An Unbearable Feeling

Sonder is one of the worst words in the English language. It’s that feeling of realization that every single person on Earth is living a life just as full & complex as your own, even if you personally have nothing to do with it. Once you get it into your head, it can be hard to get it out. It’s like becoming aware of the weight of your own tongue in your mouth. It’s like becoming aware of your own nose sitting right in the middle of your field of vision. It’s like shooting a sawed-off shotgun directly into your own gut. Under regular circumstances, it’s probably not really as harsh as I make it out to be, but it’s rarely experienced under regular circumstances.

Imagine you’re sitting alone in your bedroom, & you decide you’re tired of sitting alone in your bedroom. You install an app on your phone in an attempt to meet people. You start some conversations with your matches, but none of them actually lead to anything outside of the confines of the app, because you don’t drink, & you can’t match anyone’s enthusiasm for hiking. The conversations end as quickly as they started. One doesn’t end, though. You continue talking. It’s just small talk, dumb jokes, & gifs from Friends (you’ve never watched Friends), but eventually the conversation moves from the app to your text messages. The quality of the conversation doesn’t change much, but the singular act of exchanging phone numbers makes it seem much more substantial than before. It’s 2am. You uninstall the app. You stay up talking* to this personal a little longer (*neither of you have heard the other’s voice.) You eventually fall asleep. You wake up with a headache. You check to see if you have any messages. You don’t. You go to work. You desperately want to check your phone, but you can’t until your lunch break. It’s your lunch break. There are no messages. Sawed-off shotgun. You send a message. You get one back. The rest of your break is good. The rest of your shift is good. You go home. More messages are sent back & forth. It’s 2am. This continues for weeks. You always have to text first. This is the beginning of the delusion. This person only texts you when you initiate it. You’ve never met this person. You’ve never spoken to this person. This person only lives in your phone, & you’re okay with this. Weeks go by. Months go by. The messages are longer now, but the conversations are shorter. You still have to initiate every single time. You still have to bring this person into existence whenever you are happy or bored or lonely or sad or stuck awake in bed alone at 2am. This power of creation begins to wear you down completely. Hours & days & weeks sit between your conversations now. You can no longer find the strength to awaken the person who lives in your phone. The sheer amount of energy required to press send makes you sick. Your phone’s battery is at your phone & all who inhabit it are dead. You say that out loud. It takes a minute, but it makes you feel a little bit better. You plug in your phone & fall asleep. It’s morning. No headache. Your phone is charged. No messages. You go to work. It’s your lunch break. You open an app, & there’s a suggested person to follow. You go to the profile. It’s the person from your phone. You haven’t spoken to this person in months. You haven’t brought this person to life in months. This person has not existed in months. The profile is full. It has more followers than yours. You check the most recent post. It’s from 2 hours ago. Sonder.

This article was updated on March 20, 2020