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Lonely Hearts Club | Manolo for the Big Girl

Lonely Hearts Club

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.

Francesca answers:

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.

13 Responses to “Lonely Hearts Club”

  1. Margo September 29, 2009 at 2:07 pm #

    I can totally relate, to L.’s situation and Francesca’s excellent advice. So much of what you hear seems trite and same-ol’, namely build a community, volunteer, give yourself permission to feel lousy sometimes, seek help from others instead of fending for yourself the whole time, but that’s because it’s the same-ol’ that works. And a lot of it is tied in with the condition of being human, and other people = the solution to, and cause of, most problems.

    Two books I’d recommend are Laura Kipnis’ Against Love: A Polemic (does what it says on the tin, but is good for a re-framing of the subject), and A General Theory of Love by Thomas/Amini/Lannon. I’d recommend Casual Blasphemies, one of my favourite blog, for excellent and hilarious takedowns of the Dating Myths: Fat Girl edition. And I’d recommend having long, baroque conversations with friends and random acquaintances about being alone/lonely, feelings, relationships, and ‘normal’.

    I spent this year going through treatment for an eating disorder, and along the way unearthed (why, hello there!) a honking great social anxiety issue. I’m not scared of dealing with it now, that I have some therapy tools and teachers on hand. It’s not that Teh Harpy is the answer for everyone, but it’s certainly worth trying. Also – massages, if you find a great massage therapist, book yourself a fortnightly trip – a brilliant investment.

    Lots of love, to L and all.

  2. rebecca September 29, 2009 at 2:19 pm #

    Though I know it is not in the same category, us partnered folks get a little lonely, too. The best and happiest relationship I have is not with my husband, but with my best friend…she lives two thousand miles away now, and despite keeping in touch as best as possible, I ache for her.
    Thank you for these suggestions. I am looking forward to trying some of them.

  3. Lise in NJ September 29, 2009 at 3:53 pm #

    Darling L, any of the losses you’ve undergone in the last three years would be enough to weigh you down, and some grieving is natural. We live in a “get over it” society, but no one can determine the timeline for a lost love or lost parent.

    borne down dealing with my aged and ailing mother, I took my sufferings to my MD, who prescribed an antidepressant. I practically shouted at her that it would not change my circumstances. She said, “No, but you will take things less personally”, and that is in fact how it worked out. I tapered off after six months coping much more easily. There was a certain weight of extra suffering that the medication helped relieve.

    everything Francesca recommends is worthwhile – when you are “relentlessly busy” the distraction prevents huge outbreaks of the blues. If you’re sitting around feeling miserable, get out of the house and be miserable elsewhere, even moving around helps.

  4. Twistie September 29, 2009 at 4:59 pm #

    Oh L, you’ve been through a hell of a lot in a short time. It may be that you need a hand getting through all of it. It’s possible that grief counseling or even anti-depressants will help.

    It’s also okay to accept that once in a while you’re going to feel crappy and let yourself feel that way. Take stock of whether it’s a blue day once in a while or whether it’s an ongoing pattern that’s making it difficult for you to keep up with your job, your friendships, or your self-care. My guess is that if you’re eating well, getting regular exercise, and kicking butt on the job, then this is residual grief and current frustration with being unwillingly alone. If you aren’t sure or my guess feels off, then by all means consult a doctor or a therapist and see what they can do for you.

    Do I have it together? Most of the time. The fact is, though, that nobody anywhere in any circumstances has it completely together all the time. And I still once or twice a year have a long cry over the fact that my mother is dead. Come February, it will have been twenty years. There are still times when it still cuts me like a knife.

    You might also consider adding an activity to your life that brings you in contact with more single people. After all, you say that the fact that most of your friends are married is contributing to your feeling lonely. Will you find love this way? Maybe. Even if you don’t, though, you’ll meet other people who share your interests without partners. Just knowing that someone else who’s single is finding the joy in life might be helpful.

    Whatever works for you, know that we’re here and we care. We also think you’re superfantastic. So there.

  5. Jane September 29, 2009 at 5:51 pm #

    L, you are SO not alone, and your feelings are important. I will say that I am very blessed, and yet sometimes that set of feelings hits me as well. I will also say that this blog suggests one of many excellent ways to get a quick cheer-up — a superfantastic outfit that looks good on the body you have right now, filling you with the kind of confidence that attracts friends and potential partners. If quick cheer-ups (besides clothes, there are exercise, sunlight, art, music, even a really good British romantic comedy) are failing, then yes, it probably will help to do some work with a person of the helping professions. Please don’t feel ashamed to do this work — it is valuable and meaningful and you are worth it.

