Outside, the wind chill is minus 30 degrees. Gusts push loose flakes across the sidewalk like tumbleweeds. Frost crawls up the kitchen window; a sponge on the sill stiffens with ice crystals. Somewhere inside our house of unwashed 20-somethings, a boy sings — a little sharp, a bit too earnest. Listening closely, I notice his voice crack like a glass nicked by someone coming home drunk, alone and thirsty for more.

In my bed, I insulate myself by lying naked under a pile of down and fleece, trapping my own human heat. My feet find each other and rub together for warmth. From other corners of my house, I hear the giddy sounds of couples in love. They nestle under an afghan crocheted by someone’s grandmother; they snuggle on our stained loveseat, bickering about where to order the next pizza from. Their laughter pours into the hallway and under my bedroom door like a cold draft.

Recently, a good friend sent me a Louis CK clip about sadness. CK says we have to let our sadness “hit us like a truck” so that we can bathe in the happiness that follows. I’ve grown to feel the same way about loneliness.

When I first felt it settling in, I was resistant. My loneliness was a beast that I distracted with scraps of pleasure. I fed it casual lovers — people I’d invite into my life because they were decent, but also because they were there. I fed it films about passion gone awry; I fed it poems about sisterhood and joy. But a persistent yearning — an ache for romance — still buzzed inside of me, like a drunkenness that was about to take hold.

A week into the polar vortex — a shock of cold that would challenge anyone’s will — I turned off my TV, ended my current fling and opened my palms to my loneliness. I let it consume me.

For lack of a better word, I wallowed — for days, I shuffled pathetically around the house in full-length pajamas, preoccupied with my own romantic doom.

This is it, I thought. I’ll be alone and then I’ll die.

But then I was lounging with my housemates in our living room, enjoying a beer, shooting the shit, and I realized little had changed. I still laughed, I still wrote, I was still cared for by my friends and family. Admitting and accepting that I was lonely wasn’t as insufferable as it seemed. It may even be good for the soul.

Now I wear my loneliness like a second skin. It’s nearly comfortable; I nearly enjoy it. I don’t feel empty, or even lost. Instead, I wake up alone knowing I have myself, and I am later lulled to sleep by that same knowledge. I do still crave connection. That buzz of yearning often returns, but I wonder if it’s merely my libido reminding me that I am alive; I hope it never goes away.

When I think about everything loneliness has done for humanity, I am oddly grateful. It’s crucial to personal growth — if we were never alone, we would never realize who we are and what we want. Plus, our desperate desire to touch and be touched by others, despite the endless distance between us, encourages our creative expression. Art of all kinds often exists to prove that we are not alone in our experiences. I doubt artists would make anything if they weren’t bursting with this desire to conquer our human distance.

And, perhaps most importantly, I think that if we don’t experience loneliness, we’re less likely to recognize and appreciate love. We must grow familiar with our solitude in order to identify the kinds of people and relationships that will, at last, satisfy our longing.

From my bedroom window, I watch cars skid on streets glazed with ice. My neighbor, an elderly woman who now lives on her own, applies lotion to her elbows in her kitchen. Through my ceiling, I can hear my housemate move around our attic singing, “What does it take to be lonesome? Nothing at all.”

I raise the windowpane and let the icy breeze touch my face. It burns my skin, but invigorates my mind. It’s nearly comfortable; I nearly enjoy it. Most importantly, I know it won’t last. Soon I will lock my window, peel away my clothes and dive into my bed where I will be alone — or not alone — but always ready to recognize love through this close and humble darkness.

Emily Pittinos can be reached at pittinos@umich.edu.

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