- Jesse Elkins
Jesse Elkins: my loneliness
We must speak and share our loneliness stories if we're to
de-stigmatise gay loneliness. Here's Jesse's story.
Very few gay men seek out and then read articles about loneliness unless they’ve come to the realisation that they’re lonely. The stigma and shame we feel is real, and it takes a lot of courage to even engage with the subject.
I’m proud of you for opening this article. I recognise and admire your courage. Now that you’re here, let’s start getting you connected to yourself, those most important to you and to your community.
This is the first article in an ongoing series where we'll explore loneliness as a lived experience from others in the global gay and queer community. If we are to de-stigmatise gay loneliness, then we must know that there are other gay and queer people thinking experiencing loneliness like we are. I'm here to have The Loneliness Guy as a forum for that to happen. I asked my beautiful friend Jesse Elkins from Full Sun Fitness if he'd share his loneliness story with us. Jesse readily agreed and then - I think - immediately doubted his decision. Ah - the stigma strikes again! Jesse persisted and sent me this to share with you. I've not changed a word, as I want to honour his bravery, courage, grace and - above all - his beautifully human story.
Before we go on, this article was published on Ngunnawal country. I wish to acknowledge and respect the Ngunnawal people’s continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of Canberra and the surrounding region. I would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may read this post.
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The long story
My first creamy white deluge flooded through my throbbing cock when I was 12 years old. As with most divine pleasures, I have clung to that climactic moment and jerked, throttled, tossed, and fapped myself into sustained indulgence until, well, now. If my math is correct, that would total 678,398 piping hot loads washed down drains, spackled upon locker room showers and saunas, and glued to sheets strewn about bedrooms of loves lost. In fact, I’m jerking off now.
Maybe I’m avoiding something.
Scholars agree on one thing: loneliness results from (lack of) ideal, expected, and sustained social connection (Heinrich & Gullone, 2006).
Let me explain.
My mother was incredibly loving, kind, and dedicated to the joy and success of her only son (me). I was actively involved in the hottest rural playground fashion shows with my kindergarten classmates, unafraid to dance around in the finest frocks (an ongoing theme, see below). I had all types of friends growing up from jocks to thespians, drinking buddies to bible school devotees. Sprinkle in a few besties, and you could say I was never lonely, by scholarly definition. I was surrounded by people, loved, cared for, protected, adulated, desired, and safe. Of course, I was never lonely.
I had this exceptional ability as a social chameleon to morph and connect with people in all social settings, regardless of whom I was with or what situation I was in. I linked myself to infinite social networks and accumulated countless ‘friends’. I was never alone, constantly stimulated, and fully engaged. Nevertheless, after far too many bar stool conversations and therapy sessions, I realize now that the glittery social queen in me wasn’t as glitz and glam as she thought she was. I conflated acquaintances with authentic social connection, which I thought to be commensurate with safety. I connected with as many people as possible to build social capital as a survival mechanism and ultimately worked far too hard to stave off loneliness.
Loneliness isn’t only about human connection, or lack thereof. Loneliness is sadness in solitude that can be associated with other people. In this definition, loneliness amounts to all sad feelings, brief or persistent, that are experienced alone. While being ‘alone’ hinges upon being with or without others, it does not necessarily come from disappointment or disconnection between or because of people. Loneliness can emit from nuanced, sometimes obvious, and often abstract forces that leave us feeling alone, lonely, and sad.
While my false sense of connection and protection from loneliness was strong in a sea of relationships, my pseudo-security remained unwavering when my most valuable relationships imploded. Nearing adulthood, my mother’s health turned dire, I lived through heartbreaking friend losses, I broke up with the theatrical version of my masculine social expression when I came out of the closet, and I realized many of the people in my life had ulterior and unfavorable motives.
I was determined that I would never feel lonely. Instead of succumbing to a narrative of loneliness, I decided to garner joy and connection elsewhere. I climbed the ranks in the world of swimming. I travelled, I studied, I explored a vast array of closeted male bodies, I learned photography, I took dance classes, and, you guessed it, I wanked a lot. With dissipating human connection, I began filling my cup with sport, scenery, literature, human touch, art, movement, and literal cum, and I was far from lonely.