  6. Melissa September 29, 2009 at 7:33 pm #

    Sweet L, we are bailing water out of the same boat. I moved 2000 miles from my much beloved family and state (TEXAS!) a little over two years ago because of my work and it’s been good, but it has also been desperately lonely at times. Like you, I am tired of doing so much alone. My habit back home was to always have a companion for errands, dinner, movies, shopping, etc. and it has been painful at times to not have “go to” people for all these things. If you are in the New England area, please don’t hesitate to email and lets make friends. You can get to my blog through the link on my name, and I believe my yahoo email is on there. If not, just leave a comment and say hello.

    Even if you aren’t in New England we can still make friends… it’s nice to have people in similar life circumstances to discuss life, clothes, movies, books, shoes, dinner, and such with.

    Wish you the best.

    Melissa

  7. ? September 29, 2009 at 7:40 pm #

    40, alone, demanding job, thoughts of mortality, that’s all me, and i’m really a little scandalized by the suggestions of pills and therapy. the best cure for loneliness is to meet a lot of people, realize that hell is other people and retreat to your oasis of joy to read wordsworth or the tang poets similarly relishing solitude. i’m only semi-kidding. my own transformation from bone-crushing loneliness to a surprisingly happy life came not from finding true love or great achievement, but from realizing i was never going to get love, that the quest for achievement requires a stomach for failure, and that exquisite objects, whether dresses or paintings, last longer than most everyone’s charm. suggested reading: the novels of barbara pym and vivian gornick’s “the end of the novel of love”.

  8. Jules September 29, 2009 at 10:27 pm #

    I can only contribute this: don’t discount people who are “busy” “partnered” or “far away”. It is true, these people are not as available to you as those who would be also single, right next door, and on your same schedule. However, do not let yourself count them out. They still love you, and you can still have lovely relationships with them.

    I had a fairly hellishly lonely year last year, partly because of this. I was very busy, and far away from my friends who were also all paired up. I knew some people nearby but they were also extremely busy. I kept thinking, “I have no friends!” But the fact is that I did have friends, just not in the way I had had before. On the one hand, I started planning visits to see my friends who were far away, and making a point of seeing them when they stopped through town. On the other, I started inviting people to do things and explicitly telling people to invite me regardless of whether I seem busy. It is awkward to have someone say “no” but it is far, far worse to constantly stop yourself from asking by thinking “they will not want to”.

    Also: there were people I knew, but had not been terribly good friends with in the past. I thought it would be awkward to reach out to them, and suggest going to movies as a group or something. I ended up ignoring the awkwardness and it paid off.

    So don’t let yourself think that you don’t have friends, just because the faces around you have changed! Your “old” friends still count! And even if you are not bosum buddies yet with the ones who live nearby, that can change.

  9. avi September 30, 2009 at 12:36 am #

    Dear Franchesca,

    I would like to know more about the “Understanding Yourself and Others” events. To my surprise, I might be ready for something like that. But from the outside, it seems a little cultish. Would you tell us more about it?

    Thanks!

  10. Lisa September 30, 2009 at 2:00 am #

    ~~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~~

    But you ARE here now. How wonderful! I have no advice. The Francesca, she has the fabulous advice.

    I am older than you and am in no way together. Who said you are supposed to be ‘together’ anyway? 40 is so young! I believe in the following to feel better:

    1. Accessories.
    2. Long walks
    3. Kittens
    4. Nail polish (Can you find me that pretty mint green shade Chanel is doing this fall? That would get you out and about.)
    5. Any movie that has Fred Astaire in it
    6. Anything that has kahlua in it.
    7. Football games
    8. Architecture tours
    9. Taking a class on something fun, like learning to make sushi or pasta or bartending or
    10. Gold lame. It is impossible to be sad in Gold lame.
    11. Martini glasses. Aren’t they awesome? I suggest midori, sprite, and a cherry.

    Be well, Dear L. The right relationships will come to you in time. I hope that’s soon.

