The L Word

The real loneliness is living among all these kind people who only ask one to pretend!
— Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton's Pulitzer prize-winning novel of social mores at the turn of the twentieth century in New York is a wry observation of a time long-past for an insular community of socialites, where family, class and connection mean everything. Martin Scorsese's well-regarded film adaptation preserves much of Ms. Wharton's elegant prose, and the Countess Ellen Olenska (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) is portrayed as the voice of conscience and emotional truth.

In the book, Ellen finds herself viewed with suspicion and her presence merely tolerated by her powerful, well-connected family when she returns to America after a failed marriage to an European Count. She gradually comes to understand that in exchange for the welcome of this large familial clan, she has to stop being herself - give up her independent ideas, her different views on life - and conform to what is considered 'right' in this hermetically sealed society. In a society where she is constantly surrounded by people professing to care for her, Ellen experiences an existential loneliness that leads to the novel's devastating denouement.

Loneliness is a common impetus for seeking counselling and therapy - many clients live busy, seemingly fulfilling lives full of loneliness brought about by a sense that they cannot be who they really are. Clients struggling to live the truth of their gender or sexual identity spring readily to mind, but many others carry with them the message that they cannot be themselves because who they are is inherently unacceptable and unlovable - and so they hide. This is often an unconscious process and they might be unaware they are doing so, but the cost of living a life half-lived is an agonizing sense of isolation that can manifest in a multitude of ways, from addictive tendencies to repeated patterns of self-defeating behavior. Through counselling and therapy, the blocks put in place that have resulted in this profound sense of loneliness can be examined and a different way of living can be explored. Many people are unconscious experts at pretending in their lives - just imagine how much freer and more fulfilled they would feel if they were able to just live as and be themselves.