What do you do about a deep loneliness?
January 22, 2014 6:15 PM   Subscribe

I am struggling to kick the feeling that I am walking through the world alone in the ultimate sense.

I am lucky in that I have job that I like, and that I feel like I do well in and I wouldn't want another career because it's what I really want to do. I am prone to sadness sometimes so I do things that are recommended to ward off depression like exercising and meditating and I have hobbies and artistic interests that I like. Objectively my life is pretty good. I am trying really hard but I don't completely know how to be happier. I have had a hard time this January and sometimes I feel deeply alone. I have lots of acquaintances who I have a nice time with and some friends but I feel like all of my inner circle people who I used to count on and confide in and would laugh at my jokes even if they weren't funny are no longer there. My mom died of cancer 6 years ago and I broke up with the guy I was with from 18-28 who was kind of my life ally. One of the things that I think tipped off my sadness or added to it is he recently bought a house and celebrated a first anniversary with his new girlfriend and I had a sense of his life marching on without me (even though it was right for us to break up and it happened the right way.) My grandmother was the other person who I could used to talk to and was there for me but she has Alzheimer's. It's still nice to spend time with her but it's all giving and caring and not any being cared for which makes sense given how things are. I don't have any best friends from high school or college. I have a nice family (aunt, uncle, cousins and brother live pretty nearby). There's a certain formality between us though. I feel like I don't belong to anyone and I am not sure who I would call if something terrible happened. Is this fixable or a part of the existential dilemma to reckon with? I keep thinking back to the Thomas Wolfe poem at the beginning of Look Homeward, Angel about a stone, a leaf, an unfound door and how everyone is born alone and dies alone essentially, and I don't know if aloneness is just a certain aspect of life to contend with or if I can fix it. In the past I've felt a lot of connectedness through spirituality and it's given me the feeling that all the random people I meet are somehow on the same team as me. I don't feel that way right now though.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
Are there any people in your life you think you'd like to be closer with? You can change relationships from acquaintances to friends by active participation in life with them. Or you can go about making some new friends.

With your family, you already have a built-in relationship which you can deepen. Spending time with them can break down some of the formality, if you're interested in that.
posted by xingcat at 6:19 PM on January 22, 2014

The life events you mentioned (the end of a 10-year relationship; the death of your mother) sound really, really hard. I'm sorry, and I hope you seek professional help, either from a therapist or from a spiritual mentor (you said spirituality has helped in the past).

I'm sure you're going to get a lot of insightful and warm answers from the community here. I won't pretend to be as eloquent as they are, but for practical advice on deepening your friendships I recently discovered Lifeboat, a site full of tips about how to build better relationships.

If you have the gut feeling that the people in your life aren't going to feed your need to connect, start thinking about where the people you'd most like to meet would hang out. I've had more success with joining groups/organizations with structure and then forcing myself to take part in that structure (meetings, volunteering, etc.) than from pursuing individual friendships (which feels kind of like dating to me with the associated fragility of a dozen unrelated relationships). YMMV.

Also, have you read the book "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed? You may find some similarities with your situation. Wishing you all the best.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 6:39 PM on January 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

memail me.. i have a super personal answer and i'd rather not publicly post it
posted by ninjew at 6:46 PM on January 22, 2014

Have you considered what kinds of things you can usually to connect to people about? Is it a certain outlook on life? Is it a particular topic? Music? Activity?

I ask because I've been through similar times in my life and it helped to to nail down exactly what kind of connection was missing.
posted by Anon500 at 6:51 PM on January 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

It sounds to me like you're feeling a kind of existential loneliness. Connection isn't just about talking to people or about individuals connecting with individuals, it's also about acknowledging that you're part of a greater humanity -- which means connecting with something that's bigger than you as an individual. Some people find that in religion, or science, but personally, art works best for me. Some experiences that have made me feel profoundly connected to other people have been going concerts where the audience is very emotionally involved (I had an epiphany at an opera where the whole crowd, including me, was openly weeping -- no joke), going to see my favorite painters' work in person, going to large and/or long music festivals. I think the go-to writers about this kind of thing are Proust and Kafka. What speaks to you?

