My Loneliness Is Killing Me (No, Really)

Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” might have been written off as “a little tween ditty” when it was first released–with Spears herself regarded as something of an update to the Tiffany/Debbie Gibson model that worked so lucratively for mall tours in the 1980s, but the lyrics of the single that launched a pop star that would forever remain in our lexicon were far too meaningful to be regarded with anything less than total reverence and empathy.

Unfortunately, instead of listeners focusing on Spears’ declaration, “My loneliness is killing me,” everyone got all too caught up in examining the “he hit me and it felt like a kiss”-esque sentiment of “hit me baby one more time.” With the passage of the years, however, we all eventually learned that songwriters Max Martin and Rami Yacoub had a totally different intent in mind. Interpretations of a lust for physical (and emotional) abuse aside, Spears was cutting to the core of what a slew of recent medical and sociological studies have concluded: to be loveless is to die a slow death that one might as well expedite.

In the latest testament to the the effects of isolation on one’s health, former Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy wrote in an essay for the Harvard Business Review, “Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.” So yes, to one’s absence of surprise, a slew of Facebook friends or Instagram followers can’t compensate for the crippling void that is your total lack of any genuine connection with another person.

Beyond the obvious fact that this applies to romantic l’amour, the detriment of feeling abandoned by a significant other can amplify not only one’s sentiments of destitution, but also the gut-punching taste of ostracism in the form of rejection. As noted by Amen Clinics, “ostracism can cause pain that often is deeper and lasts longer than a physical injury.” Being that loneliness and ostracism go hand in hand, this sensation of physical agony tied to the emotional is very much a risk involved in making oneself vulnerable to anyone. So begins a chicken or egg cycle of what’s worse: allowing someone else to see who you truly are and getting chucked anyway or not trying at all so as to avoid the hurtful risk of repudiation?

On the one hand, succumbing to the former can cause just as many lifelong mental health dangers as solitude spurred by a rebuffing. Yet, if we don’t gamble on the often unpredictable loyalties of our fellow humans, then what is it all for? Spears would tell you, of course, to mold your personality to fit the desires of the object of your affection (hence her screaming “show me how you want it to be” and she’ll make it so if it means the waving away of unrequited love). However, the only thing worse than being lonely is being with someone who makes you believe that you’re inadequate. Until a pill to cure Assholery is invented, alas, we must endure the dissatisfactions of a time investment in people who so often prove they’re not worth it. It’s the sole method for avoiding what Murthy has dubbed “a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking fifteen cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.”

So no, Britney nor I are fucking around when we say, “My loneliness is killing me.” In the process, maybe a mashup of Joy Division’s “Isolation” with “…Baby One More Time” can be created to dull the heartache.