Thursday, July 21, 2016

Exercised Induced... Loneliness

Apparently exercise induces all sorts of things! I wrote recently that it can induce depression, although in retrospect I believe I just wasn't eating enough food. I've about tripled my intake of cheesecake and ice cream, and have been feeling much better lately.

It also induces some really awesome things, like strength, health, confidence, patience, community, and a bunch of other things. I mentioned community in there and it's pretty important. Exercise is often a lonesome activity. You can run with a buddy, but as your mileage increases, you will find fewer and fewer cohorts who are as crazy as you. You can take a class with other people, but getting all of your exercise in a classroom can get expensive.

It's not really the sort of loneliness I'm talking about. I'm pretty blessed with the friends I have now. I lift in the mornings with my friend David. And I can often run or bike with a friend if I choose to. Unless you're an antisocial troglodyte, you'll eventually meet folks who are into fitness as much as you are.

Fellow shirtless lunatics

"So what the heck are you talking about?" You're thinking. "You sound like you have more friends than Dwayne Johnson, you boisterous fool."

Well for one, there's the transition period. I wasn't born pumping iron, much to my mom's relief. Less than 3 years ago I was a chubby alcoholic who threw parties every other week. So I had lots of "friends". Or at least, I could always find someone to have an adventure with, even if I had to seduce them with whiskey or half-naked Twister®.

When a person first starts exercising, their friends encourage them. This is because their friends know they will fail. I know that sounds harsh, but the fact is that the vast majority of people who start dieting or exercising give up. And by "vast majority" I mean like well over 90%. Everyone can relate to that. It's not uncommon for someone to post, "I'm going eat only water chestnuts and jazzercise everyday! Wish me luck!" They'll collect their 200 likes, feel good, and then everyone will forget about it in a week. It's an easy way to get a hit of validation without actually accomplishing anything, and their friends will all be there to console them with chocolate cake when they give up.

This is how I console myself.

But in the really rare circumstance that they don't fail, and in fact start showing amazing results, a weird thing happens.

People make friends with people who are similar to themselves. So if you transition from "nacho and margarita Fridays" gal to "get up at 5am to run" gal, you're no longer similar. If you transition from, "BBQ and 30 rack of beer on the lake" guy to "bicycle 100 miles around the lake" guy, you're no longer similar. And your friends don't stop being friends because they're dicks. They just can't relate to you anymore.

You've become a completely different person.

No, I haven't lost all my old friends. And I'm sure some of you reading this are saying, "you're totally 100% wrong. You probably just suck at life." I mean, yes, probably. Those people who do stay in your life, those are true friends. They're people who don't hang out with you just because you buy them drinks. They're people you share a deep and meaningful connection with. Undergoing a metamorphosis is a great way to find out who your real friends are.

However, if you've gotten accustomed to always having a gaggle of hangers-on around, you're in for a rude awakening. And I can't just keep on staying up late and partying. My life now is incompatible with that. I go to bed early every night so that I can get up early to exercise, even on weekends. Yes, I'm crazy.

I don't even get to enjoy this cuz it's still dark out.

It's more than just a matter of priorities though. I don't have the time or energy to go out after a long workout. So unless I exercised with someone, I'm probably not going to want to see any other humans that day (except to eat a massive lunch immediately after a long run). I end up neglecting the friends I do have, and rarely make new friends.

OK, I feel like I a liar right now. I saved this post as a draft a while ago. And I've actually done a lot of socializing in the past week or so. So I'm writing it now, not feeling lonely at all. So I guess the main takeaway so far isn't that becoming a fitness fanatic means you'll be sad and alone for the rest of your life. Just that it will take time to adjust your life, and the people in your life, during the transition.

Something I haven't figured out yet though is the dating thing. At the risk of sounding conceited, I had no problem meeting women when I was rotund. Contrary to what some people believe, looks don't really matter. But you do have to have the time and energy to meet lots of new people, and as I mentioned, that's hard when your life is, "exercise, work, exercise, eat, sleep."

