bottles. They’d place a Guinness in front of me and smile. The froth with the first sip gave me a slight ‘stache which made me smile larger in return. I thought I found good company in New York that appreciated my presence.
Men who frequented the bar took me as a damsel in distress that needed saving. They consumed my evenings with small talk, which lead to questions of nightcaps, numbers, and future dates. Single seemed to objectify me and the wrong men some became possessive—the last thing a woman wants/
One evening, I stood outside with them. The three of them wavered as beer replaced the blood swimming through their veins. In his thick Irish accent, one bartender enclosed me with his love which turned confessional of how much he cared for me and how glad he was that I was apart of the bar. He flicked the butt of his cigarette to the ground and held me tightly in his arms before he faded back into the bar.
Another checked that I would be okay walking home as he inhaled his final drag. I nodded and he hugged me goodbye before he slipped downstairs. The last one closed the door and turned to me. I uttered goodbye as I turned for home, but my sense of safety slipped from underneath me.
I was face to face with a man who wanted to hurt me. Aggression filled the words he interchanged for goodbye. His displeasing attitude stemmed from me not falling into bed with him. I caught on to that when I asked him to repeat what he just said. He wanted power over me. I stood in shock, as he listed threats that came one after another. Confused by how this change of events happened, I sought clarity with the bartenders inside and attempted to open the door.
If his words weren’t painful enough, his hand clutched around my arm as he pulled me out of the entrance. He pushed me further outside and yelled at me to vacate the premises. The men who loved my presence did not get up. The men that just said goodbye ignore the scene which unraveled outside. They heard the yelling, but chose to stay downstairs.
At that moment, I questioned if I had found a community, or had I found depths of another beast? Observe, but avoid confrontation if possible while here in New York. The community I felt dissipated in a matter of seconds. I spun a web and somehow became tangled in it. Embedded in the pain, I could not forget was feeling alone in a bar that I once felt safe in. I could see that evening was their eyes as they diverted from the conflict I was confronted with. I felt confused as to why they feared to lose me when I mentioned it wouldn’t be ideal for me to keep coming around. As if my final goodbye caused them some sort of discomfort.
Were they just as lonely as I was? I questioned, as their smiles grew each time they served another Guinness to the coaster that sat in front of me. I wasn’t surrounded by strangers, but that made the pain of loneliness feel different.
Since then, I’ve contemplated if there was any benefit of isolation. In the coming months, I went back to see them and share causalities of the day and weeks ahead of us. I used the bar to understand myself and the insecurities that were growing because of the company I felt. I vowed to focus on myself after the issues there piled up. And those weeks in December that I spent in isolation, I found myself. Like Murphy mentions, these men weren’t listening to me. Sure maybe my friendship benefited them in some way, but I gained little to nothing from them past more pain.
It’s strange to think I could ever feel alone or isolated in New York City, but as millions of people rush past you, and you know no one, then all you can feel is an amassing weight of being singular.