It is not good to be alone – not just in terms of emotional loneliness but also in terms of healthy human and moral growth.
The human being needs a helpmate. Those words, attributed to God just before the creation of Eve, are meant as an antidote to the pain of human loneliness and inconsummation. That is evident. At the deepest level of everything, from atomic particles through men and women, there is an archetypal primal imperative that says something can be whole only if it has two mutually complementary principles, one female and the other male. No one male or group of males or one female or group of females can do away with loneliness the way that a man and a women, united, can. The uniting of gender is constitutive of nature itself. Marriage lies at the root of everything.
But that is not the only reason that it is not good to be alone. There is another kind of aloneness that is perhaps less emotionally painful but probably more dangerous. It is also not good to be alone for reasons that have to do with human maturity and morality. Simply put, when I am alone it is often a lot easier to be selfish, immature, given over to addictions, and blind to the needs of others.
Recently a colleague shared with me this story: He was working with a seminarian in spiritual direction and was trying to help him discern as to whether he should be in the seminary. He asked the young man: “Why do you want to be a priest?” The answer he received both disappointed and astonished him. The young man gave this as his reason: “I grew up in a large family and I never had anything of my own. I had to share everything – room, food, television, stereo, visitors, and even my parents’ affection. As a celibate, I will have the private space and the privacy that I’ve wanted all these years. My life will be my own!” It is hard to think of a worse reason to want to become a priest.
I use this story not to suggest that all, or even many, seminarians think this way or that there is anything wrong with celibacy. This example is in fact quite atypical in terms of the reasons why, normally, people choose to make a vow of celibacy. Unfortunately, it is not as uncommon in terms of a practical attitude that pervades contemporary life and infects nearly all of us. As abhorrent as this young man’s motivation might seem on the surface, there is a good amount of him in each of us.
We may not state the issue as crassly as he did, but we too, all of us, have a similar itch for privacy, for control, for ownership, to have things exclusively for ourselves, and to decide things all on our own. We also want our own space and the power to control things around us – and to walk in and out on others on our own terms. Family and community life today are struggling for exactly those reasons.
It is dangerous to be alone, dangerous because, when we are alone, we do not have to adjust ourselves to another’s rhythm, another’s needs, and another’s demands. It is then a lot easier to grow selfish. That is why, for an adult person, being celibate or single or childless can be dangerous. The danger is not so much that one will be lonelier than somebody who is married and has children. It is rather that, alone, free from the demands that a marriage partner and children, family, place on us we are dangerously free to have things too much our own way. When we are alone there are too few conscriptive forces pressuring us to maturity.
The opposite is true in a good marriage and a good family. What happens there is that the needs, demands, and rhythms of others, our partner and our children, force us to constantly give of ourselves and to move beyond our own needs and demands. In community life, unless one lives it unhealthily, we come to maturity by conscription. Thus, for example, the demands of children are a school of unselfishness for the parents. What that means is that after thirty or so years of not being able to turn around without somebody, your kids, demanding something of you, you become pretty practiced in altruism. Most parents mature primarily because their children force them to do so.
It is also not good to be alone for moral reasons. It is no accident that we like to be alone when we act out in relation to our addictions. All alcoholics crave privacy, as do those who have drug, sex, or gambling addictions. Bad morality doesn’t want an audience. Nobody watches pornography with his family!
It is not good to be alone. Everyone needs a helpmate … not just to not be lonely but also be to mature and moral.