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, we can say we’ve given up, but if some awesome person crosses our path tomorrow and shows serious interest, in most cases for most people the “gave up” stuff would be out the window.
I can appreciate that you likely mean that you’re backing away from trying to make that happen and due some inertia in society, what’s that’s left you with is your own company—which you find unsatisfying, ergo the loneliness.
Firstly, until we’re dead, we’re at least theoretically in the dating market. But that’s besides the point because our lives aren’t made better by being with someone. If that was the case then you would have stayed or gotten back together with your husband.
When feeling lonely, in reality our problem isn’t the lack of a relationship, our issue is that we don’t enjoy our own company. Learning to like ourselves more not only makes being alone easier, but it’s likely to mean that other people will enjoy time with us more as well. Then they don’t need to constantly shore up our view of ourselves when they’re only friends with us because they like us as we are.
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 our relationship life —it’s the quality of our thinking.
If we’re busy using our thoughts to want to be with someone then our time alone will clash with that desire, wish or expectation. In the chasm between that want and our present situation is where all of our good feelings disappear. But if we accept and appreciate our time to ourselves —if we embrace it— then we will begin to generate positive feelings.
Remember, our happiness is not dependent on the outside world. Happiness is entirely connected to our ability to appreciate. No one can stop us from appreciating except ourselves.
If there is a list of things we think we need to be happy, the thinking about their absence will hurt. Rather than build a narrative like that just because we can justify it, we are better to just stop thinking about those things, and we should replace them with thoughts that feel better to think.
When you’re alone, using your feelings to cue you to listen for your painful stories about your identity. Maybe we think we’re a loser, or that we should be with someone by now, or how we wish that our day was different than it is.
It doesn’t really matter what sad story we tell ourselves, or whether it is true or not, the only thing that matters 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.
It’s worth our time for us to learn more about our most common identity 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 us to change those thoughts. We should use it to our advantage.
We don’t feel a sad feeling and then tell ourselves a story about how that feeling is justified because we’re alone. If we get a sad feeling, that’s a notification from our psychology that we’ve started using our thoughts to want rather than appreciate. The thoughts will precede the feelings.
Don’t turn being alone into a big deal. Don’t pile thoughts on to thoughts —just breathe out and let it go. If we stop wanting things to be different, then what shows up is a kind of success that’s innate. We’re naturally buoyant, it’s these thoughts of lonesomeness that are holding you under.
None of us needs to accomplish or be anything or with anybody to be happy. So rather than thinking about our alone-time as lonely, we are better to start thinking about it as something we constantly choose in each new moment.
Live the truth of life: it happens much as we’ve chosen to experience it. Since we’re the ones that used this power to create the loneliness, our only job is to redirect that energy and system to create something better to experience. 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 otherwise.
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 over-thinking, 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 still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.