I never envisioned turning 31 and being alone. Thirty, as minuscule as it is, was always enough of an abstraction that it just seemed like an age where many monumental life events already occurred. An age with checkboxes ticked for something approximating marriage or at least being with who I’d probably marry, maybe children already in the mix.
Instead, I’m practically 31 and I fluctuate from being as far away from any of those things as ever to a percent of a single percent away from any of those things — and let’s be honest, it’s usually closer to the children part given it’s a lot harder to accidentally find your way into a marriage through a single bad decision or simple bad luck.
I’ve been in a more contemplative state than I have been in years lately. Perhaps it’s my own temporality catching up to me and scaring me out of my own skin like if you took the movie Scream and and replaced the murderous rampage element of it with an existential carnage that mocked all your time spent without establishing any sort of permanent mark.
I’m not lonely, or rather, I’d rate my own tolerance to loneliness and complete independence higher than most — so being in a state that would leave most lonely reads more to me like “just chillin”.
I’m also not experiencing in an existential crisis in the sense that the entire atomic structure of the universe I thought I resided in is decaying at such a rapid rate that absolute madness might take me to the desert crawling on all fours cawing and mooing until I’m neither seen nor heard from again. At least, that’s how I imagine the average existential dread feels like to most.
I’m not sad or depressed. I’ve done that plenty of times. This last year easily ranks among top 3 in my life thus experienced. And from an isolated metric of satisfaction and well-being; also high.
But I am not impervious to loneliness. I am not invulnerable to other existential crises. And I have no illusions of my proximity from feeling down versus feeling good being even as far as a day trip away. It’s more like a 5 minute bike ride in the wrong direction of thought or events.
I’ve thought tirelessly about one of the most insurmountable factors which places me at razor’s edge width between billowing catastrophe and relative nirvana.
AS you get older, especially if you retain a high level of independence, you experience what I am calling The Cold Death of Your Social Universe.
One reason why I hadn’t yet worked these thoughts out into writing is because the terminology I’m borrowing from is a little bit confusing. Among the currently theories considered most probable, physicists and cosmologists have several which postulate how the universe might end.
The Heat Death or Big Freeze, the Big Rip, and the Cold Death (which I understand to be different than the Heat Death) are all similar enough in that I am kind of borrowing ideas from them quite liberally into my thoughts on a social life through your twenties, into your thirties, and through the rest of your life.
Here’s how I’ve been experiencing it:
Just like the universe continues to expand and likely accelerating expansion, so does my social life.
Friends couple up. They get married. They start families. Their own little solar systems form and they slip a little further away from your social cosmos.
Other friends move away. Some to other states, some to other countries, and even some just 20 minutes further away or closer. And that same physical space parallels the mutual immediacy to our lives.
Meanwhile, my own little system of planets, satellites, and stars (friends, love interests, family, hobbies, jobs) fluctuate into slightly newer orbits. And drift into their own pocket of space.
These social approximations re-calibrate themselves over and over. Day after day, week by week, and years piling over years.
As we all float further and further out, the fabric of energy and memories that makes up the interpersonal bond might still be there — at least within the dimension of time. However, the transfer of social energy within my relationships suffers from social distance. ‘Leaving where we left off’ stays easy and near-immediate as ever, and some have enough transfer of balance from order to disorder that we might be lucky to get enough time hanging out to recapture that feeling of how things used to be.
Simply getting together takes more of the energy and heat transfer. When we do, it takes a bit more just to feel that same old comfort than it did when we went to school everyday or shared a roof or job or city or socio-familial dynamics.
Nothing can be the same in an ever expanding, ever changing social universe. And nothing will be.
These effects compound themselves based on levels of introversion and extroversion; or maybe we could measure it in outgoing-ness versus reserved…-ness. The more outgoing are like a huge star or imposing planet like Jupiter, where the shy-er of us might even register as something that might not even be its own planet like poor old Pluto.
Unlike the universe, we don’t live long enough to expand far enough away that all functional heat and light leaves entirely, but the effects can feel the same at times.
For the more socially energized, keeping their social solar system vibrant, bustling, and filled with satellites and planets is second nature.
For some like myself who have a social side, but are more prone to alone time — I sometimes look at my own social life like I imagine the night sky over the course of a Cold Death or Big Rip of the universe.
When I was in more forced social stages of life, it was like those pictures of the night sky in the Mojave desert; inconceivably colorful, bright and speckled like a giant paintbrush and speckled the black canvas above. Most of all, lined with the distant strokes of the Milky Way, signifying the promise of something more out there.
Today, I might sit down in an open field of my own thoughts at night and gaze up at the landscape of my social cosmos and it’s just a lot darker.
There are still plenty of specks of light twinkling, but it feels like less and less each year. The intensity they glow slowly fades when I compare memories distant and memories present. And by some perceptual sense that our human bodies don’t have that our feelings do, it’s colder.
I sit on my rock and watch it all recede and take the warmth that the idea of ‘with’ brings. And then I see I haven’t done much to the place in my own neighborhood.
When I transit to the solar systems of my friends and loved ones who have built something different with theirs; families or still booming social lives, I feel good. Then I make the long, solitary trip back by myself and it all sets in.
Even for someone more extroverted, the amount of energy to maintain it all grows until. And we all expand away. The human life cycle is fortunately different enough in that it allows us phases to build out in our observable social universe at different points in time. That’s family, if nothing else. However, there is definitely a time in between in which is feels like the expansion just carries on to infinity.
For moments, the mind catches hold of that and convinces you of a future of heat-less black. And for a sleepless night you might see the Cold Death of the Social Universe.