"You're spending way too much time
with me and it's creeping me out."

On top of that, I can't really date anyone who's not as into exercise. But not for the reasons you think. It's hard for someone I'm dating to not resent me for all the time I spend in the gym or outside and not with them. They may respect and appreciate the hard work and dedication. But at the end of the day, they want to go out to dinner with me, or at least watch a movie on the couch, and all I want to do is curl up in a ball and go to sleep (especially if I'm getting up at 5am the next day).

And it effects me too. I feel guilty for neglecting a person I care about. And that combination of resentment and guilt is murder on a relationship. I know there are folks out there who are married and have kids and work and still find the time to exercise. Those people to me are mystical wizards. Some of my friends think I'm a lunatic for working out 10-15 hours a week, but I've got nothing on people with real lives. I don't have to worry about feeding other humans, or going to soccer games, or picking up kids because they got themselves stranded at a friend's house an hour away.

Serious athletes have it tough. Between their schedules, restrictive diets, and carefully measured energy, it's hard to balance a social life. And you have to be pretty obsessed - crazy even - to commit to something to such a great degree. You look at a fitness model in a magazine and assume he or she has loads of friends. But it's quite likely that they're actually very lonely. And at the risk of feeding into a stereotype, some of them get into fitness because they never quite got comfortable with other people.

So why do I bring all this up? What's the point?

The point is to not let this happen to you. Love and companionship is critical. It's the most critical thing in your life. Some may think that being healthy is most important, but it's not. A short happy life is better than a long miserable one. And yes, I feel good while I exercise, but if I don't have anyone to share my success with, it feels pointless.

For a long time I convinced myself that I was a lone wolf. That I could be like Batman, quietly awesome in the shadows. But the older I get, the more I realize how important it is to me to have love and friendship in my life. I've tasted solitude, a lot. And while I may impress myself with my ability to be strong all on my own, I'm the only person I impress. Nobody else cares, if there's nobody else in my life.

Great job asshole. Nobody cares.

I need a reason to do what I do. Just "being awesome" isn't enough anymore. I want to motivate others to exercise. I want to inspire others to pursue their goals, no matter the challenge. I want to have people in my life who can bolster me when I falter. Because no matter how tough I think I am, I suffer, especially when I'm by myself. I want to care for and be cared by other people. I want to matter. I want to be able to rejoice in the successes of others, not just myself.

I want love in my life.

There's a lot of hurt in the world, and a lot of anger. Most of it, I believe, comes from people who aren't loved. When I'm alone for too long, I start getting dark thoughts too. I feel like maybe I don't deserve joy. And then I start imagining that others deserve to suffer when I suffer. And that's a horrible thing to think. But when I'm with a friend, even just one person, I feel that other people are wonderful as well. People are people. Your opinion of them isn't based on what they do. It's based on how you feel. If you're happy, then you see positivity everywhere. And you help to spread it further.

It becomes a resonating force. The more love and joy you put out, the more of it comes back to you. And it just keeps going up and up. But if you allow yourself to get trapped in your own head, you get stuck in a negative loop. It drags you down, and it becomes increasingly harder to break free.

Get out of your shell!

So exercise, but don't neglect others. And don't exercise as an escape. I've done both those things a lot. And I still do. I appreciate now, though, how important it is to me to have people in my life who matter to me. So that too is a priority now. There will be a day when my strength finally fails me. And when I look back onto my life, I won't think of sweating over a barbell or on a sidewalk. I'll think back to all of the people who made my life truly amazing.


  1. I was expecting the selfie from Lesley, Your and My run the other morning to be in this post =P Guess I'll have to wait for that one!

    1. Ooooh, you're right! I do want to get a better selfie of us though, next time we run :)

  2. Hang in there. I was lucky enough to find a partner who values exercise as much as (if not more than) I do, and we've both helped balance each other out in so many ways. We exercise a lot, and we're not super social (quality over quantity), but we know what is important to us and we live our lives accordingly.