My second ever favourite quote is from Tennessee Williams:
“When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone”.
Before you start thinking I’m an intellectual – I first heard that quote during an episode of One Tree Hill. Regardless, the quote is both good and true. It highlights the pervasiveness of emotional isolation and it reminds us that we aren’t singular in our suffering – that if we could just band together with all the other lonely people, we mightn’t be so lonely after all.
In this post, I look at:
What exactly loneliness is
How we can combat it
Community initiatives you can join
How you can help others
Little lonely me
When I was seven years old, I didn’t have any friends to play with at lunchtime. I cried about it and I told my Mum. To her credit, she bought me a light-up skipping rope. With it, I could have fun without relying on others. So much fun that other kids wanted to join in too. Very soon, the rope was abandoned. I had friends again. I'd like to say from that day on, I learnt how to find joy regardless of others. But that's so not the case. All I learnt was, phew, I wasn't going to spend all my lunchtimes alone.
I want you to know this story. Like Tennessee Williams said: "So many are lonely." I'm not saying it doesn't suck. That's what the rest of the post sets out to solve! I'm saying we have all felt rejection, sadness and disconnection at different times and to varying extents. You're not alone in that.
What is loneliness, exactly?
Loneliness is beautifully described here:
Loneliness refers to the discrepancy between the number and quality of the relationships that you desire and those you actually have.
Loneliness is also a gene (some people feel its pain more keenly), it's contagious and it's often worse for men than women.
When you understand that loneliness is kind of akin to friendlessness, the solution seems simple. Get more friends. But not only is that stupid advice, like me telling someone to just feel happier, it actually doesn't resolve the issue. Perception is key. You can have one friend and be perfectly content or 6,500 and be the most miserable person on earth.
A few years ago, I told one of my friends that I could bare to be single but I'd much prefer to be with someone, so I'd just ensure that I always was. And she told me the reality: You'll be alone at points in your life, you might as well get good at it.
My resolution this year was to get good at being alone, starting with a solo trip to the cinema. As you are probably aware, going to the movies is largely regarded as a social activity.
Some people I know will go solely because they want to see the movie. Asking them if they feel comfortable without friends there is like asking if they need someone to hold their hand while they shower or run beside them as they exercise. They are happily independent. They do not.
But my initial worry was echoed when I told my Dad where I was going.
'On your own?' he said, 'That's sad.'
He wasn't saying it to be mean. He was putting himself in my shoes and thinking how he would not like to go to a movie without company. 'No it's not,' I told him, hoping I was right.
I saw The Shape of Water in a cinema with three other people. I used my Flybuys points so it was free. I ran slightly late and had no one to blame but myself. The freedom to get whatever food I wanted, sit wherever I wanted and just do whatever was scary in its magnitude. It's not that I'm an amazingly considerate human being. But I do consider others a bit. And now I didn't have to at all. There was no one next to me making annoying noises. No one to turn their phone on, mid-scene. No one to judge me for putting my feet up. Just me.
Humans are social beings, by nature, so wanting to be around others is pretty normal. Loneliness is a biological yearning and it’s probably a good thing – it often forces us to venture out and seek connection. In the past, it likely enabled our survival. The flipside to loneliness, of course, is that it can be very painful. Studies also show loneliness can lead to a pretty significant reduction in lifespan (read: early death). And it is now so damn prevalent, that Britain has a Minister for Loneliness.
Since loneliness can be so damn challenging, how should you address it?
Learn to Love Yourself
Relationship expert Matthew Hussey made the good point that if you can't stand to be with you, then how would anybody else?
My favourite ever quote (also about loneliness) from Nayyirah Waheed:
“If someone does not want me it is not the end of the world.
But if I do not want me, the world is nothing but endings.”
The most important relationship you will have in your lifetime is the one with yourself. So how can you improve this relationship to make time by yourself more tolerable or even pleasurable?
5 THINGS YOU CAN DO TO IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOURSELF:
1. Do activities you enjoy
Make being alone a positive experience. Engage in activities that you love. If you don’t know what you enjoy, just choose something off the list below and test it out. Crocheting could be your life’s passion - you won’t know til you try.
Also, opting for mind-absorbing activities will help you take your mind off your current situation. Organise a filing cabinet, play chess, write a story - do something that requires your full engagement, crowding out thoughts of loneliness.
2. Do activities others DON’T enjoy
When you have time to yourself, you have the freedom to do the things you can’t when others are around. Relish it.
Listen to that album that resonates deeply with you. Run around naked. Burp. Take long showers. Draw. Meditate. Watch The Bachelor shamelessly.
3. Reframe the situation
Instead of viewing alone time as negative, see it as a massive opportunity to up your self-care game. Obviously self-care looks different to everyone and isn’t always candles and massages but it can be. When I have time to myself, my first thought is always ‘where is everyone?’. Quickly followed by: Now I can do a face mask! Watch that YouTube video I saved. Lie in the sun and play with my dogs. There is always more we could be doing for ourselves.
4. Say and write affirmations
A bad relationship with ourselves can be due to experiences we had growing up. We have to unlearn the mean and untrue things we told ourselves. You’re reading this, right? So I already know you are: Inquisitive, optimistic and have a growth mindset. What else is good and true about you?
Write down nice messages to yourself and put them in places you go every day. Stick them to your bathroom mirror, have them beside your bed. Sometimes we need reminding that we are good enough. You can also say your affirmations as a mantra when you wake up. Endless options! But if you aren’t feeling confident in yourself, start with: “I am more than enough.”