Strengthening your relationships and feeling connected to your community matter, too, and I don't mean to discount that. But I also think that the kind of loneliness you're feeling is actually part of the human condition to a certain extent, and that it's OK to feel that way, and that people have done many, many, many things (art, drugs, the physics necessary to launch into space) to connect in spite of it. So you don't have to feel alone in your loneliness, if that makes sense?
posted by rue72 at 6:52 PM on January 22, 2014 [20 favorites]

First, I think what you are feeling is really normal. Loneliness is part of the human condition. I think even just acknowledging that can be helpful, because for some reason there's a stigma in American society against loneliness - so that not only do you feel the pain of loneliness but the stigma as well. But loneliness is pretty common.

And there are some really solid, external reasons for you to feel lonely. The people you depended on for connection are not there for you anymore, either physically or mentally. The fact that you had one partner from age 18 until your late twenties means that you probably didn't have as much of a pressing need to develop close friendships at a key friendship-developing age (late teens/early twenties), so you don't have those relationships to emotionally support you right now.

Also: I'm guessing based on the timeline here that you are around 29-31? This is a super-hard age for lots of people. Actually, I don't know many people who didn't go through some hard times around that age. It's a time of transition and of trying to figure out your identity as an adult, which sounds cool in the abstract but can be really fucking hard in reality.

The good news is that you absolutely can develop close relationships in your 30s. I moved across the country when I was 31, and when I moved away just a few weeks ago (at 35), I was amazed at what a wonderful community I was leaving after having been there for 4 years. The cool thing about the friendships that you develop in your thirties is that most people are more mature and more into genuinely connecting. It's harder to make a lot of friends at 30 than at 18, but it's easier to make better friends.

As for how to make those connections, if there are people you'd like to get to know better, then make that happen. Ask the cool person at work out for a (platonic) drink. Open up a bit more with your family and the friends you do have and see if more closeness starts to develop.

One thing I started doing in my early thirties was I made a conscious decision to spend less time with people I didn't really feel like I connected with. Not that I can only ever hang out with people that are my BFFs, but spending a lot of time with people who are pleasant but who you don't really connect with can leave you feeling even lonelier. Of course, YMMV and you don't want to socially isolate yourself, but something to think about.

As a super-practical tip: I got a dog last winter. Not only is having a dog very fulfilling, but once you get a dog, all of a sudden you're part of this network of dog-owners: dog park, dog training classes, puppy play dates, etc. I had no idea that getting a dog would be so community-building!
posted by lunasol at 6:53 PM on January 22, 2014 [18 favorites]

Think back. Do your bouts of sadness usually occur during the winter, peaking in January? You might have seasonal affective disorder, which can be mitigated with light therapy.
posted by sid at 7:24 PM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I read through your post and found myself thinking, did I write this and forget that I did? :) I am in my mid 30's and have had similar life changes and feelings.

The only difference is that I have felt deep sadness and loneliness since I can remember, even as a child. I named it "the infinite sorrow" when I was around 9 years old. I don't think everyone feels this, or if they do, some feel it more deeply than others.

As was said before, there can be great beauty in expressing this is writing, art, and music. Personally I do all three. It gives me a sense of satisfaction, but it does not lift the loneliness.

One of the hardest things I've had to learn as an adult is to accept that this is a part of who I am, no matter how great my therapist is or how efficient my meds. There is eloquence in looking at the cold, far stars at night and feeling lonely, because really, you are ultimately alone in life, and that's not always a bad thing.

Reprieves from loneliness are good too though. Just spend time with positive people, and as someone already mentioned, not people who you don't like. Life is too short for that.

And having a significant other won't change much; I recently met a wonderful man, but although he fills me with joy and happiness, when he is not here I am lonely, and even sometimes when I am with him.

