ugly Love A Look at Isolation Vs. the Innate Need for Human Connection

Ugly Love. At face value it seems like a phrase that can be deciphered easily, but it can be hard to define what ugly love is. It is a hard phrase to explain because for everyone ugly love is different, just as love can be different for everyone. There are also different types of ugly love, which can impact everyone differently. Ugly love is a type of love that one has for something that has caused them great pain. Ugly love is the reason why one hurts when there is a death or a breakup. Ugly love is the feeling one has that makes us feel like we want to step away for everyone and everything and isolate ourselves from the world and from everyone in it. Ugly love is the reason one isolates themselves, and isolation is the harsh way that one realizes that the answer to overcoming their ugly love, their hurt, is the exact thing they were trying to get away from: human connection.

What is the story of Ugly Love?

Main Characters: Miles Archer and Tate Collins

Author: Colleen Hoover

The novel centers on the relationship of Miles Archer and Tate Collins. Miles and Tate meet when they are young adults, and instantly have an intense connection. Miles claims, though, that they cannot be together, as he has a hidden tragic past that is preventing him from pursing his feelings for Tate. Readers eventually learn that Miles tragedy is something that happened to him when he was a senior in high school. Miles fell in love with a new student named Rachel. Rachel and him start to date and eventually she accidently becomes pregnant. Despite the odds, they have the full support of their friends and family members, and have a baby boy. Unfortunately on the way home from the hospital after Rachel gives birth, a truck slams into the car Miles was driving them home in, and they end up submerged in a lake. Miles is able to free Rachel from the car, but before he can get to his son, the car seat is already underwater, and before he can do anything more, he is pulled from the car by someone else trying to save him. Rachel and Miles lose their son, and soon after Rachel leaves Miles as she cannot bare to be with him anymore. Both Miles ad Rachel experience their own forms of ugly love. They have ugly love for each other and for their son. They both isolate themselves and swear to never love again because “no type of love will ever be worth living through the ugly love again” (Hoover, 2014, p. 39).

Fast-forward a few years to when Miles meets Tate, and he is still choosing to isolate himself than to open himself up to Tate. He is doing this because he hurts so badly for the love he lost, that he truly believes it is better to be alone then to risk feeling the ugly again. As the novel continues Miles eventually reconnects with Rachel and learns that she has a husband and a baby. Miles questions Rachel as to how she was able to move on and open herself up again, and she tells him that even though she hurt so badly, it hurt worse to not be with the man that she fell in love with. Miles realizes that it does indeed hurt him worse to not be with Tate, and he goes back to her and professes his love. The couple ends up together, and they have a child of their own. When Miles sees his daughter for the first time he says “the second she opened her eyes and looked at me I knew. She was either going to be the death of me… or she was going to be the one who finally brought me back to life,” (Hoover, 2014, p. 296). Miles realizes that by opening himself up to Tate and his new daughter that is how he is going to be able to heal from his ugly love. Miles tried to isolate himself from human connection, but in the end, human connection is what healed him.

Question: Has anything bad ever happened to you (a bad grade, a break up, a fight with a friend or family member) that resulted in you having feelings that you'd rather just give up and remove yourself from the situation, than to actually deal with the problem at hand?

A majority of people will answer 'Yes' to this question, showing that having feelings of wanting to isolate oneself is a common coping mechanism.

Define: Isolate

Bad things happen to everyone. Everyone reacts differently to adverse situations, but even the smallest event (bad grades, a fight or breakup) can cause one to want to isolate themselves. According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of isolate is “to set apart from others; To separate from another substance as to obtain pure or a free state,”. The definition may sound technical and scientific, but the message is still clear. When one isolates themselves their intentional goal is to free themselves from whatever adverse situation they are facing. The expected goal of isolation is to remove oneself from a negative situation and to be free of it. But when isolation occurs, the only thing that surrounds a person is the one thing they were trying to get away from, connection. When this occurs, a need for human connection becomes present, and it is up to the person to realize that they actually need help and to reach out for it.

Isolation v. Solitude

To be clear, it is important to not only give the definition of isolation, but to explain the difference with a world that may seem synonymous with it. Isolation and solitude, although both imply being alone, only have that in common. Isolation is actively avoided and is forced from the outside, while solitude is actively sought after and is a personal choice that comes from an inner yearning.

Solitude “is where one discovers one is not alone,” (Rubin). Solitude usually only last for a set amount of time (a day week, month, or even a year) and its purpose is to find oneself or an answer to a yearning question. Even though solitude involves being alone, the end goal it to becomes closer to oneself, nature, God, and/or others.

