I was speaking with someone recently and she confessed that she was dealing with acute loneliness. She’d been single for about a year and half and wasn’t looking for a partner– just people to hang out with. And she’s a great person– and seemingly happy and successful. But she’s lonely– and this was made worse by the fact that efforts to reach out to friends recently resulted in no response, or cancelled plans. She told me about how stigmatized she felt with this affliction.
She said, “I can put on my fb status that I have a cold and I will get lots of responses .... suggestions on how to get over it sooner, drugs or homeopathic remedies to take, get well wishes...but if I were to post that I’m lonely, no one would respond. It’s like there’s shame attached to it.”
I thought about how true this was. Even depression is finally accepted as a normal life event, but loneliness?
I remembered times in my own life I had felt lonely– when I was commuting from Manhattan, KS to Topeka for my final year of high school and really felt orphaned; when I was unhappy in a relationship but didn’t have the skills to talk about it with my partner; when I felt a deep sense of otherness from the crowd I was in; when I, like my friend, had reached out to others and been turned down.
Loneliness isn’t the same as depression, it’s a sense of being cut off from the rest of the world, of not being noticed, of not being cared for. It’s a sense of feeling like we don’t matter to others.
Oftentimes, loneliness occurs when we are cut off, for whatever reason, from meaningful interactions with others. Maybe a beloved friend moves away, or we end a relationship, or a parent dies. Sometimes, as I said above, loneliness can occur when we’re in the thick of relationships, but feel misunderstood, or misrepresented–an outcast, the other.
And my friend is right– no one ever talks about loneliness. Why is there shame attached to that?
What is the stigma? That if we’re lonely it’s because no one wants to be with us? So there’s something wrong?
How can we love our lonely selves and have the courage to maintain a positive attitude and keep putting ourselves out there?
Frankly, I think it takes a lot of courage to be lonely in a social networked world with more online and f2f opportunities than ever before. It takes courage to admit that in spite of the glut of frenzied activities, we still feel isolated. It takes guts to keep trying to find our niche.
I felt helpless with my friend. There was no panacea I could offer to take the edge off her pain, there was no quick fix or kindle book that would make her world okay.
I could only tell her I was proud of her for continuing to try. I could only tell her she was a worthy and giving person who had much to offer. These words were, perhaps, cold comfort, in the face of the anguishing pain of loneliness. So I decided the one last thing I could do would be to talk about loneliness, how it impacts each of us at one time or another, how debilitating it is to our psyche. And to name what she cannot post on her fb. That loneliness sucks. That we’re meant to be in relationship with one another. And if a friend– particularly a friend you haven’t heard from in a while– calls you to say “Let’s get together,” then treat that as a sacred obligation to another human. It’s not something to be taken lightly. Say yes– and move heaven and earth to keep that commitment. And if you feel like you don’t want to, it’s too much trouble, it’s too much work, then I invite you to remember a time when you felt lonely, unloved, unwanted. And treat your friend the way you wish someone had treated you during that time.