My cat helps, too. I agree, get help if you want it, as it's not healthy to only feel lonely, but also try to accept that you are blessed and cursed with a depth of feeling that many are blessed and cursed never to have.
posted by Arachnophile at 7:32 PM on January 22, 2014 [17 favorites]

Your mind will keep telling you what's missing from any situation or circumstance. Don't fall for it. It's only a story....the meta-story of your life, as presented by your mind.

That's where loneliness is. That's the only place loneliness is. You can only be lonely if you afix that label to the circumstance you glimpse when you've zoomed out the camera to gauge how everything's going for you. That's a fake view. It's just a story. Don't be suckered.

The tale of woe you recounted is likely a story you repeat often to yourself, making yourself believe that sad story is what you are because it's, like, the NARRATIVE. But it's just a story. You've been right here through all of it, and here you are....still right here. Same you as ever, humming with aliveness the whole while.

You can feel lonely in a jubilant crowd of people who love you. And you can feel full-hearted in solitude. Don't fixate on the movie of you, don't paste on a narrative, don't zoom out the camera, don't "measure up". Just stay in the flow of how it all unfolds. That's where reality is. That's where happiness is.

If something needs to change, you'll make those changes naturally, without lofty thoughts. The film director, who spins the stories, doesn't get to decide, and shouldn't be listened to.
posted by Quisp Lover at 7:54 PM on January 22, 2014 [52 favorites]

I support the excellent replies above, including the possibility of S.A.D. I would also add grief counseling.

And in addition to the existential component, I would add the perceptual. I have poor social skills, but the first time I read David Foster Wallace's Famous Commencement Speech "This Is Water" it really opened my eyes. I may not be much better with people, but at least I begin to understand the nature of the problem.
posted by forthright at 8:04 PM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do the brother or cousins or any other relatives or friends have kids? I'm unmarried and in my thirties and after a year's worth of persistent offering I've recently gotten to babysit my niece who I love to bits, who had some health problems early on that probably made her parents hesitant about ever letting her out of their sight. Just a one-way caring situation at first, as with your grandmother, but hopefully it will grow.
posted by Sockpuppet Liberation Front at 10:21 PM on January 22, 2014

I was also going to say something about kids. One reason people have families is to not be lonely. When you have kids romping around who bring a smile to your face everyday, who love you unconditionally, and whom you love unconditionally, you feel a sense of joy and purpose that often leaves little room for loneliness. I'm not saying it's necessarily a cure for your loneliness, but it could be.
posted by Dansaman at 11:14 PM on January 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Quisp Lover's excellent answer above is a more eloquent version of what I was going to say. Being alone in the world is only lonely if you frame it that way. Unlike you I am married and have a child, but much of my time I am alone - my child is at boarding school, my husband is often away for work (this year we will be in the same country for probably 9 weeks, and when he is away often he can't call or email), and because I move every two years I don't have a strong circle of friends around. And all my family are on the other side of the globe and we are not particularly close. I know to some people this sounds terribly dire, but I actually find it quite liberating. It means that I can choose to find strength and meaning in myself and in experiences beyond the 'expected' circle of close friends and family. It means, as others have pointed out above, that I can get my connectedness from bigger things - art, history, online communities like MeFi.

It obviously depends somewhat on temperament, but I honestly believe that much of how you deal with things is framing. If you genuinely feel that your life would be enriched by a closer relationship with the family members that live nearby, great, work on making that a more open, less formal arrangement - invite them over for dinner, even call them up or write an email saying that you were thinking the other day how nice it would be if you saw each other more often and how would they feel about making a regular time to get together (I am sure they would be flattered). But don't feel you *have* to have a close 'support' group because that is the only way you won't die alone. You can be surrounded by people in a busy life and still feel lonely. And you can live in solitude and feel content. Perhaps take time to think if you really feel you are missing something essential in your life, rather than that you are not conforming to 'society's' idea of what we are all meant to want.
posted by Megami at 11:52 PM on January 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Sometimes I think that some of my own friendships are shallow because I'm a guarded person and I don't share a lot of personal stuff with people. One way to deepen friendships is to share things about yourself -- if you start telling people about the stuff that happened to you (mom's deat, grandma, relationship etc. I think you might find a deeper connection.

