I hope you never feel her embrace. I hope she doesn’t make you scroll mindlessly through your Instagram feed, looking longingly at old friends and new acquaintances, wondering why you weren’t invited. I hope she doesn’t butt into your thoughts and wreak havoc on your psyche, making you wonder if you’ll ever have another relationship and doubt the relationships you actually have.
Loneliness makes us do weird things, like engage with strangers on dating apps with whom we would never see a future if we felt satisfied and whole. She causes us to contemplate the question “what if I wasn’t here anymore?” She makes us eat too much or not at all. She makes us drunk to dull the pain or high to distract from worry.
You’re lucky if you’ve never met her. I lived a long time before we were introduced. I suspect I knew her in awkward moments in middle school and high school, but I’m foggy and have blurred over many memories. She came into view for me when I ended two significant relationships. I thought we’d progress longer, but circumstances out of my control demanded a breakup. I was stunned and miffed that his attention was directed to another woman or a bottle, respectively.
When we parted ways, I felt conflicted. On the surface, I was processing the conversations and actions that led to our demise. But deep down I was contemplating my own contributions, mindset, and impact. Breakups are lonely. Not wanting to burden anyone, I felt my loneliness expand. In times of relationship upheaval, we often feel extremely vulnerable and discombobulated. Our person is not around anymore. We have to start again. We still have to live. It’s a solitary time.
Loneliness has also entered my life in smaller doses when I’ve dated the wrong people and we don’t get each other or when my job feels rote and systematic. Though not as intense, the frequency of these experiences have occasionally left me bored and fatigued.
For lots of us, holidays are also especially lonely. The jolly-ness of the season feels manufactured and fake and creates stress. It spotlights our alone-ness.
Loneliness is revisited almost annually, from the end of October (my birthday) to the New Year. It’s the worst time of year for me, a period when light is dim, days are shortening, people tend to hibernate. The holidays create anxiety for me. I don’t decorate, and as a new resident of a new city, I don’t have many friends or holiday parties to attend. There’s pressure to be jolly and spend time with family. When family resides far-away and work calls, the holidays can be even more difficult.
When we’re lonely, we often do strange things, like make ultimatums to the people we are dating, highlight problems with our friendships, or act needy. Oddly, even though we crave connection and an antidote to loneliness, it’s not easy to ask for what we need. Instead, we push people away or expect them to read our minds. Loneliness often surfaces and provokes our anxieties, too. For others, loneliness instigates darkness and depression.
How do you temper loneliness? Here are some things I’ve established:
- Call or FaceTime someone. Don’t text. Hear a voice on the phone or see someone.
- Make plans to do something, anything, in the next day or two.
- Sit or walk in the sun.
- Shower and leave the house.
- Bake or cook a delicious dish just because.
- Play with pets.
- Hang out with kids.
- Go to yoga, go to the gym.
- Practice mindful breathing.
- Invite someone to something.
- Say yes to an invitation, even if you don’t feel your best.
- Connect to the loneliness and remind yourself that it’s temporary.
- Leave the house.
- Take a social media hiatus. Limit your time scrolling, comparing, and going down rabbit holes.
Basically, almost anything that involves connection helps. As we enter the New Year, let’s make connection with ourselves and others a priority.