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?
Well, I know this is a difficult situation to look at and the prospect of a long Minnesota winter of singlehood seems bleak. I don’t mean to drag you down with the reality that it’s going to be tough, but you already realize that, so I think I can be candid and say it won’t be easy, and there isn’t always something you can do to avoid feeling lonely at times. Frankly (you may know), even people in long-term relationships can feel lonely at times. I think that is part of the human condition.
That being said, I have a few ideas to offer. Take your picks, do what feels right, from the smorgasbord of ways to a) avoid feeling lonely b) accepting feeling lonely and c) moving on from lonely to contentment. Some of these are things I’ve tried that work, others have worked for friends. And believe me, you’re not alone in this quandary—I hear it from many at one point or another.
First, I think you’re wise to not want to jump into a new thing, grab some guy, any guy, for a rebound. I’ve heard therapists say, and I do agree, its good to be alone for a period of time, to allow your heart to heal, to become whole again. If one doesn’t, they risk getting into a relationship for the wrong reasons, just to be with somebody, to not deal with the pain, and they might carry the grief and pain and in subtle ways potentially damage the relationship at hand. Allowing yourself time to grieve and move on, can only be a good thing, in my opinion. But be aware of the process—I caution not to go too long trying to staunchly be alone, because you’re afraid of getting hurt again. It’s like a pendulum, it could swing out of balance the other way. So yeah, beginning to look at other relationships but take it slow sounds just right.
And realize, there is nothing wrong with having sex with someone you’re attracted to, just for fun, in the interim. Not only do you get some basic physical needs met, and have fun (and stay in touch with the sensual side of yourself), you get some pretty sweet endorphin rushes that may last up to a few days and help you feel energized.
I recommend, if you like to go out, to try to get friends to go with you, so you might not feel so lonely in the crowd. Yeah, I know, you can feel lonely in a small circle of friends but it is not as bad as being alone in the crowd. In “alone in the crowd” situations, engage in what you’re there for and forget the crowd around you. If you like the music, find a corner and just listen. Dance. That does wonders for alleviating loneliness and getting a few endorphins going. I’m all about finding healthy ways to get endorphin rushes.
Try not to drink too much, because alcohol is a depressant. Not only that, but it, like Robitussen, blankets the pain, and you might think you’re happy and fine, but then you wake up with maybe a hangover, and a not so productive, lo-fi day…and go out again to alleviate that…and eventually you may begin a vicious cycle of drinking a bit too much and not dealing with life and your feelings at hand. Only you can know how much is overindulgence, but just try to keep an eye on it and moderate.
Flip side of this: try to stay home, if you go out too much, say, and indulge in good things for yourself. Try to cook yourself a nice meal—I know, motivation can be difficult when you like to eat with a significant other, but when you do it, it feels good. Take hot baths, if you like. Listen to beautiful music, even if it makes you cry. That’s a good thing, to let it out. Watch comedies—I’ve never been able to feel sad when I watch The Office. I personally love Dr. Who—way out there fantasy, with good stories and actually quite emotive. Whatever you like, indulge. In a marathon of Glee, if you’d like or whatever your penchant, watch something that can be escapist, or helps you indulge in grief and move on. Watch sad movies, whatever you like that brings the emotions to the surface, so you can cry and go through what you need to go through to move on. If you don’t let the feelings out, they remain buried and leak out later in negative ways—either toward others or in self-destructive ways toward yourself.
If you don’t have a pet, and you feel you have time and will to take good care of one, I most highly recommend getting a dog or cat. Animals are terrific for providing companionship, solace, humor, excuses to get outdoors, walk, run, focus on some entity outside yourself. You might be amazed what having a dog, for example, does for the heart. It’s not a replacement for a human companion down the road, but it may help you to slow down, and not feel as desperate, at those times of extreme loneliness.
I recommend engaging full-on in single person activity. Yoga and meditation are terrific for getting centered, feeling good about yourself, and quelling feelings of anxiety, depression and lonely. It can be tough to motivate. Ask friends to check in with you and encourage you to do those things you sign up for. Exercise, bike, ski, swim…all good for staying healthy in the mind and heart.
Look for activity groups: book clubs, wine-tasting trips, hiking or bike teams, curling, whatever you think you might be interested in but haven’t engaged in with groups.
Let yourself hang out and read for a few hours. Or listen to records. Take a day off from work. Travel. When the pain is just too long and drawn out in the dead of winter, take a trip, whatever you can afford and see new environs, explore. If you can get yourself to a warm, sunny place for two weeks, that would be the best. I recommend New Mexico, the Baja, the Northwest coast, anywhere there is ocean. There is no underestimating the power of the ocean to make you feel right with the world and make your heart swell. Again, the beauty of these places may make you cry, but its all good.
And, when it gets really rough, phone a friend, or three. Talk to somebody. You don’t have to, and shouldn’t deal with the overwhelming emotions alone. Go to a wine bar, meet a friend. Don’t be afraid, if it seems they are open to it, to opening up about what you’re going through. Its real, its really you and they may be going through the same thing, or can offer an ear and some words of solace or advice.
I also recommend reading Eckhart Tolle, such as his book The Power of Now. It really helps put things in perspective, help us to mentally face and cope with our pain and inner struggle. Many of us I think try to avoid pain, and sometimes it is better, to face it, stare it down, and with time and practice it will ebb, and dissipate.
So in general, a balance of being alone and gradually over time accepting that and how it feels—the feelings do come in waves and do dissipate over time, I know. Remember that each day is different, and it won’t always feel like this. Also balance alone time with being social even if it feels like a chore or painful. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at how events turn and you really do have a good time, better than you expected. Above all, treat yourself well, think of what will be good and healthy for you, rather than letting negative things pull you further down.