  11. Leah September 30, 2009 at 2:54 pm #

    L, I am sending some virtual support your way, because we have all been through this time. As a girl who has been having to learn both how to be ok being alone and how to connect for the last few years, let me share with you this one thing that I only just figured out myself: When I lost someone to whom I was quite close a couple months ago, I also stopped putting effort into other relationships (particularly with people who also knew the person I lost) and even actively avoiding them. I did not know I was doing this or recognize that the behavior was related to my loss for weeks and weeks, and probably wouldn’t have noticed at all if I hadn’t started seeing a new counselor. Sometimes when we are feeling knocked for a loop, it is hard to know where we are relative to other people, and “relationships” are all about how we “relate” to others. Like Francesca and Plumcake have said, you deserve to be loved and well cared for, and the first person who has to step up and do that is you.

    Muchos love from all of us in the MftBG community, I know we are all hoping for the best for you, because we are all at different places on the same journey, and somehow we are all going to get through it.

  12. La BellaDonna September 30, 2009 at 5:44 pm #

    I wish you all the luck in the world, L. I’m in the same boat, bailing as fast as I can. I have no good suggestions, only good wishes.

  13. jeannemarie October 1, 2009 at 10:27 pm #

    Hi L – I feel so many points of connection with you that it’s hard to know where to start. I guess the loneliness (which I have felt acutely at different times in my life) is the aspect that really caught me. Ironically, I’m married with two children. And my life is very, very full doing things for them and keeping the house and my marriage going and keeping a demanding career, which I love, also on track. I’ve started this post a million times because it sounds like it shouldn’t be a problem at all. And yet, last year I was really burdened and brought down by loneliness. Somehow, after all those years that I pushed myself to the max to do things with my children and husband and become successful in my career (which took a semi-beating as I did all that family stuff) I woke up and realized I no longer had any friends. Now, that’s not one hundred percent true, but it is true that I had moved across the country for my job, and my friends were now spread out many hundreds of miles away. We had people we were friendly with, but generally only when we saw them at school or community events. And as the kids grew older and there’s less school involvement (i.e. we used to walk the kids to elementary school and chat with the other parents, now they take the bus to high school and middle school) we stopped seeing them. We had a few families over, but it was always a family to family thing and actually, we didn’t do it all that often. Nor did they reciprocate often. I realized that what I was missing, and missing terribly, was having friends. I didn’t even have someone to have lunch with at work. I had someone at work I had coffee with occasionally at work, but no friends. I was really, really down about this for about a year. I felt such deep loneliness at the absence of friends. It seemed like I had made some horrible and irreversible steps with my life and that I was doomed or fated to never have happiness.

    Things are looking up. I’m not sure why. I don’t really have a good friend here. But I have started emailing and calling old friends from far away more. I have good intentions, that I haven’t followed through on, to go visit them. Just me. No kids, no husband. So that we can catch up, and really talk. I also have been trying around here. There are some really nice people in the area. They’re also really busy, but one of my neighbors has started taking classes near where I work. I pass her on the sidewalk every now and then, near lunchtime, and one day emailed her that maybe we should meet for coffee or lunch. And we do! We’ve met twice now – without families, etc. And work is more fun now – I’m enjoying it again the way I used to. Teenagers are not always the best for you when you’re having trouble feeling good about yourself (did you know you don’t know ANYTHING? And that your remark just ruined her DAY?!), but even that is looking up. They’re pretty good kids and have been the whole time.

    So I’m not sure where this post is going, but I guess I just mean to tell you, L, that things do look up. Sometimes not even because of anything you do. But I guess I also want to say that maybe you should check out your friends who are married with kids. I’m 45, and at 35 or 40 I didn’t have time to keep a friendship going outside of work. I have one special friend who forced me to keep that friendship going long distance – and I value that so much. But, if I lived near you, at this point in my life, I’m looking for friendship. I’d be interested in getting together at lunch, and sometimes on weekends. And I bet I’m not the only one. All that you’re doing to try to make connections – that’s good, and one of them will pay off.

    I also think that writing down why you’re unhappy – like you did – can be useful. Sometimes it dragged me farther down, but often, I felt a little relieved afterwards – as though I had just talked it over with someone.

    And I actually love this online community – even though I never see these people and barely ever post. Maybe that’s why I read this blog regularly even though I’m not a big girl.

    Reading back on this, it looks tremendously depressing. I’m actually a fairly upbeat person, usually. So I guess this is also to say that many of us only sporadically have it all together. And that appearances only tell a very small part of the story (Hmm., maybe that’s why I like this blog so much!)

    So keep writing us. And tell us how it is going. I know I’m thinking about you.