It happens suddenly. It is a sinking feeling in your heart, your gut, or your neck, depending where your trigger points are. It’s a panic attack in slow motion. It’s not passing. The thoughts are getting darker and darker. No friend can rescue you right now. You know what they will say.
“You are loved.”
“You are special.”
“You have so much to offer.”
“It’s okay to feel sad.”
“Do you want me to come over?”
“Have you discussed this with your therapist?”
“Make something delicious for yourself or order in.”
“Go outside the house for a little bit.”
None of that is helpful to you. You know all the hacks are temporary. The feeling will come back, and there you are again.
Feeling lonely today is far more common than we realize. There is this obsessive need for connection created largely by social media and technology. We need to feel “connected” all the time to absolutely anyone. We refresh our Instagram feed for the 10th time in a day to see stories of people we don’t know. We check Bumble or Tinder to see if the match responded five minutes after we sent them a message. Our phones are mostly on silent, yet our fingers check in every couple of minutes to see who said what on which platform. We watch videos sent to us by a family of strangers in different parts of the world doing bizarre things we don’t even care about. Work meetings drag on for longer than required because people don’t want to hit “leave meeting” and be left in their silence, or better yet, meetings that could have been emails or that were absolutely redundant are set up weekly for “check-ins” on this project or that. Yet once all 50 participants log on, the host says there is no update: “I’ll give you back your thirty minutes.”
A message makes us feel important, a meeting invite makes us feel important, a “like” makes us feel important, a “shoutout” makes us feel important. The truth of the matter is that all this so-called connection is temporary. That meeting ends, the message from your Bumble match never comes through, the “likes” stop meaning anything if it’s only from your mom or your best friend. You finally have to put that family group chat on mute because the messages that were once funny are now just dull. You can’t find joy in your phone or on your computer anymore. Joy is lacking big time.
Another major cause for loneliness is the increased number of people we know who are coupling. Especially when you’re feeling lonely, you will find couples even in squirrels, pigeons, extremely old seniors in wheelchairs. Netflix will suddenly only produce rom coms, and the leading drama everyone is talking about will be a love story. Everywhere you look, there’s a couple. Logically, you understand that just finding someone is not healthy. Logically, you understand that most people in relationships would rather be in a relationship than be alone. Why? Because being alone means you have a lot of time to focus on your own problems. Being in a couple means you can largely blame each other for your shortcomings and generally be distracted in each other’s lives. You can also ask someone else to throw out the garbage once in a while. Trust me, it adds up. Logically, you know why people stay in low quality relationships. Because likely, you once did it too.
In an age where having multiple partners has become largely okay, we are shocked and gravely disappointed to have not even found one. After all, isn’t it simply the loveliest thing in the world to share moments with a beloved? The day we were born, we were given skin-to-skin contact because our survival depended on that basic need for physical touch, yet now we go one to two years without having touched another person or having someone touch us. We are ashamed to tell anyone how long it has been. Then, when the opportunity presents itself, we let go of all moral regard and standards, because after all, our survival is at stake. We need touch, even if it is abusive.
I don’t know what the solution is or what the antidote to being lonely is. But I do know this: When loneliness comes knocking on your door, you can either let it in or pretend you’re not home, but you’ll live in fear knowing it’s waiting for you on the other side, and as soon as you open the metaphoric door, it’s going to come in. Don’t be afraid of it. Let it in. Have some silly fun with it. Ask it to have a seat, offer it a cup of coffee, and then talk. Why are you here? What do you need? What am I missing?
For me, it took a long conversation with a friend to realize my loneliness is not from a lack of group of friends, or a lover, or family. My loneliness is my longing for me. I am missing me. I need to become more intimate with me. I realized this when I talked about how I have good friends but I don’t feel like spending more time with them than I already do. I have hobbies that I enjoy working on from time to time. I have a lovely family that I like in small doses. On paper, everything is great. But I am so lonely. What am I missing?
It wasn’t anyone else. It was me. I filled my life with all the things I was “supposed” to, so much so that I left no time for me. What are my values? What gives me the greatest joy? What inspires me? Am I pursuing a career I love? Why not? Am I making healthy choices in food, finances, romance? Why not? When was the last time I gave myself a new experience without knowing the end result? Do I take chances? So many things I don’t know about myself because I haven’t taken the time to get to know myself. Maybe I have a terribly dull personality, but I can’t say for sure because I just don’t know!
Sure, a relationship would be great and I would feel less lonely, but I have also been in relationships where I have been most lonely. At the end of the day, I live with my thoughts. I live in my body, and being lonely may help me become more intimate with myself and live a more authentic life. For now, I’m letting it in.