Loneliness and Hunger Are One and the Same
But no matter how much of the refined or synthetic you consume, the rawest form of honey will always be you
“What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast.” — Olivia Laing
For some reason heart matters always seem more digestible through the stomach, just as stomach matters seem to flow easier through the heart. They’re two of our most critical organs after all. They work around the clock to filter and endure both the euphoria and poison we subject them to, fighting bacteria, beating through blocked energy, breaking down, and neutralizing our sinful and hedonistic bullshit just to take in enough oxygen and nutrients to keep us alive.
I’ve used them and abused them, taking advantage of the fact no matter what kind of turbulence I put them through, they’ll do whatever they need to do to keep me afloat. At least until the day they don’t. They’ll burn, ache, sweat, and purge, just so I can get way too anxious about my not-that-important conference call, love a man that that doesn’t love me back, or eat the Indonesian street food they all warned me about. And why would I care? Everything worth living for requires some kind of exploitation — of workers, of the Earth, of the heart, and certainly of my own female body.
In a world of cancelled plans, after a day of fasting, in the midst of a somehow always aching heart, I can’t help but wonder where joy lives, if not in those blissful but fleeting and ephemeral experiences that are impossible to keep. The bill will always arrive and he will always leave. That summer night we all danced on the mountain top will never come back. Holding on to those moments isn’t working, there’s gotta be something more sustainable.
A past lover once told me that compulsive eating is often rooted in the belief that you’ll never get to experience a meal again — perhaps because you’re on a Greek island eating a wood fire grilled octopus made by a sweet old man named Visalis that you waited way too long for, or simply because we live in a paradoxical culture that encourages us to luxuriate in the pleasure of food while making the act of eating, like sex, inherently sinful.
When you make yourself wrong for eating, you fool yourself into believing that it’ll be just this once. The scarcity complex kicks in, urging you to take advantage of the moment as if you’ll never experience pleasure again. You deplete the earth, the animal, and the plate of every last resource, licking it clean as if the single grain of rice will somehow be the final puzzle piece to close the little empty gap inside of you. The irony is that the harder we try to fill ourselves up, the stronger our physiology fights back — at least enough to make us feel like shit, but not enough to prevent us from doing it again the next day.
So as always, we say “diet starts tomorrow”: a phrase made famous on social media, which romanticizes the moment just as much as it fetishizes the plate. Evidently, Instagram is one of the many forces of our materially self-indulgent culture that exploits our most basic desire for love and connection by making us believe that if we missed that exact moment we’re robbed of our joy, our worth, and our sense of belonging. We slave away just to pay our way back to the only moments we have to live for, or so we believe. We need them often, but they expire quickly. It’s a pretty good business model.
What it creates, then, is a concept I call experiential scarcity. It’s a pre-nostalgic and somewhat melancholic realization that we’ll never live any single experience again. It’s not inherently bad, but when we’re conditioned to be dependent on frequent peak experiences that fit a certain “vibe” or aesthetic as a means for fulfillment, we float through time with an unsatisfied yearning for a place that we’ve never been, or at least will never come back to. Within this framework, the moment clings to its setting — the food, decor, lighting, location, and people — rather than how it made us feel. It’s true, moments are scarce, but we forget that the feelings they awaken will always exist in abundance.
It’s the same reason why the days after a big festival or celebration can often feel like a glimpse of postpartum depression, or why the morning after a hypnotic romance is greeted with an emotional hangover. We wake up in a haze, replaying the moments in our head as a kind of experiential masturbation meant to exploit the little remnants of joy that fizzle away as memories become more and more distant. We wonder if the days spent missing his touch are even worth the night out in the first place.
Social media has gotten so good at defining our worthiness by the frequency of these peak experiences that it even has its own word in the dictionary. FOMO (n), the fear of missing out, is “the anxiety that an exciting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by social media.” To me, it feels like mourning a piece of myself that could have been but never was. I didn’t do enough to get there, and now I’m helpless, empty, and triggered with the belief that I missed my one and only shot at happiness.
A long time ago I read a little excerpt on the distinction between pleasure vs. enjoyment that I always come back to. It describes pleasure “as the good feeling that comes from satisfying homeostatic needs such as hunger, sex, and bodily comfort,” while enjoyment is characterized by “the moments when people break through the limits of homeostasis — when they do something [often challenging or uncomfortable] that stretches them beyond what they were.” He argues that enjoyment, rather than pleasure, is what leads to personal growth and long term happiness, and yet for some reason, when given the choice, we always choose the latter.
In an insatiably capitalistic society, it’s hard to find joy in the things that can’t be bought, but without minimizing the importance of pleasure, I’m coming to understand that there’s no food and no man who will ever fill that void. Ironically, it’s thinking and writing about food, appreciating the craft and the people behind the kitchen or across the table that fills me up the most. While we undoubtedly need nutrients to survive (both from food and human connection), it’s important to recognize when the hunger for attention is just a need to prove to ourselves that we’re lovable.
This year, I have all the proof I need. I vow to choose enjoyment over pleasure. I’ll take back all the time I spent replaying the love you showed me, because it was only ever mine in the first place. I’ll use that time to put my reflections on paper so I can reread them as a reminder the next time you come crawling back.