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Emily White

Emily White is a former lawyer who now works as a writer and policy advisor. Her first book, Lonely: A Memoir, has been selected for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Series.

Blurbs

“Kudos to Emily White for having written that rare book which feels both necessary and evolutionary. Lonely is a masterwork on the topic, a memoir of deep insight and revelation.”

– Alice Sebold

“One of the things White does so well is make her struggle with loneliness engagingly readable. . . . For anyone who’s ever struggled with loneliness, either situationally or chronically, White’s thorough investigation normalizes what you’re feeling.”

– Telegraph Journal

"The power of White’s story comes from the sweeping investment she has made in tracking and tackling her loneliness -- an investment that has included Jungian analysis, hypnotherapy, bike trips, Internet dating, and much more. White makes the case that loneliness deserves attention and respect as a legitimate condition.”

– Kirkus Reviews

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Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude

i’ve been lonely my entire life

01/03/12

i can write about my depression. i do it without a second thought. i do it because my disease even has a fancy medical term — dysthymia — and my disease requires medical treatment. it’s beyond my control, you see. more than that, decades of research and countless papers and medical journal articles have documented effects and treatment of depression [even, to some degree, the cause].

loneliness, on the other hand, doesn’t get that much. it’s regarded as an individual problem — that is, the individual is expected to heal his own loneliness. and let’s not get into the social stigma of loneliness.

on second thought, let’s.

from Lonely:

“So much ink has been spilled about the need to not judge the depressed or socially anxious person, and to not see emotional problems as indexes of flawed characters, that many people don’t notice that these misconceptions — mood as character flaw, the sufferer as somehow off — are still alive and well when it comes to loneliness. Loneliness is still judged harshly in our society, and it’s the trick of balancing this judgment against their own experience that lonely people have to confront at every turn. The lonely, in other words, have to do battle not just with their state, but with the very loud and widely communicated sense that there’s something wrong with them for feeling it in the first place.”

* * *

i’ve been lonely my entire life. my secret shame — easier to admit than depression and bisexuality and infidelity: my life is, if nothing else, [un]charmed.

few people understand this, or can comprehend what i mean when i say such a thing as “i’ve been lonely my entire life.” many people dismiss it as the histrionic rant of an anti-social man; i don’t blame them since, to this point, i’ve done a poor job of explaining the loneliness. or what it means for me. or for you, the reader who tries to connect with me. for you, my lover. for you, my parents and siblings. for you, humanity.

loneliness, on the surface, is a social malady. humans are social creatures — we need each other as much as we need sex and food and water and oxygen and sex. something goes awry and haywire in us when we’re disconnected from other humans — when we can’t connect.

connection is achieved through intimacy. and what is “intimacy” but the energy between me, you, and trust?

i trust few people. i find it hard to trust people. i can’t explain why. i haven’t experienced childhood trauma which would prevent me from trusting people. well, no trauma i can actively remember. anyway, without trust, there is no intimacy. no intimacy? no connection. i’ve been lonely my whole life.

alone in my marriage[s].

alone in college.

alone in love.

alone in artistic collectives.

alone while surrounded by friends and family.

and i said something to the effect of, “something goes awry or haywire — when we can’t connect.”

i don’t think much of myself. i don’t deserve love. i don’t deserve happiness. i feel lonely because i’m unworthy of other people, of connection, so there is always space between you and i — the space which should be filled with intimacy.

those are my thoughts when i’m lonely — like right now, two days before Christmas.

but i fight on. i look for answers. and my lover said, “read Lonely. . . it helped me” and i reached for the book because i believe in lovers and literature. i’ll believe in anything, short of religion [buddhism excluded], to end this loneliness which, as i read and finished White’s memoir, i understood as a lifelong battle, like depression and accepting my bisexuality and infidelity. so goes the [un]charmed life.

Lonely told me i’m not so alone. in White’s personal story, alongside interviews conducted with other lonely people, i found kinship and, in a sense, comprehension: through her, i discovered a clearer understanding of my loneliness. White’s narrative threaded her childhood and adolsence, her college years and her previous life as a lawyer: through it all, she felt “stalked” by loneliness, as though it were a shadowy monster preparing to end her life or, at least, shade it in darkness.

that’s my life.

