Sometimes it’s easy to feel lonely just because of all the wild activity we see (and imagine) all around us. We hear about parties and other social gatherings to which we weren’t even invited, and of course we see evidence of such events all the time, even at the supermarket. People are busily buying snack foods before “the big game” or party foods during the holidays, and we imagine their beautiful homes filled with great friends and family having an awesome time. And yet here we are, all alone with our textbooks or TV or just a cat. Sometimes a pang of loneliness can sneak up on us and feel like a real physical pain that must be addressed.
In my own life, loneliness like this can be a useful reminder. If it never hit me at all, I might be content to spend almost all of my spare time totally alone and never make the effort to nurture friendships when I didn’t feel like being with others. Since loneliness sometimes tells me that I am “missing” being with others, it serves as a motivator to make sure I’m seeing my friends often enough to keep strong relationships, to clean up the house even when I’d rather read, and in general to make sure I’m maintaining the friendships and family ties that mean a lot to me – even if it’s one of those weeks or months when there’s so much else to do that I’d really like to just veg out after work each day.
Although loneliness, like other pain, can serve a purpose, much of the time loneliness is not useful and is instead just a bad feeling about what we think we’re missing out on. Since we see commercials about getting ready for parties or huge holiday gatherings, we think we should be doing those things too. If we’re still in school, we hear other people talking about the wild weekend they just had, and we immediately feel an emptiness as we think we’re missing an essential part of high school or college. When I was in college, I felt that I should be going out more, and that I should have a huge gang of friends who ran around together constantly, but I could not see the obvious: I really didn’t want to go out any more than I did, and I didn’t want the same people around me all the time or too much of the time. Really, although I only had a few people I would have called close friends, and they didn’t know each other at all, I had created a life that was just right for me. The only thing that was really bothering me was all those “should”s nagging me all the time. I really just wanted to be asked to loads of parties; I didn’t actually want to go!
In middle age, I’m still susceptible to this, but I’m getting better at analyzing my feelings quickly. I live in a city that’s 150 miles from the one where I grew up, so I don’t have family here except for my own kids, and I don’t have old friends from high school or college here either. So when I see others getting ready for gatherings where they’ll watch their own college team, I feel a bit like an alien. There’s no way I would really want to go to a party to watch the local university play football; I have my own team in my home city. But I sometimes feel lonely because no one has even invited me. I have to stop and remember that what I really want to do on Saturday afternoon is exactly what I am doing! Likewise, I’m aware that there are “supper clubs” or other social gatherings going on all around me in my new city, and I could stop and think that I’m missing out on “life” – perhaps I’m not invited because I’m not married and most people my age are. But when I really stop and ask myself if I’d want to be part of that sort of life, if I’d like for my phone to ring now with an invitation, my answer is of course not! Maybe some people would think I “should” be entertaining more and going out more, but once again, I have my life just the way I want it. I have a few good friends that I do various things with, and I have my kids at home too, so most of my weekend time is spent with them. This holiday season, instead of letting the media and store displays make me feel as if I’m missing out on life, I’m going to enjoy seeing decorations and festivities without that nagging feeling that I “should” be having a party or going to more of them.
If you feel lonely, try to analyze whether you’re really lonely or if you’re really just wondering if something is missing. Maybe your loneliness does mean you should make an effort to meet some people whose company you’ll enjoy or to get together more often with those you already know. But if you have friends and you’re happy with those relationships, then don’t let the world make you feel as if you “should” have a certain number of friends. Likewise if you’re going out as often as you want to and you’re really happy doing what you’re doing, then go ahead and accept that and enjoy being happy! When you hear about a party and feel that feeling of failure and loneliness, ask yourself if you really want to go to the party – or if you would have just liked to be asked. Often once I ask myself that question, it’s enough to make me realize I’m so glad I don’t have to think of an excuse for yet another occasion – and I look at my quiet evening ahead with renewed appreciation and anticipation!
Photo credit: dpstyles