I don’t write this blog alone in a darkened room. Instead, I alienate strangers at parties by asking them over cheese straws whether they feel lonely. Loneliness is a common human experience. It’s big in the ‘25-35 London house parties’ demographic. You voted on Twitter for the first topic in the ‘Big Scary Word’ series. Loneliness won by a landslide otherwise reserved for Russian presidents.
Loneliness is a complex emotion. It can manifest as a heavy weight of sadness. It can be a pervasive anxiety about not truly connecting with others. You can feel lonely if you’re an optimistic extrovert, surrounded by friends and family. You can feel lonely in your own company, or lonely in a group of people.
In the first of a new series, I’m diving into the depths of one emotion by answering three questions about my emotional development. Brace yourself for a sharp injection of sincerity. Get to know the girl behind G4RL. Let’s go: one word; three questions.
Have you ever felt lonely?
Last year, I was sitting at home in the immediate aftermath of a rough breakup. I was watching the front door. I was still in denial: I thought he might knock at any minute to tell me he’d made a huge mistake. I felt achingly lonely. The quietness felt overwhelming and unsettling. I was somehow afraid that I would never connect with another human being again. There was just me, my sofa and the front door looming heavy in the background.
Outside that door, life continued. The world was full of people bonding with each other. Knowing this made me feel even more isolated and sad. Even with wonderful friends and family who would run to my side in seconds, I felt lonely existing in a mind consumed by pain and loss.
Then, I had a breakthrough. Split-second breakthroughs don’t often happen outside of movies or lifestyle blogs. I still recall it vividly nearly a year later, so I can tell you it was a good’un.
I wasn’t truly waiting for him to return. I was waiting for someone else to knock on my front door.
To lift my loneliness, I needed a future version of myself to walk through the door and sit down beside me. I needed Nikki. This Nikki would be five years older, brighter and even cuter. She would arrive with a smile on her face. She would tell me stories of our accomplishments and all the things we’d experienced in those five years. She would show me our strength, our joy and our humour.
From that moment onwards, everything changed for me. I saw so clearly how I’d allowed myself to get lost in other people. I’d wanted my loneliness to be filled by someone else’s presence, which had led me to make homes in the wrong people. I made a commitment to developing the longest relationship of my life: me and me. I knew this future Nikki was real and she was waiting for me. I quickly realised loneliness was almost entirely unrelated to other people.
It felt like I’d gained a superpower. Suddenly, nobody could erase me by denying me love. I bought into the truth we’re afraid of embodying: we have a self which exists beyond everyone else’s opinions of us. I needed to tap into this sense of self, reconnect with my positive traits and address my flaws. If I could reach this, I knew I wouldn’t feel overwhelming loneliness again.
How do you deal with loneliness?
“That’s a sweet story, but I don’t believe you. Surely you’ve felt lonely since last year?”
Thank you for joining us, doubting Thomas. From that breakthrough onwards, I began to feel more comfortable in my own company. I now look forward to time alone. I also enjoy my time with others more than ever. I’m able to be the most content, calm and honest version of myself. I’m naturally extroverted: for me, desiring and forming relationships has never been an issue. I do still sometimes experience flashes of loneliness if I’ve been wrapped up in work for too long, or find myself with the wrong people. I deal with loneliness by accepting it, by reconnecting with myself and by looking closely at my relationships.
I tried to resist loneliness for many years by never allowing myself to be alone. This only compounded it for me. Many house-party research subjects told me that they just can’t be alone. They do everything they can to avoid their own company. Whether that means always agreeing to after-work drinks, or just constantly being active on WhatsApp. I was exactly the same. I went to every social event, because I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts. I recognised that if I could make my mind a happier place, I would be comfortable existing there. First, I just acknowledged that I had been feeling lonely and accepted the idea of loneliness.
Then, I committed to a meaningful connection with myself. If that sounds trite, that’s because it is. I will continue to tell you that the trite things are often the right things. You can thank me on the other side when you shake your “yeah but what about being cool” attitude. It’s 2018 and nothing is cool anymore. You should just do whatever you want, even if that includes being eye-wateringly sincere on the internet.
I discovered what makes me glow and focused my energy on those things. I developed a firm sense of my values. I value being a good friend. I value helping others. I value the act of writing. I value taking creative risks. I value humour. I value my health. Whenever I’m alone, I try to do activities which align with my values, so that even in the smallest ways, I’m connecting with a sense of self which is entirely separate to other people. This helps counteract feelings of loneliness or isolation, as my own company feels more fulfilling and established.
The final stage in dealing with loneliness was to address the company I was keeping. I focused my energy on the positive relationships in my life and was able to give more to those than ever before. I allowed negative relationships to drift away. We all know who these people are, even if we don’t want to admit it. I directed my energy into loving relationships with people who fully reciprocated my affection, trust and respect. This means I feel secure in the knowledge that I am loved, even when I find myself on my own for an evening.
What have you learned from loneliness?
For too long, I was desperate to avoid loneliness and would constantly socialise to fill that gap. It meant I put others before me, to my own disservice. It meant I’d settle for any company rather than the right company. It made me stay in damaging relationships because I feared being alone.
Loneliness is horribly painful. Like many unpleasant emotions, it’s also the best teacher. I used loneliness to rebalance my relationship with myself. It helped me form even stronger bonds with my true pals. It allowed me to build new relationships with stable, like-minded people. I’m an extrovert. This means socialising is easy, but comes with a side dish of “Holy smokes, when was the last time I spent an evening by myself?”
Trying to avoid loneliness by always being busy was exhausting. Learning to be alone improved the quality of my relationships, as I became a more relaxed person to be around. Loneliness can be a painful, but timely reminder of what you need from yourself and others, or it can become all-consuming anxiety. What you choose to do with it will determine which side the coin lands on. It’s closely linked to acceptance, which we’ll come on to in the next one of these sincere posts, my precious gems.
“Fascinating to hear about your heartfelt emotional development, but please can you just tell me how to get laid? Maybe throw some jokes in too, yeah?” Fear not Susan, next week we’re back on our bullshit. Let me know in the comments whether you’ve enjoyed our introduction to the Big Scary Word series. Follow G4RL on Facebook and Twitter to stay in the loop about upcoming posts and chat with me about mental health, love or sex. Subscribe via email by entering your email in that box. Receive G4RL straight into your inbox, hours before everyone else.
Thank you for your patience while we fixed the internet-machine. Maintaining a blog is a steep learning curve for a girl with a big heart, a few good words at her fingertips, but limited technical abilities. We worked tirelessly last week and the site has now seamlessly transitioned to a new server host, so it‘s nothing but smooth operating from here onwards. I will keep working on tiny improvements until everything looks as glossy as my hairdo. See you next Monday!
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