After his first marriage fell apart in the 1960s, the songwriter Johnny Cash moved from Southern California to Tennessee. On the first night in his new home, lonely and depressed, he began to pace the length of the ground floor. It was an enormous house, all but empty of furniture, wedged between a steep hill on one side and Old Hickory Lake on the other.
As he walked from one end of the floor to the other, from the hill to the lake, he began to feel, almost frantically, that something was absent. What’s missing? he thought. Where is it? he repeated, over and over again. Had he forgotten to pack something? Was there something he needed to do? What wasn’t right? Suddenly, it came to him. It wasn’t something, it was someone.
His young daughter, Rosanne. She wasn’t there. She was in California with her mother. A house without a family is no home. Johnny Cash stopped, began to shout her name as loud as he could, and fell to the ground and wept. In some sense, it might seem like that is exactly the kind of anguish that philosophy helps us avoid through the cultivation of detachment and indifference to other people. If you don’t make yourself dependent on anyone, if you don’t make yourself vulnerable, you can never lose them and you’ll never be hurt. Some people try this way. They take vows of chastity or solitude, or, conversely, try to reduce relationships to their most transactional or minimal form.
Or because they have been hurt before, they put up walls. Or because they are so talented, they dedicate themselves exclusively to their work. It is necessary, they say, for they have a higher calling.
The Buddha, for instance, walked out on his wife and young son without even saying goodbye, because enlightenment was more important.
Yes, every individual should make the life choices that are right for them. Still, there is something deeply misguided—and sad—about a solitary existence.