How We Get Used To Being Alone


Are you alone? Are you lonely? It’s quite possible and natural to be alone at times. Maybe you intentionally live alone–that doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel lonely.

The other day I ran into an acquaintance at the local coffee shop. He asked how I was doing, then immediately asked me if I was married yet! His response to my answer of no was to offer his sympathies. He seemed surprised and then went on to reassure me that things would be OK, that the right man was out there somewhere.

It never occurred to this man that I might not mind being alone.

Anyone who’s been in a bad relationship knows that feeling lonely isn’t necessarily tied to being single, or living alone.  The dictionary defines lonely as being without company, cut off from others, not frequented by human beings or sad from being alone. I had plenty of loneliness in my marriage, it was about not connecting with my husband.

Over the weekend I got a letter from a reader who shared her post-divorce story with me. What I picked up on was her loneliness.  It’s not unusual at the end of a relationship to find oneself overwhelmed by the circumstances. A divorce or the death of a partner brings so many changes–often sad or bitter. Leaving your house, losing friends to the ‘ex’ and other unavoidable changes. It’s a lot to handle and the emotional aspect complicates everything. It feels like the adjustment period will never end. There are options, as simplistic as that sounds.

Certain rituals can trigger a sense of loneliness – for me it used to be Friday night. For some reason it feels like date night to me. Others may find sleeping in an empty bed or having morning coffee alone brings up those kinds of feelings. The activities you did with a partner are loaded with emotions and become difficult to face alone.

What do you do? Certainly thinking about your ex in someone else’s arms or comparing your new living quarters to the house you lost is only going to make you feel more miserable. I got past my Friday night doldrums by making it into a special night. I would stop at the store on the way home from work and pick up ingredients for a nice dinner. Maybe adding a bottle of wine and a good video. I focused on doing something that kept my attention–a specific activity I could enjoy. It helped. And, it was much better than sitting around feeling sorry for myself.

It helps to sort out what it’s like to be alone as opposed to feeling lonely.  Merriam-Webster defines loneliness as producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation. I absolutely agree. You can talk yourself into feeling that loneliness. A sort of self-induced “Woe is me”.

Is There An Answer To Feeling Lonely?

There is no magic answer. Sorry. I’ve been there and many of you have as well. I could offer up some trite statements like “choose to love life” or “fake it til you make it”. That’s insulting. You may not have chosen to be alone. Maybe you lost your house or had to face a partner’s affair. Your partner of 25 years died. Your lifestyle suddenly changed. The friends turned out to be less loyal than you thought. And, on and on.

It hurts. And, only time will ease your pain. But, you can take concrete steps to build a new life–to feel less lonely. At the very least you can find other things to do while you’re adjusting.

Is Online Dating The Answer?

Not necessarily. I can’t really tell you what to do. No one can. Online dating may not be what you need. And, again maybe you’ll instantly meet the right woman or man and live happily ever after! I can tell you that if you rush in trying to find a cure for loneliness while you’re still a mess, bitter and frustrated, it will show. Get yourself in a better place or at the very least keep all your angst and hurt out of your dating profile.

Online dating has a lot of rejection built in. Unfortunately you may find that people don’t respond to your emails. You might go for days with no activity–normal, but if you’re already dealing with feelings of rejection this is going to make it feel even worse. At first.

Learning How To Accept Being Alone

Why not work on finding other things to do as a single person?  The first step is to isolate that moment when you feel the most lonely? Is it a specific time, like my Friday evenings? Or is it an activity? See if you can figure out times or events that trigger the feelings. Write them down. Next, just start writing down some ideas of things to do. Be as wild or frivolous as you want. You’re just exploring at this point.

Let’s say that Sunday afternoon you and your wife always read the paper together. That’s the event you want to deal with.  What can you do?

  • Change the time you read the paper.
  • Take the paper and go to a local coffee shop.
  • Try going to a matinee on Sunday afternoon.
  • Put your favorite music on the iPod or stereo and move around the house. Maybe it’s time to rearrange the books in the living room. Or you decide to try a little dancing in private. Get your body moving.
  • Pretty day? Go for a walk.
  • Call a friend and invite them to coffee.
  • Go visit a friend or family member.
  • See if the library or museum holds Sunday afternoon classes.

Our bodies and our brains hold memories. We get into patterns that become like second nature. And when we associate pleasant memories with those habits, they become more difficult to let go of. If those old habits trigger a sense of loneliness we have to change them. Slowly, gradually, the pain associated with the loss begins to lessen.

We each have the power to define our lives. We have the power to put our own labels on our emotions. Our emotions can rule us or we can take control of them. You feel lonely on Sunday afternoons. Acknowledge it. Say it out loud. “I miss _______, Sundays are difficult.” And figure out little ways to make it more bearable.

One of the first steps is to acknowledge the moment. Then reshape it. Literally and figuratively.

“I am alone, but I am coping”.

“I am alone and I find that I actually enjoy reading the paper the way I want to”.

“I am alone and it’s not so bad.”

There is no magic pill to erase the loneliness. We accept it, embrace it and we let it go. Six weeks, 6 months, a year.

How are you coping? What do you do that’s new and different?