Is Living in the Country Lonely?
“It’s so lonely here,” my mom and some friends have told me when they visited us at our homestead. This comment has always struck me with a comical irony.
Of course, I totally understand what they mean. The me in 2009 would definitely agree. Back then, I loved going hiking and occasionally apple picking (for the photo op), but I couldn’t imagine living this way.
In fact, around that time Noel and I had an opportunity to move to North Carolina to a rural suburb, and I turned it down for fear of isolation. What if I can’t make new friends? What if I can’t get a job? What if I change my mind and I can’t afford to move back?
Fast forward to 2023. I’ve been living in the country for 7 years now and I’ve never felt more connected. The slowness, the quietness, the space actually make it possible for me to connect more, not less. I feel the presence of plants, I hear the songs of birds and insects and the crowing of the neighbors’ chickens, the cows mooing, and the babbling creek. I’m surrounded by all kinds of conversations, all kinds of consciousnesses, all kinds of culture. And they’re endlessly fascinating, diverse, and joyful. They’re all busy going about their lives, yet also completely entwined with each other’s lives.
Follow any of these lives – a bee going about pollinating a flower that will make the seed I will soon collect – and you’ll soon see we’re all connected and we’re not alone. Not only are we connected, but my own sustenance, my very breath, is dependent upon these lives around me. I feel so much love when I see this and when I realize how deeply connected we are.
But perhaps by loneliness, we mean a lack of human activities, connections, and conversations. While there are certainly less people in the country, the quality of our relationship with our friends and neighbors is much deeper. We bond over shared values and we see our neighborhood as a community and our valley and mountains as part of our home. People here know their watershed and forests and protect them fiercely through protests and civic work. Many of our neighbors are gardeners and farmers who share their harvest with us. They also share manure and firewood, seeds, and plants with us. We borrow tools from one another and donate and give away furniture, kids toys, building materials, and more.
Even how we relate with people is rooted in our connection with the land. Last year, due to an unusually late frost, almost everyone in the valley had a poor fruit year and this became a conversation and then, a collective memory of the changing seasons and climatic shifts in our region. When we talk with elders of the community, we learn about how cedars used to thrive here, how spring and fall used to be longer, and how intense floods took out bridges… Their memories provide us with wisdom about how to prepare for the future, such as planning for more drought and wildfires.
This is such a stark contrast to the suburban neighborhood I used lived in, where I did not know most of my neighbors even though we shared walls and I could hear their dog barking through the white fence that divided our stamp-sized yards. The only “neighborhood” concerns came in the form of threatening HOA notices over things like overnight parking or planting the wrong shrub in our backyard.
Which life do you think is more lonely? Studies after studies will tell you loneliness is a condition of the modern world and we’re only getting more lonely as we become more technologically advanced.
I understand that loneliness because I’ve lived it and it’s a very disconcerting feeling to realize, I have everything our culture told me would bring me happiness and fulfillment, so why am I not fulfilled? Why do I feel lonelier? That’s because what I longed for is not more human connections, but more meaningful connection.
In searching for that meaningful connection, I discovered a strange truth: that we long for something even more profound – we long for a personal, intimate connection with everything, with the whole universe.
To the extent that we can extend our identity beyond the merely human and experience ourselves as part of the earth, we can share in, partake of, and express that miraculous generosity.John Seed, in an interview with Ram Dass
And what’s more: we long for it because we have the capacity to love unconditionally and some part of us desire to live up to our potential!
And that kind of connection is absolutely possible. Even if you’re living in the suburb or the city. It’s not really about where we live. The homesteading lifestyle is but one of many paths, and I am grateful to have found the path that works for me. But I could also easily have moved here and feel the same if my mindset is the same. What ultimately changed for me is this, I listened to the loneliness and what it asked of me. Then, I listened to my heart’s longing and bravely said, yes, let’s try it your way, let’s move to the country.