Examples of Isolation from Ugly Love

“Ugly love becomes you. Consumes you. Makes you hate it all. Makes you realize that all the beautiful parts aren't even worth it. Without the beautiful, you'll never risk feeling the ugly. So you give it all up. You give it all up. You never want love again, no matter what kind it is, because no type of love will ever be worth living through the ugly love again.”- Miles
  • With this quote from Miles, right after he loses Rachel and his baby, the reader sees Miles's thought process as he choses to isolate himself from human connection in order to never feel pain again.
“But the second she opened her eyes and looked at me, I knew. She was either going to be the death of me . . . or she was going to be the one who finally brought me back to life.”- Miles
  • This quote comes at the end of the novel, when Miles sees Tate's and his baby girl for the first time. This is when Miles realizes that the only way he is going to heal from his past is to open himself up to others, especially Tate and his daughter.
“I’m terrified to lose him for good, so I sell myself short and take what I can from him, even though I know I deserve better.”- Tate
  • In this quote, Tate is discussing how she knows Miles is treating her badly (due to his isolation) but she loves him so much that she would rather be subjected to something she does not deserve in order to keep the human connection
" For the first time, this impenetrable sadness that had become me was being broken by the brief good moments I spent with brad,"- Rachel
  • Rachel is explaining to Miles that even though she tried to isolate herself after losing their baby, she realized that it hurt worse for her to hurt and be alone, than to hurt and be with someone she loves. She came out of isolation to form a human connection in order to heal.
“Hearts get infiltrated.Promises get broken.Rules get shattered.Love gets ugly.”- Miles
  • This quote explain that in life things are going to go wrong. Bad things are going to happen, but one needs to remember to fight the want to isolate themselves and to rely on their human connections to heal.

Examples of isolation's effects in Counseling and psychology

Counseling Example - Empirical Study

Isolation is not only bad in theory, but has been studied and observed to be physically bad for the human body. In the study Loneliness Matter: A Theoretical and Empirical Review of Consequences and Mechanisms by Hawkley and Cacioppo, they studied the affect of isolation on the human body. The researches state “humans are a social species, that we rely on a safe and a secure social surrounding in order to survive and thrive,” (Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2010, p. 220). They also found that perception of social isolation (loneliness) increases feelings of vulnerability while also raising the desire to reconnect.

From this study is can be observed and proven that humans need human connection not only to survive but also to thrive, and that just the thought of isolation cause one to feel vulnerable and want human connection even more. The qualitative data seems convincing enough, but the study went on the find not only the mental responses to isolation, but also the physical. Humans who are subjected to long-term isolation are found to have altered psychological processes, which influence physiological functioning, diminish sleep quality, and increase morbidity and mortality rates. This further proves the point that isolation is not only bad for ones mental well-being, but also their physical well-being.

Counseling Example 2- Harlow's rhesus monkeys

Another study that shows the effects of isolation and the need for connection is a study conducted by psychologist, Harry Harlow, with baby rhesus monkeys. Harlow took infant monkeys away from their mothers at early ages and isolated them into cages by themselves. Their only companions were a wire mother and a cloth mother. The wire mother provided food and water to the monkey, while the cloth monkey was only there as a comfort. The study showed that “the baby monkeys spent a majority of their time with the cloth mothers, especially in times of high stress,” (Harlow & Harlow, 1962, p. 138). The infant monkeys would only go to the wire mother when they were thirsty or hungry, and then after their basic needs were met, they would go back to their cloth mother.

This study shows that during times of isolation one seeks comfort over basic needs, such as food and hunger. The infant monkeys were attached to the cloth mothers because they found them to be more comforting than the wire mother, and that is what they depended on more in order to survive.

Counseling Example 3- Frieda Fromm-Reichmann

In the world of psychology and counseling the term ‘real-loneliness’ is used to define the state one finds themselves in when in isolation. The term was coined from Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, a psychologist. She thought of real loneliness more in terms of what it is not, she state that real-loneliness is “not what Kierkegaard characterized as the 'shut-upness'; not 'solitariness of He civilized'. Not the happy solitude of the productive artists, or the passing irritations of being sick with the flue while your friends are going out. Not being dissatisfied with your companion (unless chronic). Not mourning, since well-adjusted people eventually move on. Not depression, which may be a symptom of loneliness, but is rarely the cause,” (Reichmann, 1959, p. 13). Reichmann’s theory is that real-loneliness is the want of intimacy, and that is what we crave when we truly isolate ourselves from the world and from humanity.

Examples of isolation from Literature

The Bible- Adam and Eve

The idea of isolation being something that is not meant for humanity does not only stem from scientific journals and psychologists, but can also be found in different passages of the Bible.