5. Go outside
Being alone outdoors can often transform loneliness into solitude. It feels chosen. Like you’ve decided to spend some quality alone time in nature. Whereas being indoors can make you feel a bit trapped. Maybe that’s just me? Walking and just being amongst nature has been proven to up your overall happiness.
Beyond improving the way you feel about yourself, there are a whole heap of other approaches you can take to alleviate feelings of loneliness:
Engage with randoms
I was originally going to write: This might not give you deep connections. But really, you never know where you’ll develop friendships, romance and business relationships. Talk to the person queuing with you at the bank, petrol station and post office. Talk to the cashier behind the counter, the sales assistant on the floor, the bartender (if you can hear each other over the noise).
I wrote in-depth about finding connection in unexpected places in my Train Guys post here.
If the conversation leads to nothing more than a short and pleasant encounter, then it’s been a success. Also, continually engaging with the people around you changes the way you are and the way you are perceived. You become friendly and approachable. Next time you’re in a queue, perhaps someone will strike up a conversation with you!
Connection doesn’t always have to be face-to-face. Call that relative or friend. Leave a positive comment on a YouTube video. Send a DM to someone on Instagram who wrote a post you liked. Join a Facebook group. Social media is largely regarded as the cause of mass disconnect but I think that’s only if you treat it as such. In reverse, it can expand your pool of potential connections, introducing you to people you would never have encountered otherwise.
Develop deeper connections with the people who are in your life
A lot of loneliness is linked to people not feeling ‘understood’. Obviously you can seek out new people who might be more like-minded. But you can also work on your current relationships by:
Spending more time with a person
Actively listening. Instead of replying with “mmm”, “yes” or “so true”, asking questions to clarify and delve deeper into what’s being discussed.
Focusing on what you have in common. People say opposites attract. I think that’s BS. Like attracts like in my experience.
Share stories and vulnerabilities of your own. This also prevents good active listening from turning into an interrogation.
Do interesting things (listen to a podcast, go to an event, read a book, walk somewhere) so you feel you can positively contribute. I’m going to do a post on Podcast You Should Listen To but if you need recommendations in the meanwhile, feel free to message me on Instagram.
Move your body
Exercise is both a great way to distract yourself and a good way to feel happier quickly. If you aren’t up for a swim or rock-climbing, start with some stretches. See how you go from there. The best form of exercise is the one that you do.
Invest in yourself
This is similar to the re-framing point above but is more focused on self-development. My favourite wall quote is: “Be the person you want to meet.” So if you want to meet people who are well-read or who can do impressive things on a unicycle - do those things. Research that bit of history you never quite grasped, watch that movie classic.
Become the person you want to meet!
Get a pet
An animal is not a viable option for everyone, so please don’t take this as encouragement to go out to your closest breeder and pick up a puppy. But if you do have the room in your life (and time and money) to get a pet, they do love you back and provide great companionship. I’m talking about dogs here, obviously. I cannot vouch for cats in the slight.
Seek out new connections
I’ve created a little list of groups, initiatives and so forth that you might like to join below. I think ongoing groups (like clubs) are a great way to develop more meaningful connections with people. Meanwhile, the activities and events list are an excellent way to increase your overall social interactions.
One of the biggest barriers to joining these groups is that you have to go it alone. How daunting. After all, these people already know each other. You’re an outsider, intruding!
Here are a few tips when joining new groups:
Accept that you might feel uncomfortable at times and promise yourself to push through.
Remember that everyone starts out as an outsider and has to learn how things are done.
These groups are made for joining. You’re an integral part of their operation.
And lastly: Not everyone is nice and inclusive. If you give something a serious go and are dreading going back, consider raising it with a group member or leader. If it’s not addressed, stop going and try something new. Don’t treat the first group you join as the be all and end all. I have had my own extremely positive and completely toxic experiences with clubs - it happens to everyone! So join half a dozen - diversify! If someone does not warm to you, they are not your tribe. Your people could be just one new activity away so do not give up.
Also lot of groups are FREE* or low-cost**. So don’t go pretending that cost is what’s stopping you.
One of the best volunteer roles I ever saw was writing down the story of a person at the end of their life - palliative care storytelling. In the past, I have enjoyed volunteer tutoring (and met lots of lovely people through it).
Explore Melb (stargazing + more)
Performances (plays, gigs)**
Speed friending (last Melb Uni event was August)*
Dating apps (Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and Happn are just some of the applications you can use to meet up with people just looking for friendship. Some (like Bumble) have specific settings to show you are just looking for friendship. Always stick to public places please!*
Sometimes you’re not the one experiencing loneliness - it’s a friend, a grandma or a neighbour.
You can of course do any of the suggestions above - text, call, write a letter.
If you don’t want to link directly to this post, you could share grainofseasalt.com and say you’ve read some interesting stuff.
As bad as it might sound, if you don’t want to spend time with them personally (hey, we’re not all each other’s cup of tea) but you don’t want to see them isolated, you could send them event or group information and say you thought of them.
If you have any tips on how to thrive without company, write them below. And if you know of any excellent groups or upcoming events, please share them here! The more ideas, the better. To say loneliness sucks is an understatement but I hope during the few minutes you spent reading this, you felt a little bit more connected to the world.
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