loneliness has an opposite

by janedotx7

I could try to describe the plot of “Cold Pastoral”  [1] to you, but it would sound unbearably tedious. It’s good writing, but ambient, the character-driven kind that’s about painting a portrait, or evoking a mood. The mood being, in this case, the confusion and disorientation of modern twenty-somethings. The author is Marina Keegan, who died in a car accident shortly after graduating from Yale.

Keegan is also the author of this column that was making the rounds a while ago: “The opposite of loneliness” [2]. I remember disagreeing vehemently with the central conceit of her article, that there is no word for the opposite of loneliness. “Community,” or “communal,” sound fine to me. So does “love.” If you’re willing to accept a bit of awkwardness, you could also pick “togetherness.” (But really, now, what’s wrong with “love”?) Anyway, it struck me as a cheap rhetorical trick that didn’t gel with the rest of the column.

Then I read “Cold Pastoral,” and I think I get it now. She wasn’t actually trying to describe the opposite of loneliness. She was trying to describe the social atmosphere at Yale, which isn’t quite the opposite of loneliness, because it isn’t quite the state of love. Or community. Or togetherness. Loneliness has an opposite. Just not at Yale.

Why am I saying that? She follows up her objectionable salvo with all these lovely examples of friendship. Like late nights and group texts! A capella groups and all, that’s so touching.

I’m saying that because I don’t believe that anyone capable of writing “Cold Pastoral” was a member of a functional community. Read it. None of the kids in that story know who they are, who they are in relation to other people, how to behave in a romantic relationship, what true love looks like even when they have it in their hands, and most damningly, Keegan describes it all very, very well. It is all so horrifying, and so mundane. It’s not a story about a bad relationship. It’s the story of two perfectly normal ones. Future anthropologists will be able to read it for insight when they’re trying to figure out why, in our day, the average age of marriage is so late among educated young twenty-somethings.

I don’t want to knock Keegan, or either of her pieces. I don’t even have a point. I just remember being at college, and remembering that loneliness was there, a big emptiness like the gaps between stars, and I’m thinking now, that eloquent columns aside, there must be a lot of loneliness at Yale too.

[1] http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/10/cold-pastoral-by-marina-keegan.html

[2] http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/may/27/keegan-opposite-loneliness/