I ended a long-term relationship several months ago. Needless to say, it was hard. I’m starting to look at other relationships, but I want to take it slow and don’t expect—or necessarily even want—lightning to strike overnight. So I’m looking at the prospect of a long winter of singlehood, and wondering, how should I handle the loneliness? I don’t want to just grab some guy for a rebound, and I’ll keep busy enough—but crowds can be lonely too. What’s the healthiest way for me to get through this?
My last relationship ended last summer and the months that followed were some of the hardest of my life. It wasn’t easy, but I got through it and ended up better, stronger, and in love with my life. I struggled and I fought through a lot of pain and loneliness but with the help of loved ones, I made it through. I’d love to share my story and my healing process in hopes that it will help you.
My relationship ended on a bad note. A really bad, huge-fight, yelling and crying, trashcan-punching, two-hours-of-sleep kind of night. We didn’t even talk for a while after it. I was in pain, I felt alone, I felt miserable. My first piece of advice to get through the immediate crisis is therapy. It’s also my advice to get though the months after. It’s also my advice to get through life. Find a good therapist and check in here and there, or see him or her weekly, or however much you need. It helps to talk to someone who can just validate your feelings and confirm that you are, in fact, normal. It’s okay to feel lonely! This was my first big step in the right direction: An after-hours call to my therapist’s office to get squeezed in to see her. It got easier from there. Being able to talk to someone who wouldn’t get tired of hearing so much about it was absolutely necessary. My friends are awesome, but people can only handle so much! But yes, friends: keep them around, but don’t ask for too much from one or another. When you’re sad and lonely you’re like a lost puppy and you’re a lot of work. So let them take shifts.
The next step for me, after getting through “ohmygodiwillbealoneforever” crisis mode, was scheduling things to fill my time. As you said, you can be lonely in a crowd. Going out to bars and being surrounded by people is not the answer. However, being surrounded by a few close friends makes it harder to be lonely. I scheduled a running night with two or three people, because exercise helps with anger, pain, frustration, and depression a lot. A lot times 9 billion! I also scheduled a cooking night with some of my favorite people. Being around people who understand your loneliness and depression is key. You don’t have to fake feeling awesome when you’re not; they understand. They give you hugs, they talk you through it, and you have fun. I even had a third weekly event night scheduled: sitting on my couch with my friends watching True Blood. Nothing distracts from loneliness like watching really hot naked vampires with your closest buddies. Nothing. These are particularly good ways to fill your winter. It’s cold, you’re sad, and you don’t want to go out, so invite people to you! Do things like cooking, crafting, reading, and watching shows—but with one or two or six people around you so you don’t feel alone.
After you start feeling like a human being again, you can start to focus on yourself. One thing that being in a long-term relationship did to me, was distract me from improving myself and my life. I spent so much time focusing on him, and especially on us, that I forgot about me. I started exploring my interests and turning them into hobbies and activities. I liked taking photos, especially of live music. I bought a DSLR and started bringing it to shows, taking pictures, asking advice, learning to edit them, and posting them online to get feedback. Now I even got to take a shower with Hanson (win!) and photography has become one of my major activities. I started getting more involved in the food scene, meeting street food vendors, eating, eating, and eating…okay, somehow I consider eating a major activity in my life. But you get the picture: find things that you like to do, explore them, and develop them. Focus on your career. Focus on your family and friends, especially if you neglected any of them to spend time on your (now ex-) relationship.
You said you weren’t looking to just find a rebound, but honestly a little sex can help, if you feel comfortable with that. If you’re not, avoid it, but don’t feel like you can’t empower yourself to “act like a guy” and have sex just for sex. It can be a good distraction. And wanting to take any new relationships slow is a great idea. There’s nothing good that comes from a relationship that you rush into just to avoid being lonely. I recommended sex, yes, but not immediate relationships. Focus on you so that when you do find a new relationship, it’s one that fits who you are and lets you be yourself. If you end up in a good one where you still are able to be true to yourself, keep your hobbies, and spend time with your friends, then the loneliness that follows it, if it does also end, will maybe be less severe.
You can do this. But don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re really struggling, let people know. Don’t be afraid to ask friends to come over just to watch a movie and eat ice cream. Don’t be afraid to see a therapist. Ask for what you need. During the worst of the post-relationship struggle, I had a friend who lived in the building next to mine. She’d meet my dog and me outside for our morning walk so I’d had to get up and go to work. She’d come over and talk and talk and talk. Whatever I needed. People want to help so share your loneliness and let them. You’ll make it through the lonely winter and be happier and stronger for it.