The Language of Loneliness

By November 11, 2014East Asia, Expat Life, On Love

Travel writing is littered with loneliness. We take our courage and our savings and hit the road with no one and nothing but desire. We make a hundred friends along the way but still not one of us can escape the alone. When you realize the lives of your family and friends back home go on with or without you. When you realize you don’t even have a home. When you look around and see nothing but strangers and hear not a word that you can understand. But the alone is part of it all. There is always more adventure, more strangers who will become friends, and more curious lands that will transform into familiar places. There is beauty in the tragedy of loves that we must leave. There is a romance in that courageous solitude, one that is spoken of again and again by travel writers everywhere.

But today I am not writing about that loneliness. This is about a new kind of lonely, one I’m only just learning. It is the loneliness of silence and stagnancy. I am married and living with my wonderful husband in Seoul. So how can I be lonely? We are unendingly happy together, we are overly-affectionate, his face is my salvation and my anchor. We have been living in Seoul for 18 months. Each morning he wakes up early and goes to work. Each day he kisses me while I am still in bed half-asleep before he goes. He tells me he loves me and looks at me the way only he can. And then it is only me. My job here used to have me out and about in the city from 10 am to 8 pm. I read books on the subway and looked at the faces surrounding me with curiosity. I reveled in each new neighborhood I discovered as I traversed this great metropolis. I listened to the strange sounds of Korean in my ears, trying to discern any words I had learned. Seoul was new, and foreign, and still an adventure even though we had an apartment and a steady paycheck. The first year passed by with the wonder never waning. The easy excitement of Korea convinced us to stay for another year.

But lately, my work has dried up. I’m teaching only a handful of classes each week. The money is gone and there are no more trips to be taken until we go back to America seven months from now. I am lonely in my lack of choice. Each day I sit silently at my awkward little desk in our tiny apartment in an uncomfortable chair. I write. I get rejected. I speak to no one. When I get to class I struggle to speak English to the small children who barely understand what I am saying. They don’t want to talk to me. “Di-suh Plus, juseo.” I buy a pack of cigarettes. “Kamsahamnida.” I utter a ‘thank you’ to the woman at the convenience store. I force myself to read as many Korean signs as I can throughout the day. Occasionally, I stumble across a Korean-ized English word like bae-suh-tuh. Then I realize: best. It offers me an odd comfort to find a word I understand. I haven’t heard the sound of my own voice in hours. There is no one to listen. The streets are no longer full of wonder. They are loud and homogeneous and full of people to whom I can never speak. The only thing that seems foreign in this city is me.

When I am traveling, I love sitting in the window seat on the bus and plastering my forehead to the glass, watching as much of the world pass by as I can. In Seoul, I put on my headphones and close my eyes. It is only a commute now. The same bus route each day. I check my g-chat frequently. Maybe someone will be online. Maybe there will be someone I can talk to during my three hours of commuting to teach a single hour-long class. There never is. It’s 3 am back on the East Coast. I am alone on this bus.

When I get home in the afternoon, I know I should write. I should try to find more freelance work. But I don’t, because I’m tired of layering rejection on loneliness. I put on a TV show just to hear the voices. I talk to myself. I text my husband, but he is busy at work. I email my friends back home, even though they are sleeping. I just want to talk to someone who can understand me. No one here understands me. Even when I try to speak Korean. I am terrible at speaking Korean.

When I hear the sound of my husband entering the key code for our door each night, my heart jumps. The mechanical sound of the lock retreating into the door is the beginning of my day. I get up to hold him the second the door opens. I can’t wait to tell him any and everything. I tell him each thought I’ve had since the moment I woke up. I tell him every minute thing I did that day. I made the bed this morning and did the dishes, and took a shower. I did a little bit of writing, but not much. I had the leftover chili for lunch. The girls were so cute today in class, let me tell you all about it. Let me tell you all about everything because you are the only thing standing between me and the silence. You are the only thing living between me and the loneliness. You are the only one I know who speaks my language.

16 Comments

  • This post is beautifully written and rings true on many levels to me too- there are times when living abroad is hard, and all you want is your home. It’s hard when you don’t speak the language and just want the comforts of home, it’s understandable that you feel low at times. At least you have a wonderful husband and are out here with someone else! Keep your head up, and try to lose yourself in writing. Hope you feel better soon!

    • Taylor says:

      Thanks Kathryn, I actually already am feeling a lot better. I wrote this last week when I was just feeling so stuck here. There will always be ups and downs though!

  • Meg Wray says:

    I am honest when I say this, your post made me cry. I am currently feeling a bit lonely as I end my first semester teaching ESL in Korea. Although many things are still unfamiliar to me, unlike yourself who has been there for a while, I feel like you really put into words part of the loneliness I feel right now. Thank you.

