Francesca, Plumcake and Twistie received a heartfelt letter from reader L:
I want to thank you for all your insight on fashion, books, art, and life. There have been many times I’ve taken courage and heart from something one of you has written.
I’m in my early 40’s, living alone, doing a demanding job that I love. In the last three years, I’ve ended a long-term relationship and lost a parent whom I dearly loved. At the same time I started eating healthier, became more physically active, and updated my wardrobe and hairstyle. I have loving friends, but they are all married, with families, and they don’t always have time to hang out and talk. I’m close with my siblings but they live overseas.
Even though I’m shy, I’ve tried to step out of my comfort zone by taking classes, going on trips, volunteering. I’ve tried being outgoing and friendly and have even read books about how to talk to people. But I still feel lonely and disconnected. Don’t get me wrong. I’m an independent, some might even say tough, person. But there are days when I can’t face going to another movie alone, lunch alone, making dinner alone, going for a walk alone. I’ve been dating, but nothing much has come of it.
It’s not just a question of wanting to be partnered. It’s a general feeling of being cut off from life. The loneliness doesn’t occupy my thoughts all the time, but when it does it is bone-deep and crushing. I think about my own mortality and can’t help but think that if I went tomorrow, it would be as if I’d never been here.
Could you write something about how you cope, or have coped in the past, with loneliness? Do you have any strategies or advice? Will seeing a doctor help? Almost everyone who writes into your blog seems to have it all together, but I guess there are those like me who are not quite there yet, despite outward appearances.
It may help L to know that, while I cannot speak for Twistie or Plumcake or any of our commenters, Francesca herself (her non-virtual self, that is) is not always as “together” as she is on this blog. Much happens in life that does not make it onto the internets. Even the most superfantastic of us do not feel superfantastic all of the time.
For loneliness that feels “crushing” and “bone-deep,” especially after the death of a parent and the ending of an important relationship, seeing a doctor absolutely could help. It appears to Francesca that L may be suffering from clinical depression (yes, a person can be going to work every day with a great haircut and still be depressed), in which case a combination of medication and/or talk therapy could literally be a life-saver.
Depression has a stigma attached to it, but it shouldn’t. It is a medical condition, and just like diabetes or food allergies, it can be managed (or overcome). It does help, to lessen the feeling of stigma, to live for a while in New York City, where people speak openly about their therapists and their Zoloft (ah, Americans!)
Of course, loneliness does not have to be associated with depression. Anyone who is not “partnered,” when they want to be – such as Francesca– will feel lonely sometimes. Some people feel lonely because they are in bad relationships, or simply because they feel existential angst. Having busy friends, and family far away, as L does, does not help at all, as Francesca well knows.
In taking care of her body, treating herself, and expanding her social horizons, L has taken important, positive steps. Here are some additional things Francesca does, or has done, to manage loneliness, usually with success:
- Staying relentlessly busy with work, courses and hobbies
- Reading as much as possible
- Being part of a religious community
- Going to therapy when needed
- Taking a course called “Understanding Yourself and Others” with Global Relationship Centers, and returning now and then as a course assistant whenever her travel schedule allows. (Francesca loves the warm atmosphere, personal tools, and new friends.)
- Getting a pet
- Keeping in close contact with my dear family and my friends who live overseas. For this, Francesca uses an American number which rings in her home abroad (get one through Packet8 or Vonage) but Skype works too.
- Becoming part of various online communities (natch!)
- Reaching out to married girlfriends and cultivating those relationships as much as possible.
- Recognizing feelings of loneliness, allowing myself to feel them and let them pass without judging them, rather than trying to force myself to feel happier.
- Meditation/breathing exercises
- Entertaining friends at home
YMMV, so consider all possibilities, and choose the ones that work best for you. And remember, you may feel lonely, but in this, you are not alone.
Francesca wishes to open up L’s letter to the love and support of our wonderful readers. How do YOU, in all your put-togetherness, manage loneliness? Please use the comments section to share/observe/advise.