John Mayer talked a lot about loneliness at his show the other night. Before he sang “Perfectly Lonely” he told the crowd that all the tabloids weren’t true, that he really is single. He just plays music and goes home, he said. And then he made some jokes about looking at porn that I couldn’t quite hear because I was making my way to the bathrooms at the top of the stadium. No matter. I got the point. He was perfectly happy with his loneliness…preferred it, maybe, to the risk and unpredictability of a real relationship.
Later, though, before his encore song “Edge of Desire,”** JM talked about how we’ve all been in that place where we’re laying on our bed with our cell phone on our chest, willing it to ring, to vibrate, to give us the message: “I want you.” He held his hand out, palm up, fingers curled in a little like he was holding a bug, and said that’s what it’s like—the shuddering of an insect’s wings, whispering, “I…buzz…want…buzz…you…buzz.” Every heart in that amphitheater ached a little as he said it, every memory flashed back to the time they really did lay with the phone on their chest, desperate for that person, but deeper still, desperate to be wanted.
Rejection—being unwanted—is at the root of so much of our most profound pain. It cripples us and, like a degenerative disease, compounds itself so that the more rejected we feel, the more we act in ways that cause others to reject us. So it makes sense, then, that we would seek out the opposite—the state of being wanted—as the cure to our pain. Sometimes we seek it out as a panacea, as an elixir from a mythical fountain of life and healing. I think that’s why John Mayer wrote that song, “Edge of Desire,” that has lines like
Don’t say a word, just come over and lie here with me
Cause I’m just about to set fire to everything I see
I want you so bad I’ll go back on the things I believe
There I just said it, I’m scared you’ll forget about me.
The concert was a process, really. From John Mayer pretending like loneliness is fun or glamorous, to unearthing one of the most ancient, universal ailments of humanity. We all know that desperation: to be noticed, to be remembered—it’s not just about sex or romance or even companionship. It’s a fear of being forgotten, of melting into invisibility, a fear so great that we’re afraid to be alone with ourselves because we’re willing to destroy whatever lies in our path just so we might actually be seen, to betray our deepest selves and trade our long-held allegiances for a few sweet moments of acceptance.
It’s the human condition, I guess. While there’s something beautiful about the way John Mayer empties his pockets and lets the ugly, broken bits of the reality of loneliness swirl around his feet onstage every night of his Battle Studies tour, I also really appreciate Elizabeth Gilbert’s words in Eat, Pray, Love. She’s been there—wallowing in loneliness, letting it wash over her like a wave and course through her like a river. But later, she moves forward:
“When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.”
I guess I’m somewhere between these two. Sometimes I want to be invited, not because I want to go, but because I want to be wanted. Sometimes I just want to hear someone breathing next to me as I study or watch a movie. Sometimes that desire is great enough that I feel on the edge of desire, or destruction, or desperation…they usually all blur together. But once in a while I grit my teeth and I stay with it, and refuse to run or check out or self-medicate. Erwin McManus once said that you shouldn’t run away from your fear—the only thing to do is run straight toward it.
**For reference, below is a video montage of John Mayer’s winter Battle Studies tour, set to the song “Edge of Desire.”