I left my husband about ten years ago and after five years of disastrous dating I gave up. I can survive not being married but I’m finding I’m spending a lot of time feeling really lonely. Do you have any good strategies for dealing with loneliness?
Single and Alone
I’m sorry to hear you’re not enjoying your single life as much as you might. Let’s do something about that.
Firstly, what do you mean by “gave up?” Do you imagine there are hard borders around such an activity? I mean, you can say you’ve given up, but if some awesome man crosses your path tomorrow and shows serious interest, I suspect this “gave up” stuff would be out the window. It might be more that you mean you’re backing away from trying to make that happen and what’s that’s left you with is your own company—which you find unsatisfying, ergo the loneliness.
So until you’re dead, you’re at least theoretically in the dating market. But that’s besides the point because your life isn’t made better by being with someone. If that was the case then you would have stayed or gotten back together with your husband. Your problem isn’t a relationship or no relationship, your issue is that you don’t enjoy your own company. I suspect other people will enjoy it more when you do too, so let’s focus on that.
Surely there are times where you feel like being alone. Everyone likes some time to themselves every now and then. So what is the difference between quality time alone and loneliness? Why does alone-time feel nourishing and positive sometimes, and empty and separated at others? It’s not the status of your relationship life—it’s the quality of your thinking.
If you’re busy using your thoughts to want to be with someone then your time alone will clash with that desire or wish or expectation and the chasm between that want and your present situation is where all of your good feelings disappear. But if you accept and appreciate your time to yourself—if you embrace it—then you will definitely generate positive feelings.
Remember, your happiness is not dependant on the outside world. Your happiness is entirely connected to your ability to appreciate. No one can stop you from appreciating except you. And even then, you have to tell yourself a provably false story to make that happen. You have to forgo all of the things that you could be happy about in order to facilitate you forcing your attention onto what you want, which is company, or companionship, or even just an excuse to not-think wanting thoughts. But again, you don’t need to be distracted away from thinking about your alone-ness. You can just choose not to think those narratives into existence.
Learn to listen for them. There will be stories you’re telling yourself when you’re alone. Maybe you’ll think you’re a loser, or that you should be with someone by now, or how you wish that your day was different than it is. It doesn’t really matter what sad story you tell yourself, the point is that it is sad. Think sad thoughts, get sad feelings. Think angry thoughts, get angry feelings. Think lonely thoughts and get feelings of loneliness.
Learn your narratives. Listen to how self-centered and needy they are. Then shift them onto something better. The very unpleasantness of the feeling is the signalling system that tells you to change those thoughts. So use that to your advantage. You don’t feel the sad feeling and then tell yourself a story about how that feeling is okay because you’re alone and not with a man. If you get a sad feeling that’s a notification from your psychology that you’re using your thoughts to want rather than appreciate.
So don’t turn being alone into a big deal. Don’t pile thoughts on to thoughts—just breathe out and let it go. If you stop wanting things to be different, then what shows up is a kind of success that’s innate. It doesn’t need you to accomplish or be anything or with anybody. So rather than thinking about your alone-time as lonely, start thinking about it as something you chose. Live it as though you picked it. Because that attitude and approach is the only thing that can turn the acute pain of loneliness into the profound peace that is simply Being. And every single one of us was born to do that.
Breathe out. Embrace this moment without conditions. Go quiet inside. Simply Be, and joy will come to you whether you are alone or together.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.