“’Emotional loneliness deals with the more intimate difficulties one may have,’ says Enrico DiTommaso, a psychologist at the University of New Brunswick. . . . ‘for example, with your family or romantic partner. And that’s a different kind of loneliness from the loneliness you may have in regard to your network of friends. Emotional loneliness means your emotions are internalized, and you keep them to yourself. You don’t engage in sharing those emotions with others, and they don’t share with you.’

“[. . .] While [Dr.] Weiss is now saying that some people can find companionship in intimacy, it’s still the case that most people who lack a specific tie will, at one point or another, feel socially or emotionally isolated. If they try to mend their isolation by substituting a friend for a lover, or a lover for a friend, the loneliness will persist.”

the loneliness will persist.

the loneliness will persist.

the loneliness will persist.

* * *

loneliness explains my presence on the Internet: my literary magazine, the collective i’ve formed, my twitter timeline. here’s where i disagree with White:

“To state the obvious: you can’t cry on a digital shoulder, you can’t hold a digital hand, you can’t take comfort in a presence that isn’t actually there. As humans, we’re hardwired to seek out a sense of togetherness and community, and it’s unlikely that Internet communications can satisfy this need.”

sometimes, people need to know that someone cares, that someone is listening to them. words have power. emails from people including Ashley Bethard and Alana Voth have, at times, saved me. i never met these women. i never cried on their shoulders or held their hands, but i found comfort.

and since White would acknowledge that forming friendships — the actual, tangible steps required to form friendships — is an unknown, unsolved equation for us all [because sitting in a coffee shop or attending a literary conference doesn’t mean strangers will clasp hands and skip away happy and beaming with friendship], sometimes we take comfort when we can get it.

that aside, Emily White successfully merged the memoir with social and pop culture analysis, medical research, and interviews. the result: Lonely is a damn good book. it’s an important book to tackle and possibly approach loneliness as a disease. and look, real talk for a moment: sooner or later, we all experience loneliness.

the next time you’re at home, alone, beating yourself up because you have no social life and people — if they knew this about you — would laugh and laugh at your loneliness, you might want to read Lonely and understand two things: you’re not alone in your loneliness and there’s no reason to be ashamed.

and find me on Twitter if you need to talk.

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13 Comments

  1. Alex M. Pruteanu said on 01/03/12 at 12:38 pm Reply

    I love Mensah’s piece! It resonates with me on so many levels. And reminds me of the not-so-famous line in Taxi Driver: “…loneliness has followed me all my life.”

    Reply

    mensah demary said on 01/04/12 at 11:15 am

    Thanks for the comment, Alex. Now I’ll have to add Taxi Driver to my Netflix queue. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it.

  2. Sara Habein said on 01/04/12 at 12:29 am Reply

    This is excellent. I always talk about how the three things that I’m interested in writing about are love, lust, and loneliness, and it seems that the books I enjoy the most are the ones where the characters are chronically lonely. I may have to seek out this book.

    Thank you for being another voice speaking the “realness” of chronic loneliness (and bisexuality, for that matter).

    Reply

    mensah demary said on 01/04/12 at 11:23 am

    Hi, Sara.

    While I have some issues with the book (mostly the ones I outlined in my article), “Lonely” is well-balanced and, in my opinion, stays away from preaching to the choir–in this case, the chronically lonely–and remains even-handed through the end, all the while never removing the emotional impact of loneliness (this is where White shines as she shares her personal story and interviews other lonely people, giving the book “human faces,” so to speak).

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting! 🙂

    Sara Habein said on 01/04/12 at 1:44 pm

    Yes, I would also disagree with her regarding online connections. I’ve made plenty of legitimate friendships and had so much support from people who primarily exist for me online. Some I’ve known for 10 years, but have never met face-to-face.

    Plus, because I have chronic fatigue syndrome, I often have periods of time where I don’t get out of the house much. Online friendships can do just nicely, considering the alternative.

    mensah demary said on 01/09/12 at 8:12 pm

    Sara,

    In some way, I can relate to your fatigue. For me, it’s more due to my introversion. Sometimes, dealing with people drains me–and especially after work, the last thing I want to do is be around more people. Online friendships create enough “space” for me to fraternize without feeling exhausted, by and large.

    Anyway, White’s thoughts on online friendships is, to me, a sign of a generation gap. Yes, online friends can’t “touch” you, but neither will a roomful of real people in your local bookstore. And you’re just as likely to strike a conversation with someone on Twitter versus someone perusing Barnes & Noble’s fiction section.