You may be thinking, he’s a narcissist.
Maybe. Aren’t we all to a certain degree?
Or maybe I have a high-level proficiency at avoiding loneliness.
Loneliness is physical and alive. Loneliness can transcend concept and emotion, penetrating our bodies, becoming palpable, blood rushing, and heart throbbing while conflicting and overloading our sensory systems with simultaneous feelings of empty, pitted rigidity. Loneliness can also generate an abstract storm without shape or physical form, bearing a heavy metaphysical presence (or existential crisis), that lurks in our subconscious minds.
Yet, loneliness has since managed to break through my blanket attempts at avoiding sadness in solitude.
Loneliness has found me, over, and over, and over again, and this is how:
On a plane. It isn’t novel to discern being ‘alone’ from feeling ‘lonely’, yet every time I sit alone on a plane, I have at least one gut-wrenchingly lonely bout of panic. Perhaps because when I fly somewhere, it is typically to seek a new experience, either solo or with others, and the same thing always holds true: when I return home on a plane, I am changed. I feel loneliness in these moments because I feel separated and departed from my own self, for better or for worse.
Meeting a deadline. Papers, applications, blog posts, work projects, you name it, when I complete it, I experience a deep pang of embodied loneliness. My palms sweat, I lose all focus, and I wonder, “what’s next?” I look at my submission, and though relieved that it’s over, I feel empty chaos that I have now crossed the finish line. Practice and process fill me up, and when it ends, I often realize I wasn’t as present as I wanted to be during the working, growing, and expanding portion of getting there. Let me be cliché here. ‘Practice over perfection.’ ‘Enjoy the ride.’ Live, laugh…’, okay I won’t go there.
Shame & trauma. Shame shows up without notice and it fucks and breeds every thought that runs through our minds until we are overpopulated with fear mongering, self-sabotaging behavioral inclinations and reckless actions that disrupt, disconnect, and destroy our relationships, jobs, and livelihood. Shame can bury us alive before we know it. That is loneliness (for me).
Okay, this is worst case scenario, but I know you know. Recently, I discussed loneliness with insightful friends of mine (thanks Josh and Danielle). Two themes emerged:
We must share our shame stories and shine a big, bright, spotlight all over them to unburden ourselves from the heaviest of weight. If we don’t, we will sit, stew, and dissolve into shame and total loneliness.
Shame causes loneliness when we know we are doing something we don’t actively align with. Thoughts that emerge go something like, “I’m [insert any negative behavior] and no one in my life would approve of this, but I’m doing it anyway.”
For me, my loneliest moments have shown up when I have been high on illicit drugs, too drunk to walk, or in sexual situations that I would never put myself in with a sober mind. These out of bounds, lost to the world, checked out moments, are tremendously lonely for me. This is how I know loneliness is a product of shame and fear and does not only depend on my ideal, expected, or sustained social connections, even in my most intimate relationships. Here, my loneliness has everything to do with my shame, trauma, and feelings of isolation in that experience.
Other experiences that feel isolating, sad, and lonely to me are lonely because no amount of support, guidance, self-help books, or therapy can make my experience experienced by someone else in the same way. Meaning, when I feel something so inexplicably unique to my human experience, for me, there is no escaping loneliness. These are those moments:
Grief. Grief when my mother died on the Halloween Blood Moon of 2020. Grief when I’m driving, and tears pour because ‘I Hope You Dance’ by Lee Ann Womack plays on shuffle. Grief when I wake up laughing because my mom visited in my dreams, then I realize that only she and I would get the humor shared in that moment. Grief when I can’t get out of bed because my mom isn’t here.
Identity. Intersectionality. I’m gay, gender fluid, but I like being a guy, and I love wearing dresses, and my nails are currently bright red, and I can do the splits, but are my muscles big enough to do the splits but also look hot, and am I actually representing my queer identity if I’m spiral thinking about my masculinity being big and strong enough, and did I cry today because if I didn’t I could really go for a good cry but also does that mean that I’m not strong enough to get through this hard time on my own?