When God first created Adman, He place him in the Garden of Eden with everything He thought that Adam would need. Adam, although he was happy with what God gave him, felt like he was missing something, a companion. Although God was doing what He though was best, he unknowingly placed Adman into social isolation.

Once God saw what was happening, he proclaimed, “it is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him,” (Leonard, 1990, p. 7). When God saw Adam’s loneliness he created Eve, so that that the two could live in paradise together. John Milton, a famous theologian, said “loneliness was the first thing that God’s eye named not good,” (Leonard, 1990, p. 9).

God recognized Adam’s need for contact with another human being, a need that God had built into him. With the creation of Eve, Adam’s intimate relationship with God was completed by communion and companionship with someone like himself. Furthermore, through our relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and others, we form our sense of individuality and find our place in the mosaic of life.

Paul Fiddes

In another work of literature, the novel Seeing the World & Knowing God; Hebrew Wisdom & Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context, by Paul Fiddes, he discusses how wisdom is obtained through human connection. Fiddes claims that “wisdom this lays stress on the flourishing of the human self in its interconnection to other persons and the natural world… the relationships between self and world is at the heart of wisdom,” (Fiddes, 2013, p. 15).

Wisdom can have different definitions, but no matter how it is define, it is still something that humans strive for. David Kelsey, an American theologian and academic, says that “human beings are born into complex networks of other beings that interact with one another, and wisdom’s creation theology invites us to describe the quotidian in terms of human practices, including practices of interaction with non-human creatures, other human creatures, and social institutions,” (Fiddes, 2013, p. 15). What Fiddes and Kelsey are trying to convey through their words is that in order to obtain God’s wisdom we need human interactions and social connection. These are things that are not obtainable through isolation, thus, isolation also affects are connection to God and his Wisdom.

Examples of isolation from Popular Culture


"I don't know who I am without you"
  • Even though isolation is proven to be bad both mentally and physically for humans, and scientific studies and theological works of literature have discussed how human connection is needed for a fruitful life, the notion behind all these ideas can be found everyday in popular culture. Take music for example, there are many songs that have the theme of needing human connection in order to thrive. In Demi Lavato’s song “Tell Me You Love Me” she sings the lyrics “I don’t know who I am without you,”. In these lyrics she is depicting a story about a girl who needs a man in her life because she loves him so much, and she claims that she does not know who she is without him. Human connection can be so powerful and important to one, that their existence is built around one singular connection or a group of them.
"Oh, tell me you love me, I need someone, on days like this I do"
  • On bad days, it is better to need someone and reach out for them, than to try to isolate yourself away from the world
"Wouldn't see the point of living on if one of us died, yeah"
  • This idea can also be found in G-Easy’s song “Him & I” with his lyrics “wouldn’t see the point of living on if one of us died,”. This lyric also demonstrates the notion of a human connection being so strong that without it, one would have no identity and no point of living on.
"I wish that I could be like the cool kids, 'Cause all the cool kids, they seem to fit in, I wish that I could be like the cool kids, like the cool kids,"
  • In the song “Cool Kids” by Echosmith, they talk about how students want to “be like the cool kids, ‘cause all the cool kids, they seem to fit in,”. Fitting in society goes along with human connection, and even though the cool kids can have negative connotations to them, as illustrated in the song, the main goal is to be like them in order to fit in and have human connection. The song also plays on the idea that having individuality is not always a good thing, because it is more important to ones way of life to have connections than to be unique
“I might hate myself tomorrow, but I’m on my way tonight, at the bottom of the bottle, you’re the poison in the wine, and i know i can’t change you, and I, I wont change, I might hate myself tomorrow but i'm on my way tonight, lets be lonely together, a little less lonely”
  • Another songs that demonstrates this idea of negatives being outweighed by the notion of human connection is Avicii’s “Lonely Together,”. In this song, the female singer is talking about how she knows that her and a guy are never going to work out together, but she would rather be “lonely together,” with him than to be by herself. Having human connection is more impart to her than to stay away from someone that she knows is not good for her.
  • This is similar to the quote from Ugly Love (above) , where Tate stays with Miles for the human connection even though she knows she deserves better.

Movies with themes of isolation

Music is not the only form of popular culture that isolation appears in. In the movie Cast Away, the main character, Chuck Noland, gets stranded on an island after a plane crash that left him as the lone survivor. After living days alone he comes across a volleyball, and using his bloody hand makes a face on the ball and names him Wilson. Wilson becomes his companion until he tragically floats off into the ocean. Although Wilson is not an actual human, Chuck still forms a bond to him, and Wilson is able to give him companionship. Chuck is able to form a type of connection with Wilson that brings him comfort during his time alone. Chuck created Wilson because the need for any type of connection is ingrained in the human psyche, and at that point of Chuck’s isolated state, any type of company was welcomed.