  3. Alex M. Pruteanu said on 01/04/12 at 11:25 am Reply

    Mensah, of course everyone pretty much knows those famous lines Travis utters (in the script, Schrader and Scorsese wrote this: “Travis looks in the mirror.” The rest is DeNiro history, right?), but the loneliness line is one of my faves. On top of the narration, Scorsese dissolves on the same shot a few times–Travis walking down the street–each time bringing us closer. It’s brilliant stuff. Marty and Paul Schrader wrote the script in 8 days in a hotel in Hawaii. But now I digress.

    Reply

  4. Jordan Blum said on 01/08/12 at 1:25 pm Reply

    Beautiful post, Mensah. It read like poetry to me, actually, And yes, I’ve recently become lonely (at least in the romantic sense). After four and a half years of being in love and having someone to hold, not having it anymore creates a penetrating feeling of loneliness (especially at night, when the bed feels emptier than it used to and the warm weight on my chest is gone). I long for intimacy of spirit, intellect, humor, and body. I long to do what I used to – laugh, make love, microwave food, watch a movie, and fall asleep with my partner.

    However, I don’t wish it to be with the same girl (well, I mean, I do with who she USED to be, but that’s a whole other thing). And interestingly enough, I think, she was diagnosed with dysthymia a few months before we ended (August), and her chronic insecurity/depression/immaturity was a big reason why we aren’t together (and why I wouldn’t want her as she currently is anymore). I have to believe what many have told me – I’m only 24, good looking, and I have a lot going for me (music, teaching, writing, etc). I’ll find a true partner soon. I mention this not to sound arrogant but to show how I combat my loneliness; I have to believe that I’ve got a lot to like and that this is only an intermission before another true romance begins.

    Anyway, in terms of grand loneliness, I can’t say that I am. I share my feelings with those around me and I know that I have a lot of friends. Still, perhaps in a sick sense, it’s comforting to know that others feel the same emptiness I do (whether it be from the same cause or different ones).

    Reply

    mensah demary said on 01/09/12 at 8:07 pm

    Jordan,

    Thank you for your candid response. In general, loneliness is loneliness, independent of its scale. As I mentioned in my article, it’s something we all have to face sooner or later. That it exists for me whether I’m in a relationship or not doesn’t make my loneliness any more “grand” than yours, though I know what you mean when you say “grand loneliness.”

    Some of the people Emily White interviewed for “Lonely” don’t suffer from long-term or lifelong loneliness. For them, it was a chronic problem–or maybe a “one-off” situation–but having to cope with it still eluded them. For some, they found activities to occupy their time, or they took to more extreme measures–like relocation–but it was mostly a trial and error affair for them.

    I’d prefer not to give you advice, because I don’t think I’m qualified to advise anyone on much of anything (besides reading “Lonely,” of course). All I will say is be patient. Fill the time with the activities you need/want to do for yourself. I mean–what else is there to do? As for the loneliness in your bed–well–there’s something to be said about not having to share a bed. More room to stretch out. I’m joking (and I’m also serious).

    Thank you again for your comment. Take care.

  5. Jordan Blum said on 01/09/12 at 11:55 pm Reply

    Thanks for the reply, Mensah. I didn’t mean “grand” as in elaborate or special or more important. I suppose “general” would’ve been a better word. I meant overall loneliness (rather than stemming from one specific place). And I am doing just what you suggested – activities. I’m working as much as possible to save up, I’m starting to write more and try to get published, I’m learning how to use some new recording equipment to record a second album (may also try to officially release the first), and I’m trying to teach as much as possible. I’m also trying to be an active member here, of course. I’m trying to make something of myself and become independent before I become dependent on someone else again. And yes, I often used to envy being alone for the extra space. It’s nice to stretch out after spending a few nights with only half a bed; however, when you ALWAYS have the full bed, well, it stinks.

    Reply

  6. NinaG said on 03/24/12 at 8:41 pm Reply

    mensah, your commentary made me realize it’s perfectly okay to value e-relationships.
    Definitely going to add Lonely to my to-read list.

    Reply

    mensah demary said on 03/25/12 at 1:40 pm

    Nina, thanks for reading and leaving a comment. Hope you enjoy “Lonely.” 🙂

  7. SeasideSiren said on 06/29/12 at 12:54 pm Reply

    Thank you for making me feel connected. I have been lonely all my life and truly most people simply dont unserstand that.

    Reply

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