It’s a feeling that pangs our hearts and minds as if they are both co-conspiring to shove us into the pits of despair. We like to blame loneliness on the conditions and circumstances around us, as if the external world is the cause. Loneliness, however, has little to do with who we are with or how many people are around us.
Loneliness is an inside job.
Two years ago I faced my biggest fear—being alone on my birthday. It was a weeknight. No people, no plans, no party. I made myself something for dinner and cheers’ed myself on another trip around the sun.
Later, lounging in my bed, I stared up toward the ceiling through the darkness and realized—I did it. I faced my boogeyman. I felt like the child who, when their parents turn the lights on, realizes there is no monster in the corner—only shadows.
My boogeyman was nothing more than my imagination and thoughts, turned into creative anxiety and strung together. I was alone, but not lonely.
Rewind back to another time when a younger version of me lived in an epicenter of socialites. There was always a party or event to attend, a weekday happy hour, or a weekend excursion.
One night, I showed up to a house party wearing a new sparkly dress. I walked in the room, saw my friends and met new ones. Our favorite music was playing through the house, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. An hour into the party, loneliness crept into my heart and filled the space with its darkness. The room was painted with people smiling, laughing, and dancing, but I felt as if I were on an island by myself. Friends felt like strangers. My mind and heart were sinking in a dark hole.
It’s a tricky monster, loneliness. It could care less about where we are or what we’re doing. It can show up in moments least expected and betray us. It is in these moments that we learn what our loneliness is made of.
I’ve learned that loneliness is an art form. It weaves in and out of our lives. Sometimes we dance with it, and sometimes we let it pass by. If we recognize it early, we can see what it is, feel it, redirect our minds and move forward. Other times, we keep dancing with it.
Loneliness is a state of being. It’s temporary, even if it lingers. This makes us, ironically, remember times when we didn’t feel lonely at all. And although that contrast makes the loneliness more intense, it reminds us that we know it won’t last forever.
Loneliness is a feeling, and feelings are meant to be felt. There’s depth and lessons in them. It’s a place we can draw on our curiosity to learn more about ourselves. Some of my greatest moments getting to know myself sprouted from lonely moments, when I had no distractions, and only my heart and my own thoughts to explore.
Loneliness can create a pause—a space we wouldn’t have created on our own. When we experience deep emotion, everything else quiets down as our sole focus lasers in to this feeling. We put a pause on other thoughts and tasks to go within.
Sometimes we think loneliness means there’s a void to fill. We look for partners, hobbies, and events to cure the loneliness we feel. However, relying on outside things will distract us for a while, but it won’t heal the emptiness.
We are responsible to build our relationship with loneliness—one where we can greet it face-to-face, dance with it if the music calls, and then part ways. Until we can manage this relationship, we’ll be playing hide-and-go-seek, only in this version, we’re the only ones hiding and vigorously running away from it in avoidance, hurt or fear.
There may not be a switch to turn it off forever, but there are ways to lessen the sting:
1. Feel it.
Life introduces experiences of all kinds. Maybe it’s time to experience loneliness for what it is. Experience it fully. Feel it all the way. Learn its depth—with the darkness, sadness, or fear that comes along with it.
Call on your coping mechanisms—healthy and unhealthy if needed this time! Sappy movies and pints of Rocky Road, restorative yoga, bubble baths, and journaling while a sad music playlist whispers in the background. Sometimes, the best way out is through.
2. Explore it.
What does it feel like? Approaching our loneliness with curiosity can make it feel less intense, and ignites a spark in our minds toward self-discovery. What is your loneliness telling you about what you want, what’s important to you, or what could be different? What was your trigger point? What normally helps you get back to feeling good? What does all of this tell you about yourself? Take the opportunity to learn about you.
3. Normalize it.
It’s completely normal to feel lonely sometimes. You’ve felt it before, you’ll feel it again. We know it doesn’t last forever. Accept that it’s part of the human experience. Realize that it’s common. Most people have felt lonely in their lifetimes, and many people will feel lonely again.
4. Lifeline it.
Because many of us have felt loneliness, it’s an experience we can truly relate to with each other. Reach out. Express yourself. Let it be something that draws you closer to your people. We can feel such relief in seeking solace from others who have felt the same way before. The weight of our loneliness lifts. We find that, in our loneliness, we are not actually alone.
When we take a step back, we see loneliness in all of its facets and colors. Painful, dark, confusing, enlightening, opening, expansive. It doesn’t have to be something we avoid or fear. Whenever it strikes, we can meet it as an opportunity to slow down, explore our own depth, and connect to our world.
Loneliness—I see you.