That painfully long run on sentence – that authentic thought-fall gushing from my unhinged psyche through my fingertips onto this document – no one else has had that exact thought. And even if they have had a similar intersectional mind-fuck identity crisis and full-on lived experience, theirs is theirs and mine is mine. Do I feel closer to people with similar experiences? Sure. Do I feel less lonely? Unsure.
The wank. Look, after 678,400 loads, you’d think I’d have my finger on the pulse of what is happening here, but I’ll do my best to articulate this phenomenon, nonetheless.
Imagine: I’m lonely on a plane. I look around for bodily stimulus. I let my pre-ejaculate energy build. I feel better. I want this anticipation to flow out of me. I explode a mile high. I’ve summited the mountain, my sexual energy is released, I’m falling off the cliff, and now I’m back in my seat and I’m lonely on a plane.
Imagine: I submit this article for editing. I keep my computer open to scour the web for my current favorite porn tropes. I edge myself. I explode on my couch. My dopamine peaks, my emotions crash, and now I’m lonely after I submit this article for editing.
You get the point.
My attempts at avoiding loneliness are the cause of my loneliness. We cannot avoid loneliness. We cannot dampen loneliness. We cannot forget loneliness exists. Dopamine can drug us, and pleasure can distract our feelings of loneliness, but they will not make it go away. LaLa Land isn’t real. What we deny will come back with the fullest force.
Loneliness can ebb and flow with an unrelenting weight, masked in shame, trauma, grief, change, psychosocial experiences, and human disconnection. Loneliness is inevitable. It shows up differently for all of us – Cum Queens and otherwise. We must never avoid our authentic feelings because what goes up, must come down. We might as well live in it, wholly, and let it wash over us with curiosity.
My boyfriend and business partner, Reto Dumeng-Suter of Mykonos Active shared this with me, and I want to share it with you as a poetic literary and loving summation of my loneliness journey:
“There either is or is not, that’s the way things are. The colour of the day. The way it felt to be a child. The saltwater on your sunburnt legs. Sometimes the water is yellow, sometimes it’s red. But what colour it may be in memory, depends on the day. I’m not going to tell you the story the way it happened. I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.” – Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, film adaptation, 1998
A final note: I believe, deeply, that humans require connection to adequately fulfill sustainable joy and general life mobility, and I commend my dear friend, Phil, and his mission within The Loneliness Guy to connect gay men in genuine ways across the globe (and over coffee!). Thanks to Phil’s indispensable loneliness mirror along the gay men’s coaching continuum, I get to reflect upon and share my perspective with you – one which may dislocate loneliness as you know it and has surely allowed me to reflect on loneliness as I thought I knew it. Thank you for allowing me to share with you how loneliness has shown up in my life, reflected upon how I remember it. Though I can’t entirely curb, mask, or heal the manifestation of loneliness in your life, I hope I’ve helped illuminate the importance and value of individual and collective narrative and reflection.
The short story:
All you’ve read is all that I remember. The colours, the feelings, the self-indulgence, the avoidance, and the shame. How you feel is how you feel. What you experience is what you experience. Loneliness is unavoidable. Loneliness is not solely dependent upon being alone, or with others. Loneliness is a byproduct of obvious and abstract emotions and situations that make us feel sad and alone. Avoidance isn’t advantageous. Be aware of your shame story and share your truth with people you love (or a multinational audience on the Loneliness Guy’s website).
Reference: Heinrich, L. M., & Gullone, E. (2006). The clinical significance of loneliness: A literature review. Clinical psychology review, 26(6), 695-718.
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I want to say an enormous thank you to Jesse for sharing his loneliness story with us. It's always a privilege to receive someone's loneliness story, and I greatly admire and respect his courage.
You may need some help after reading this article. Please, reach out to your partner, a friend or someone in your orbit who you know is trying to put themselves into the world just like you are. That could be me through my mentoring services. That could be a therapist or a counsellor – including a crisis counsellor. That could be a coach. It could be a combination of all.
Be sure to check out my services page if you need help.
You can also join the growing community of other gay men in the exclusive Premium Connection Lounge on Facebook.
Want to chat more with Jesse about his loneliness? Join us for a coffee and a beautiful chat in the upcoming episode of my podcast for gay men ‘Connection over Coffee with The Loneliness Guy’ from Thursday 28 July 2022.
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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own/the authors and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Services page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.