Stare down the barrel of an empty Sunday, and that’s when you start feeling the deep loneliness.
It hurts to be alone. But often our question becomes,
How do I stop being alone?
Rather than thinking about why it’s so hard for us to be alone, we wonder how we can get rid of the feeling. That may not be the best approach.
Being alone, and being lonely are two different things
As Vivek Murthy, the former Surgeon General of the US once said,
Loneliness is the absence of physical and emotional connection.
Being alone is the state of being physically alone. You may not necessarily feel lonely though.
Being lonely is a different thing. You feel the chill that runs down your back from feeling emotionally and physically disconnected from others. You feel the lack of belonging, even though you’re in a crowd. You feel that no one really cares about you.
Loneliness is okay
What we need to come to terms with is that loneliness is okay. There’s nothing wrong with feeling lonely.
But as multiple governments, such as the U.K. and Japan have started to appoint Ministers of Loneliness, we may begin to feel that there’s something wrong being lonely.
Nope. There’s nothing wrong.
What is the problem is our discomfort with it.
That’s what this article tries to address. We try to give you some concrete handles towards understanding loneliness and how to better overcome it.
Cut friends that don’t mean much
The first advice sounds contradictory. We know that friends are essential to feeling less lonely.
Why then would we take time to cut others from our lives?
It’s precisely because you only have a certain amount of time in your life that you have to take a greater effort towards removing people that may end up taking away the time you have to find friends that build you up.
There are friends that drain you more than they build you. Cut them.
How do you tell? After you speak to them, do you feel more laughable, or more depressed? Do you feel good?
If you don’t, cut them.
Many of us keep friends because they have grown up with us, and we think we have to keep them out of courtesy. But we don’t have to.
Life’s too short to keep people who don’t make you feel good.
Take some time to go through a list of the recent friend meetings you’ve had.
- What are the ones that have been less than energising?
- Are there friends that you find you can no longer relate to?
Plan and take the initiative
Studying abroad, the loneliness often struck me when it was over the weekend. My family weren’t with me, which meant that it was difficult for me to have a natural flow of activities that people do as a family. It meant that I had to take a bigger effort to plan out my weekends.
Staring down the barrel of an empty weekend is never easy. It’s even more difficult when you come to the weekend and you go
Oh no. I have nothing planned.
By that time, it’s often too late for you to make something happen, because it will be difficult to arrange something with someone.
Many people leave their social activities on autopilot, expecting other people to initiate and plan things. That’s a heavy expectation on your friends. After all, you are the one who wants the fun.
Why not you take the initiative to plan? I know, I know.
Some people tell me,
But I’m always the one planning! Everyone else just comes. They don’t do anything!
Why should I be the one planning?
Well, if you’re going to wait for others to continue swinging by, keep waiting. You’re giving them responsibility for your happiness. Why would you want to put your happiness in their hands?
You’re not looking to be with others. You’re looking for belonging
Being young and foolish, I used to run to my friend’s home at 10pm whenever I felt that I couldn’t find comfort at home. That wasn’t the wisest decision. I would turn up at their homes, have a fun night, but then face the next day back at home, faced with the same lack of affirmation.
I was looking for friendship, in the experience that I got. But what I really wanted was relationship. Relationship brings belonging.
The antidote to loneliness isn’t friendship. It’s relationship. It’s belonging.
What does belonging look like?
It looks like a sense of knowing and being known. That’s why offices were such attractive places, because we could walk into the office, and have people that would greet us. It was that office doorway conversation that made us feel more connected with others.
To feel a deeper sense of connection to others, take time to go back to the office. As much as the remote option is convenient, the connections in person can never be replaced. The gentle touch on the shoulder, the whispers, the laughter about a recent incident, those are irreplaceable.
It definitely hurts to be lonely
But you don’t have to be alone. As long as you take time to reach out, you’ll find help.
You just have to reach out.