Human beings are social creatures. Our need to belong is not just a factor of our socialization—it’s encoded in our DNA! As the 17th century poet John Donne wrote so profoundly: “No man is an island / entire of itself.”
All of us fall on a continuum of how social we are, depending on how we refuel when our tanks are low. People typically fall into a range from extreme extrovert to total introvert (see my blogs on the subject: 6 Good Reasons to Date an Extrovert and 6 Good Reasons to Date an Introvert)—but even those of us who thrive on regular doses of solitude need people, community, and healthy attachment to be whole and happy. If those needs are left untended there are going to be consequences—mental and physical health issues such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease.
Balance. That’s what we’re all striving for, isn’t it? Remember Jennifer from last week’s blog? When her divorce went through, she panicked and wanted to go out on the market again right away, to prove to herself she would not have to be alone forever. The problem was, she was scared to be alone even for a little while. She had lost her inner balance. Fear and loneliness were overshadowing her belief in herself, her confidence, and her equilibrium.
As you recall, I urged her to get to know herself before rushing back out to find love again. I was sure that when she became comfortable with her aloneness she would not only be more ready for a successful relationship but she would be a much more appealing dating prospect for the kind of men she would be interested in. When she felt confident, healthy, and balanced she would find men with those qualities too.
I helped Jennifer work through her process and I can help you too. Let’s look at some ways to make the “state of mind” shift from lonely to alone and happy:
√ Accept yourself. You feel lonely? That’s okay. It’s normal. Every kid who goes off to college, every grandfather who has lost his brothers, sisters, and best friends, every adventurer pursuing a dream, out in the world, beyond her comfort zone—they all feel loneliness and yet the source of their loneliness (college, death, adventure) is normal, natural, and meaningful, whether happy or sad. It is human to want and need significant connection with others. Accept the ebb and flow of what life brings to you. There are times of separation and loss, and times of connection. With luck, when we lose someone or feel lonely, there are others in our lives to help us through that broken connection. Sometimes there aren’t, and we are, for a time, utterly alone. Or feel that way. When you feel like that and it sucks—guess what? There is nothing wrong with you.
√ Process. The very word—process—should be a major hint. No state is permanent. The flow of life ensures that. We feel bliss—but it does not last (bummer). We feel grief—but it does not last. Just because you accept yourself and your feelings of loneliness does not mean you have to be stuck there. Accept yourself as you engage in the process of rediscovering your balance. Basically what this means is: don’t rush into new relationships when you are lonely and unsure of yourself. A new relationship will be nothing more than a Band-Aid to cover up your fears and anxieties during a stage of change. You know how much it hurts when your Band-Aid gets ripped off? (And it has to be ripped off.) Aloneness is not a wound – you don’t need a Band-Aid, you just need to get to know the real you, and when you do, you’ll start loving your own company.
√ Be yourself. The best way to make meaningful connections is to be your brilliant authentic self! The same holds true for connecting with yourself (which has to come first). When you are alone with yourself, there is no one to impress, no one to win over. You are the most important person in your life—so why not really get to know yourself from the inside out? Here’s an example of what I mean. When people hang out at home all day, women don’t put on make-up or even a bra half the time, and guys, I doubt you walk around in a suit and tie. We’re talking flip flops, ripped sweats, and “I’ll take that shower later.” We accept ourselves in this state and enjoy having nothing to prove. The same is true on the inside. Figure out who you are beyond of any external expectations or “rules” that may or may not come along with relationships. Once you know that “real you” you will never again worry about being what you think others expect you to be. You’ll be good with yourself—in balance—and then and only then ready to enter a meaningful relationship with someone else again.
There are practices you can engage in to help with the above internal shifts. Here are a few you can try:
√ Connect with nature. Walk in the park or the woods. Plant things. Skip stones across a pond. Sit beside a river—whether it flows through the heart of a city or through the countryside it will have an effect on your sense of peace and connection. Affirmation: I am part of the beautiful world around me.
√ Meditate. Through quiet meditation, you raise your awareness and attunement. Your connection to yourself and the world will be strengthened, and you will feel less pressure or anxiety. Affirmation: I am at peace with myself.
√ Unplug. Too often we use electronics to escape from what is difficult. Turn off your phone, computer, radio, TV…. Do not use them as a substitute for being a. with yourself and b. with other people. Boredom, anxiety, loneliness – all of these can be mitigated by connecting, either within or without. Read a book, write a letter, volunteer. Or go to a movie, out to dinner, or meet a friend for coffee. Connecting means connecting with real people, not your iPad. (Real people includes you.) Affirmation: I’m worth connecting with.
√ Fear not. Being alone does not mean you withdraw from the world. It means you are not in a romantic relationship and are living a self-sufficient life. Isolation is a familiar trap that leads to loneliness. Isolation usually happens gradually when we are driven by fear… fear of rejection, of not being good enough, of being left behind by life. If you have been in a partnership for years and years and suddenly are not, it is easy to feel cut off and isolated. Don’t let it happen. If socializing with a group of friends is painful or scary, start out with baby steps. Tutor a child at risk, teach an adult to read at the library, help cook at a homeless shelter. You are needed! Such endeavors will allow you to enjoy the camaraderie of other people without too much intimacy at first. Affirmation: I have a lot to offer.
√ Choose wisely. Set your intention for quality connections. Spend time with family and good friends rather than at the local bar. Seeking support is vital. Seeking escape is dangerous. When you are ready for romance, this practice of choosing wisely will benefit you! Affirmation: I make good choices.
Embrace your aloneness. For some of you this will be relatively easy. For others it will be a struggle. There is no right way. Jennifer had a devil of a time at first. She craved attachment but did not know how to connect to others except through a romantic liaison. She felt too experienced and grown-up to troll the local pick-up scene—which was a blessing—but she was very tempted to sign up for matchmaking, and start profiles on every dating site she could think of. I talked her out of that… for the time being. She found herself pacing the floors of her apartment, constantly on the verge of tears, completely unsure how to connect with herself. When she saw her sisters, she found all she did was relive the last year of her failed marriage and her fears about the future until even the two women who loved her best in the world were saying, “Move on, please.”
One Sunday, about four months after her first call to me, Jennifer emailed me. This is what she wrote: “I spent the morning reading on my balcony. I was able to focus for hours. After lunch, I took a walk to the park and met up with a friend for coffee. We are planning long just-girls weekend to Maine sometime in October. Just now I watched the sunset and hardly felt sad at all, and I’m not scared any more. I never thought I’d feel normal again. There really is hope for me! LOL.”
And now I’d like to make an introduction. “Dear You, I’d like to introduce you to a wonderful person, You. I know it will be a long and happy friendship.”