Another movie that demonstrates forced isolation through a traumatic event is the movie 127 Hours. The main character, Aron Ralston, goes from being in a state of solitude to a state of isolation when he gets trapped by rocks, while hiking in Blue John Canyon in Utah. Although this film is primarily about Aron’s survival, there are glimpses at how the isolation made him reflect on his feelings for his family and loved ones. In the movie he has visions of his family members sitting on the couch and talking to him. By being forced into isolation through his accident, Aron gained a greater appreciation for his family and all human connections in his life. His love for his connections is what pushed him to survive, and eventually cut off his own arm in order to make it back home to them.

The movie, Passengers, also shows the strength that the need for human connection can have over a person. This film revolves around the story of a group of people who board a spacecraft traveling to a new habitable planet. The planet takes 120 years to get to from Earth, so all 5,000 travelers are put into hibernation pods, so that they will sleep, and remain as they are, until they reach the planet. Thirty years into the journey, there is a malfunction in passenger Jim Preston’s pod, and he awakens. He finds himself completely alone on the ship with 90 years to go, a journey he will die before completing. Jim tries to live by himself on the ship, but becomes so lonely that he intentionally wakes up another passenger, Aurora Lane, in order to give himself company. Jim was facing isolation and craved human connection so badly that he sacrificed another passenger’s life and journey in order to give himself company. The two eventually live out their years together on the ship, and pass on before it makes it to the new planet.

With careful observation it can be apparent that children animated movies have hidden meanings and messages in them. Take for example the movie Wall-E. This movie follows a trash compactor robot, who is left on Earth to clean it up and make it habitable again for humans. Originally, there were many trash compactor robots left on Earth, but they all eventually stopped working, expect or Wall-E, who gained sentience and stayed active. The message here is clear for those who are looking for it. The other robots that have no feelings at all, die out, while the robot who has feelings and is searching for love and human connection is able to keep going. Wall-E is searching for connection and wants to continue to clean up the Earth in order to bring back the humans so that he can live among them. Human connection is not only something one craves, but also something that drives us through life. It gives us something to seek after, and thus motivates and pushes us through life, just as it did for Wall-E.

While human connection is something that is good for humans and something to strive for, it can also be used as a weapon. In the movie OtherLife, scientists use nanotechnology to generate a biological form of virtual reality called OtherLife. The product is used like eye drops, and when it enters one’s eye it transforms them to a type of reality that acts like a memory they are reliving. At one point in the movie, OtherLife is being used as a form of punishment by being given to criminals and giving them the reality of being put into solitary confinement for days, weeks, or years depending on the crime. Although the actual experience would only last a few minutes, for the person experiencing it, it can feel like it lasts forever. Solitary confinement can be an effective punishment, because being forced to be completely isolated from society is depressing for a person due to all the reasons discussed in this paper. Being denied human connection can be so detrimental to a person, that is can truly alter their personality and cognitive functioning. The movie goes on to claim that using OtherLife to implement solitary confinement is unethical, and OtherLife is destroyed.

The characters in these movies never seek their isolation, but it is instead thrust upon them. Either by accident, job assignment, or punishment, all the characters do not willing go into isolation, thus showing the fact that isolation is not something we purposely seek. In the novel Ugly Love, Miles purposely put himself into isolation, but he does so because of a tragic accident, something that he was not seeking. Whether one chooses to put themselves into isolation after something bad happens, or one is thrust into it, the outcome is the same, one will seek human connection in order to pull themselves out of isolation so that one can heal and start to live life that way that God intended us to.

In Conclusion

During hard times, isolation may seem like a practical way to cope with topics one does not want to face. On the contrary, isolation causes one to want human connection even more, and human connection is something that is important to human functioning. Isolation is something that is not meant for human kind, and when one opens themselves up to other, that is when one can heal and thrive through adversity and life.


Harlow, H. F., & Harlow, M. K. (1962). Social deprivation in monkeys. Scientific American, 207(5), 136-150.

Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: a theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of behavioral medicine, 40(2), 218-227.

Leonard, J. (1990). Naming in Paradise: Milton and the language of Adam and Eve. Oxford University Press, USA.

Reichmann, F. F. (1959). Loneliness. Psychiatry, 22(1), 1-15.

Created By
Kelsey Mirabella

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