Dealing with pangs of loneliness
March 27, 2013 7:29 PM   Subscribe

I really miss the affection, romantic interest and even just the regular physical touch of another human being. I'm going through several life transitions and can't really start a relationship until at least the fall, but how do I tide over the desperate feelings of loneliness until then? I don't want casual sex or a pet.

I'm very fulfilled with most aspects of my personal life (career, appearance, hobbies), except that I have never been in a long-term relationship. Recently I had my first sexual encounter, and though it was short I learnt what I had been missing all this time - what it feels like to be wanted romantically, the comfort you get from physical and emotional affection from another person, etc.

Now that's over, I've started to feel lonely - not all the time, but in pangs, like when I see a lovey-dovey couple on the street or newlyweds with a baby, when I read a novel that depicts a romantic relationship, when I discover something amazing and wish I could share it with someone, etc. I think some of it is just sexual frustration (there are times when I'm drunk that I've nearly grabbed and kissed a nearby male friend..). But mostly it's simply wanting to be squeezed tight, to be told that I'm beautiful, to feel desired, to be able to have shared experiences, or to discover a deeper aspect of someone's life. Sometimes this inflates into a feeling that I will be single forever (especially as I'm heading to into a career that will require years of training), and leads me to wonder why I have such difficulty gaining the feeling of romantic closeness that everyone else in the world seems to have no trouble getting.

I'm going through several upheavals in my family/work life, and need to be away from home for extensive periods of time, which is probably exacerbating this feeling of being cut off and unsettled. Hopefully I'll be able to seek a proper long-term relationship by the fall when I start grad school. But until then, what can I do? I do get a lot of emotional fulfilment from living with a very loving family and having truly great friends; however, my family are not physical affection givers, and many of my friends live too far away or too busy to see more than once a month or so. I don't want casual sex as I don't think I could cope with all the emotional baggage and it's not really my style at all. I can't really take up a new hobby or get a pet because of my unsettled situation. Do I just need to keep myself busy and ignore the pangs when they come? Is there a philosophical mindset that I can adopt? Watch porn? Cry it out? Get a cuddly toy? Help!

If it matters, I'm a mid-20s female.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
If you can, get a massage! They're relaxing, and they can fill that 'no human contact' void.
posted by delezzo at 7:44 PM on March 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

Social dancing. Contra or swing or ballroom or whatever. Go take a class.

You get lots of physical contact with other people in a way that's fun and playful and pleasant but still totally non-sexual. Highly recommended.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:49 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Or just dancing in a club. Or boxing class?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:54 PM on March 27, 2013

I did reiki with a group while in college and it really hit the physical touch + sharing something intimate spot for me. If you're in a medium-sized city, or a moderately progressive smaller one, there's probably a group that meets somewhere.

I was very skeptical about reiki (and still am) but I really enjoyed it even though I ignored most of the spiritual side of things (but if that works for you, then hey, added bonus!)
posted by punchtothehead at 7:56 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I read this as a mostly-chaste friends-with-benefits situation. Try OKCupid, friends-only, and put something to the effect that you're looking for a PREFERRED_GENDER to be friends and do x, y and z. Simple, a picture or two if you can, and have some patience. I'm sure there are persons out there who would be into this.
posted by rhizome at 8:39 PM on March 27, 2013

Hugging Club? (no experience, just read about it somewhere, probably the blue).
posted by 445supermag at 8:42 PM on March 27, 2013

Sounds to me like you are yearning to get to know people more intimately and get in a relationship(s). Go Out. Date. Find activities like social dancing where you can meet people. The gym? OKCupid maybe. Have fun. You won't be in your mid-20's forever; don't make excuses. (I know a few people who met their husbands/wives at a local social dance scene and they are all still friends and vacation together with their kids ten years later).
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:44 PM on March 27, 2013

I have a friend who has never had an LT relationship and is in her early 30s and she idealizes them to a damaging extent. Ive been doing an awful lot of reading on how many truly happy romantic relationships there are (the kind where both ppl are happy, good communicators, open, committed by choice and equally to their relationship without any doubts), and I think that There are more people in unfulfilling relationships at any given time than stable, happy, and healthy relationships. That's why dating a lot and meeting a lot of people is important when trying for a really solid relationship. It's a lot of work and takes a lot of self knowledge to find a suitable partner you can be confident in.

So when you see those couples, you have to understand that it's probably worse than it looks. That pregnant lady with the gorgeous wedding ring may be with a guy who hates being a father. That girl giving her handsome boyfriend googly eyes? She doesn't think about how he thinks about his favorite pornstar to get an erection because he's addicted to porn. That woman with the partner who loves her and dotes on her and knew she was the one the minute he laid eyes on her? She doesn't feel he same way about him and is sort of trapped because he's everything she wants on paper and everyone loves him.

So, my advice is that you spend time fantasizing and less time thinking everyone else around you is so happy in love. Go to any relationship forum and be put off by the numbers of dysfunctional relationships people are afraid of leaving. Then get yourself a Harlequin or movies where couples are happy married and enjoy, knowing that for a late percentage of people, it might not happen or they're suffering some kind of Stockholm syndrome where they can't leave the person making them miserable.

And above all, love yourself. Learn to be your own best friend. Imagine being held by the imagined love of your life as you fall asleep.

