Emptiness is what we feel when we are not full. It was what happens when there are gaps in our schedule or in our tenuous sense of purpose, when our minds are given space without a task to accomplish or an edict to believe. When we drive without the radio on or sit still without the television filling the void.

Emptiness has a nearly universal negative connotation. It is forced to duke it out with its syntactical opposition ‘half full,’ which suggests that being half empty is somehow a worse way to look at the exact same thing. We are told that feeling empty, being empty, thinking empty, is all wrong. And yet, all of us feel it or fear it, and most never give emptiness a chance to be the void.

The last time I mentioned feeling empty publicly, I received a range of responses from a heartening cast of characters—people I might have suspected feel similarly, people I never would’ve imagined engage with the darkness, and people I simply didn’t realize paid attention at all. I could only shrug off those misguided attacks by people who thought my emptiness was because of them. As if a person could fill us up.

Emptiness is the hollow thud of a dream against the unyielding hardness of reality. It is the gnawing feeling that with every passing day, everything we do is a countdown, that even if we have thousands of morning coffees and evening showers left, we have one less than we did yesterday. It is the absolute certainty that some questions will never be answered and the doubt that our exact thoughts will ever be understood, that the words we utter and the things we mean will be heard and interpreted by someone with the same definitions.

It is the reality that no matter who you’re surrounded by, you die alone. The life experiences which show you just how plain a bloody car crash is and how underwhelming most dreams-come-true feel, how you can actually be there when someone slips off a very high cliff and falls, how you really could have gotten that job or made her your wife, if only you had tried a little bit harder and asked for it by name.

Society has weaponized emptiness. We are told that we must feel empty if we don’t have a house by this age and a child by that, a salary of this much and a certain car in that garage. There is a moving target that we spend our whole lives trying to hit, and it insidiously raises the bar just enough that we do not realize we are being constantly convinced that we need more, newer, bigger, always. The collective consciousness prescribes a lack as a way to ensure conformity, because rogue ideas disrupt the equilibrium. Being comfortable with less is a threat to everyone who relies upon your interest rate to make money and your assimilation to make them feel good about their own shackles.

“You know, online dating isn’t weird at all anymore. You really ought to try it.”