Book Review: Lonely – Learning to Live with Solitude by Emily White


Title: Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude

Author: Emily White

Published: 2010

Pages: 388

Genre: Memoir, Psychology, Self-Help

Format: Book borrowed from the library

My rating: 3/5


In this insightful, soul-baring, and illuminating memoir, White reveals her battle to understand and overcome this crippling condition, and contends that chronic loneliness deserves the same attention as other mental difficulties such as depression. “Right now, loneliness is something few people are willing to admit to,” she writes. “There’s no need for this silence, no need for the shame and self-blame it creates. There’s nothing wrong with loneliness, and we need to start acknowledging this through a wider and more open discussion of the state.”
Interweaving her personal story with the latest in cutting-edge scientific research—as well as the incredibly moving accounts offered by numerous lonely men and women—White provides a deep and thorough portrait of this increasingly common but too often ignored affliction. By investigating the science of loneliness, challenging its stigma, encouraging other lonely people to talk about their experiences, and setting out one person’s struggle, Lonely redefines how we look at loneliness and helps those who are afflicted understand their mood in an entirely new light, ultimately providing solace and hope.


As I was reading and walking to my intramural softball game, a co-worker stopped me and asked what I was reading. I showed him the title and he gave me a quizzical look and joked about if there was something he should know. My response was jovial and expressed that the topic was interesting (true) but in the back of my head, I wondered, was this a defense for a feeling I sometimes I have? I’ll be honest, I tagged several parts of the book in terms of actions I occasionally exhibit that reflect loneliness. Even taking the UCLA Loneliness Scale at the beginning of the book, I found my heart racing to discover if I was at a ‘high-level’ of loneliness. I felt relieved to learn that I was ‘average’ after answering 10 lichert-scale questions, but that fear and anxiety of ‘what if’ kept me attentive throughout the book.

White makes a strong case with personal narratives that the state of loneliness is not the same as depression or social anxiety. It saddened me that the doctors she saw were quick to diagnose and prescribe for what she was not experiencing. For me, I can understand the hesitation with revealing this truth about oneself or the fact that you are still confused with what you are dealing with. It is along the lines of being hesitant of sharing something about yourself because you don’t know how people will take it or they’ll brush it aside as it’s all in your head. For some, it may be like coming out or opening up about an identity that you kept to yourself or don’t talk about much.

A part that stuck with me, since I am just as guilty, is the belief that we can’t seem to get settled – “a sort of pressured restlessness, an inability, when lonely, to feel at ease with what you’re doing…’I just feel like I should be somewhere else, or doing something else.‘” I took a personal day off a couple weeks ago (what we call a self-care day) and found myself bouncing from place to place alone (even though I had a set plan in my mind of what I would do at each place and for hours on end) and was frustrated with how I should be enjoying this day that I worked hard for. Each thing I did wasn’t satisfying enough for me. I sometimes joke with friends and family when I have a weekend free of commitments that I end up not talking to anyone and don’t realize it until the end of the weekend. Sometimes it is desired, sometimes is that I didn’t have a choice. I definitely related to the commercial interactions – going to a coffee shop or grocery store so I could talk to the cashier or feel a presence around me that I couldn’t find on my overstuffed chair in my apartment. To be fair, I do enjoy what is called ‘passive-company’. In the car with another person or reading a book while a friend reads theirs, I call it comfortable silence.

I saw the movie Her with Joaquin Phoenix a few years back, and I remember how much that movie scared me – kind of like Wall-E was a warning for how we are killing our environment and planet, Her was a warning that our socialization is becoming too reliant on technology and not on natural in-person relationships. Even sharing thoughts on this blog and through reviews I share more about myself than to some of my colleagues and peers. Sometimes I fear going into a field where I work remotely – I appreciate my job now having colleagues and co-workers around for socialization. I have heard there are meet-ups where folks who work remotely can work in the same reserved space like a library or coffee shop – again adding to the ‘passive-company’.

Although I ranked this memoir as average, it probably is the most relatable book I’ve read. Am I self-diagnosing or WebMD-ing myself as chronically lonely? No, but I do think that there are times where life gets hard and we may feel alone even in a crowded room or around people that truly care about us. It is difficult to explain, but I praise White for her openness and honesty, revealing something so raw and evident in our world in a way that makes me take a longer look at folks and wonder.

Some other notable quotes/thoughts:

“I like being part of a big, anonymous group. It’s sort of comforting. Even though I’m not really having any interactions with these people, just being in their presence, just being around them, it feels sort of communal in a strange way, and it’s very soothing at times”

“But loneliness is a state of mind, and you can become even more lonely when you realize that marriage doesn’t take it away”

“The more trusting someone is, the less lonely they are…Or conversely, the less trusting someone is, the more lonely they become”

Read Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude if you like the themes of:

  • Mental Health
  • Loneliness
  • Psychology

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