Also, do you have soft sheets, soft nightclothes, soft blankets and throws? Things that feel really good against the bare skin, and bins that are warm and cuddly? That stuff helps. You need to feel warm and comfortable sensations on your skin. Hot showers, baths, soft robes, silky sheets, soft blankets and pillows.

Also, remember, the mind can be a really powerful ally in times of loneliness. It can be your worst enemy, but figure out how to make it an ally.
posted by discopolo at 10:03 PM on March 27, 2013 [36 favorites]

Instead of casual sex, you could find guys to make out with or just hug. I'm sure there'd be plenty interested. (Okcupid, craig's list, etc) . Just be clear about your intentions and meet for a coffee in public first.
posted by bearette at 10:48 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Date TONS of people and keep it casual. We all do it, but young, sensitive, cautious people are more prone than most to conflate physical and emotional connection, and to idealize the first. Which can, for example, lead to staying with incompatible partners longer than is healthy, or to suffering the longing sickness discopolo talked about. The more people you get to know (date, rub up against, dance with), the lighter and less confusing things feel.

(Eventually. It'll take boldness and will probably cost a bit of heartbreak, but it's worth the risk.)
posted by nelljie at 12:12 AM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Cuddle or makeout buddies, lots of first dates, sweaty club dancing, park yoga. OKCupid is great... be bold in messaging, don't wait for one-liners or stars! Be that chatty person who strikes up engaging conversations with strangers. Basically you want to be swept with such a constant wave of small, interesting interactions that you are too amused to worry about long-term engagements. Go for walks. Drop in randomly on meetups or group activities, you don't ever have to go back you know!
posted by fritillary at 12:29 AM on March 28, 2013

Yay, social dance has been mentioned and the good okc tips given.

Does ropecraft ("[k]not theory") interest you? Being tied up / tying up / learning to tie up other people is substantial human contact.

Along with social dance, this is a language-independent hobby that can lead to connections in any reasonably-sized city that you might travel to for conferences or leisure.
posted by batter_my_heart at 2:04 AM on March 28, 2013

Are you completely sure you don't want a cat or dog? And if the answer is you're sure you don't, then I highly recommend volunteering at an animal shelter where there will be plenty of animals equally pleased to be touched.
posted by kinetic at 3:58 AM on March 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

I was single for a long long time and I totally understand what you're feeling. It sucks.

What helped me was:
- getting massages fairly regularly (once a month or so). That did a HUGE amount for filling the human touch void. It sounds unlikely, but it seriously helped. Plus, they feel good.
- Going hardcore at the gym. This helped for tons of reasons, from endorphins to feeling physically so good to sleeping better to stress release, but a big part was that it was so self indulgent and whole heartedly "Me" time. No concerns about my gym time taking time away with my family (which is a big concern currently). No, the gym was for ME. I could stay as long as I liked, work out, sweat, lift weights, feel great. End the day in the steam room. Wonderful stuff. (Worth noting that it wasn't until I was single that my focus at the gym dialed in and I made major progress. Many half assed attempts prior, but it wasn't until I ~100lbs lost and I feel frickin' awesome. Getting fit and losing all that weigh also didn't hurt my dating life either...)
- got a cat. Cliche, I know, but seriously. Get a snuggly loving kitty to snuggle with and who will be happy to see you when you get home. Having a living creature (a snuggly one to boot!) around to dote on and who adores you helps hugely. When your life becomes more settled, that is the first thing I would do. (How unsettled ARE you? Cats are pretty move-able.)
- Bask in all the ways being single is awesome. I am not going to patronize you, being in a (good) relationship is better than being single, but being single has perks that you lose when you are dating. Peeing with the door open, for example. (I don't know why, but I miss that a lot.) Rather than focusing on the things you are missing, make a point of enjoying the perks that come with being single while you can. It is highly unlikely that you'll be single forever, and I promise you that you'll miss them when they're gone.

Chin up. I know it sucks. Most people go through these periods, when things going on in life basically prevent you from dating. They suck. BUT it is temporary and it will pass.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:51 AM on March 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

The Abandoned Valley

Can you understand being alone so long
you would go out in the middle of the night
and put a bucket into the well
so you could feel something down there
tug at the other end of the rope?

—Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)

Massages are really good for me when I'm feeling like this. There is an actual need for being touched by someone that a massage (or a pedicure, even) can help. I remember being so lonely for this that going to the dentist felt good; someone was touching me and paying attention to my well-being.

I have a centering exercise I like to do in the bath when I feel this way. (I can't believe I'm going to type this out here.) I run a nice bubble bath, breathe, and remember that all I can control is what's in this here tub -- that is, just me. And I remind myself that I can meet my needs. Then I start at my toes and thank each part of me for what it does: toes, for helping me balance. Feet, for carrying me around. Et cetera. I usually feel so much better by the time I'm done.

Good luck. I'll be thinking of you.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:35 AM on March 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

When a friend and her husband were each doing fieldwork on opposite sides of the globe, she relied on manicures for literal (and metaphorical) hand-holding.
posted by feral_goldfish at 9:55 AM on March 28, 2013

Go to a church where people are on the touchy-feely side. During the exchange of the peace, there's a lot, lot of hugging that goes on. Some priests are huggy on general principles too.
posted by Melismata at 10:50 AM on March 28, 2013

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