  • Elle says:

    I have felt this so many times living in Korea. I have felt disconnected and unable to communicate despite having studied 4 months of Korean and reaching an intermediate level. It’s always great to meet strangers and those strangers eventually become friends. However, you’re right that there are just times when there is no one to talk to and what was once exciting and different becomes routine. Yet, it’s up to us to keep finding ways of making a routine exciting or fulfilling. Usually on my commutes I now use that time to connect to other people through blog posts or commenting on your post now while I ride the subway to or from work. I try to turn my routine commutes into something productive. But, I understand. Sometimes things are just lonely. For me they happen randomly and dissipate and then return. So, I hope your sense of loneliness dissipates soon.

    • Taylor says:

      yes, it already has somewhat. and i’m so lucky to know i always have hudson at the end of the day. in 6 more months we have a new adventure, so i’m just trying to focus on that and maybe just enjoy underemployment? i’ve been able to catch up on lots of great TV shows!

  • francesca says:

    Taylor – #nailedit.

    I felt like this so many times, especially in Korea. Even with Marina and friends, I felt lonely when completely swarmed with people every moment of the day. The silence of your own home become comforting and deafening at the same time – I totally feel you. I still feel that way here but in a strange way, I find comfort in my anonymity and disconnection. If you’re looking for an awesome series, I just got glued to Hell on Wheels. Best watched whilst sipping whiskey. <3

    • Taylor says:

      Thanks Francesa! Good to hear from you! It’s weird because I started writing this like two weeks ago when I was feeling really down and now things feel better, even though nothing has changed. I’ve just been trying to remind myself that things are still great in my life, even if I feel a but stagnant and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m intrigued by this show…but whiskey is a bit harder to come by here. Maybe that’s another reason I’ve been bummed 😉

  • Laura says:

    Taylor! Korea can be really isolating sometimes, can’t it? Sometimes I feel so defeated, like I have nothing left to give to these kids or this place, but then something changes, something good happens and those thoughts are all gone. Sending some virtual hugs!

  • Nailah says:

    Not one picture~ And I read every word.

    “When I hear the sound of my husband entering the key code for our door each night, my heart jumps. ”

    I live alone but, I know that feeling. I often call friends back in my home country Trinidad, because I know they really speak my language.

    I really enjoyed this~ Thanks for sharing.

  • This post made me feel a bit sad because its so true. there are so many moment in Korea where loneliness is so evident. Sometimes I can go a full school week (Mon-Fri) without seeing anyone except the people at school at its so depressingly lonely! I find its even worse if you are trying to really save so you don’t go out as much. Thank goodness for my boyfriend

  • It was super brave of you to put yourself and your feelings out into the world…I can really identify with your words. Often, I find that the solitude and even the feeling of stagnation can lead to the most creative revelations if you allow yourself to push through it all. Lovely piece of writing…

  • Matt says:

    Wow. Awesome, just awesome. Writing is supposed to convey your emotions as truly as possible and you definitely achieved that here. Nothing else needs to be said.

  • Kirsten says:

    I definitely feel you on this! I recently just wrote a post about the loneliness of being abroad. Although, my feelings were more about being far from home. I’m lucky in my current situation here in Korea because I live and work with my boyfriend. We also work with 10 other foreign teachers. Last year I worked at a public school (and was the only foreign teacher) so it got exhausting not being able to talk to anybody. It’s nice this year to have friends/coworkers to converse with all day.

    I also think that writing is a great outlet. And I mean just writing. Not necessarily work-writing/free-lancing. But just writing. Even if you post it on your blog or not. I’ve always found writing incredibly therapeutic. You kind of talk to yourself the entire time, but it’s better than nothing 🙂

  • Duke Stewart says:

    Wow. This one hurt but was so beautiful at the same time. This is perhaps one of the more honest things I’ve read in quite a while. I am having a bit of funk myself these days but thankfully, my better half (wife) keeps me going just like your husband does.

    I remember reading something that this guy posted about his goal being to receive 40 rejection letters in a year. That way, he knew he’d get rejected a lot but perhaps someone would accept him along the way. Maybe that’d be a goal you could shoot for. I only have 2 this year (not everyone responds as you know) but am still going. It’s harder than one might think.

  • Katie says:

    Very powerful. I feel for you in your loneliness! Time periods like this will pass, and something will be on the other end, whether that is a freelance job, a move or a new friends. Something will come, be positive! Thanks for writing this!

  • Powerful, honest writing. I really enjoyed it. I think we can all as expats relate to this, in our own ways. I have a great husband, job, a car, and social life, but I still feel it sometimes. After 4 years here, it hits me suddenly and I panic thinking “what am I doing building a life here?”

    It’s especially hard when you’ve been here a long time and have to say goodbye to close friends so often.

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