By Salima Punjani
Scrolling through his phone, Newt realized there was nobody he could talk to after a conflict with a close family member. He had an active social life in the past, but after he stopped drinking and had kids, he started to spend more time at home. Though he loves his partner, he didn’t want to add to her burden of stress. He decided to go for a walk, and loneliness hit him.
“I had a bomb of emotions inside me and I needed to diffuse it. I went for a walk, allowed myself to hurt and began to reassure myself that albeit I felt alone in that moment, that out there was another man walking on a path, feeling my same emotions. Loneliness definitely hurts. I have tried to take my experiences and use them to learn about myself and experience how the human soul can persevere. I do long for a meaningful relationship but at the same time I am using this opportunity to develop my own strength and self-awareness so that one day I can be a good friend to the other man walking life’s journey in parallel with me… alone…. for now.” Newt, 34, apt. 64
Newt’s story is one of almost 70 stories featured by The Loneliness Project. The Loneliness Project highlights stories from people around the world who have submitted their experiences with loneliness. Marissa Korda, the curator and creator of the website chooses and posts three stories every week. It is Korda’s way of promoting empathy and compassion in the world.
The Loneliness Project is the first chapter in the Imperfect Archive of Us, an archive that will eventually delve into stories that explore feelings such as guilt, shame, and failure. Korda feels that platforms such as Facebook and Instagram only invite stories of happiness, while spaces to share less-than-picture-perfect moments are lacking in the online world. “We don’t have spaces to talk about things that are isolating but perfectly normal. Sometimes people feel lonely and it’s okay. As a society we have attached this stigma and it’s not helpful,” she said.
Korda decided to start off the Imperfect Archive of Us with loneliness because it is a relatable feeling. She believes that having a forum to discuss loneliness decreases the stigma associated with it by creating a sense of connectedness. For her, it also contributes to nurturing more empathy and kindness in oneself and others. “Seeing a collection of stories from other people and showing this common thing about being human, it doesn’t only help people be kinder to each other, but [also reduces] negative self-talk, and that’s the point of destigmatizing,” she explained.
People submit their stories to the Loneliness Project via an online form that has four questions:
- The last time I felt lonely was…
- To me, loneliness means…
- One of the first times I realized I was lonely was…
- Tell me the story of the time you felt the most lonely.
So far, Korda has received over 1,100 submissions from 58 countries. People ranging from ages 4-81 have shared their stories about loneliness. “I only recently rounded up all the countries that submitted. I had no idea because the stories are just the same. I have stories from countries like Syria, Afghanistan, and Canada. They aren’t unique to the place. They are human,” she said.
When asked about the impact the project has on people, Korda emphasizes her only intention was to use the power of storytelling to connect people. She is a fan of initiatives like Post-Secret that showcase stories from people in a non-judgmental way. “It means different things to different people, but by showing real stories by real people, readers are able to put themselves in a context. I hope that for some people they feel less lonely, and for others loneliness becomes normalized,” she explained.
Many people have sent Korda positive messages, saying the act of submitting the form itself was powerful because it allowed them to be seen and heard. Others told her that telling their story takes a weight off their shoulders because it gave them a chance to express themselves. For Korda, reading the stories every week makes her feel less lonely, and she now experiences loneliness in a less individualistic way. “I wouldn’t describe myself as a chronically lonely person, but it doesn’t have as much weight anymore when it pops up,” she says.
When Korda first started receiving stories, they had a big effect on her. “I would feel sad but grateful that people sent them to me. I felt connected to strangers, and even if they weren’t positive, I felt happy.”
Reflecting on her role in the project, Korda considers herself a non-judgmental observer. “I’m not a therapist,” she points out. The online form people fill out is also one-way, meaning Korda does not have a way of getting in touch with people who submit their stories. But to ensure people have the resources they need if they would like to speak to someone about what they are going through, they can click on the website’s “Talk to Someone” button to learn about how they can get help.
Though Korda appreciates all the submissions, there is one experience that really stuck with her. “There was this one story I got early on in which someone my age writes about going to Ikea by themselves, wandering around for 2 hours, buying two hotdogs and leaving,” she says. Korda explains how she feels it is equally important to represent these stories of mundane moments that may not even seem worthy of telling a friend, but are just as representative of what loneliness can feel like.
Korda believes there is something very dignified about being able to reclaim and reframe one’s loneliness. “I think loneliness by its very nature makes us feel very alone, but we don’t need to feel as isolated. Feeling able to reduce that sense of isolation as a result of loneliness, I think there’s something dignified in that.”
Marissa Korda is currently accepting submissions for The Loneliness Project via this online form. To learn more, visit The Loneliness Project’s website, Facebook Page, Instagram, or tweet using #TheLonelinessProject on Twitter.