Also women are better at deep friendships then men--so take advantage of that. Start a women's book club or wine club. I've found some pretty close connections with my all female book club. Girl's weekends way are also great for forging tight connections. My girlfriends and I try to get a Tahoe cabin once a year for just this purpose.
posted by bananafish at 12:02 AM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think many of us struggle with this. I've felt very much alone for most of my life as well. My favourite song in year 7 was The Police's "Message in a Bottle" because of the line "Seems I'm not alone in being alone." But the degree to which people wrestle with it varies. That existential loneliness... well, even there you're not alone. Several of us have outed ourselves in this thread!

Your post made me think of a poem by Camillo Sbarbaro which I read many years ago in The New Yorker, especially the lines "My life and I are utterly alone" and
"...I walk among my fellow men
as an observer.
And have not one within whose hands
to place my own in simple trust,
or with whom I can forget myself."

Anyhow, I guess the point of this is to say I agree with Arachnophile's comment above. There's a certain beauty in the loneliness sometimes, and you can always remind yourself that paradoxically your experience of this kind of loneliness actually connects you to others as well. I somehow always find it comforting to know that whatever I am feeling, there is someone else out there probably feeling the exact same thing right now. Try to stay present, when you're feeling lonely and also when you're with people to shore up against the times when you're alone.
posted by Athanassiel at 12:12 AM on January 23, 2014 [9 favorites]

What to do about loneliness. Various options - mix and match according to what you feel like doing at any one time.

(1) feel lonely - it's good/okay/normal to feel lonely sometimes; it's good like it's good to remember what it's like to feel hungry; it makes socialising more enjoyable and drives you to interact with others and squeeze all the enjoyment you can from the experience; being an introvert or unsociable doesn't excuse you from doing this

(2) distract yourself; you have lots of hobbies, read a book, go for a walk, watch TV - anything, so long as you don't become dependent on it all the time

(3) socialise; contact people and ask them to meet up, even or especially people you wouldn't otherwise think to do this with; have coffee, see a movie, go for a walk

Most of all, don't overthink it. Loneliness is just a feeling. It doesn't mean anything in and of itself, and it doesn't mean anything about you. It comes and it goes. Just like you wouldn't care if you're hungry - you'd just go do something about it - loneliness doesn't deserve to be especially noticed or feared either. This is advice I've tried and found works.

If you're depressed, or if you're not sure - go see a doctor too. But loneliness isn't a big deal or a sign of a medical problem or depression in itself.
posted by JeanDupont at 12:20 AM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

A lot of us are lonely. It is part of the human condition.

So you have my empathy. And in addition to the suggestions above re SAD, or reaching out to family or friends you'd like to be closer to, I offer you this...

I loved the link forthright posted above. I've found that one thing that really helps my loneliness is to do my level best to alleviate a little bit of the loneliness of others: a kind word to the overworked supermarket clerk, letting the stressed lady behind you go first, a smile at someone looking glum, letting someone in on the freeway. This energy is returned a thousand fold. And for just a moment, my own loneliness fades.

Also, I used to talk to my guinea pig. :)
posted by susiswimmer at 1:13 AM on January 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Ha! You sound just like me 5 years ago. In 2007 My mom died after a long illness and I went on to divorce my husband (of 5 years) who had been with me through it all. I was 27 then and 2008-2011 were pretty tough. Over the years I dated some poor choices, and acted pretty nutty, and just felt like the loneliest person in the world.

I think when you have a double loss like that your grief can end up isolating you- people don't know what to say and kind of drift away... I suspect that they feel bad telling you about their good stuff because you're feeling rotten. Maybe.

Anyway, here is what the present me would tell the old me:

- the ex man wasn't right for you... Even if he did help you through tough times.

- in 4 years you'll not be feeling so lost. Something happened in me a couple of years ago, a shift- where my grief and adrenaline calmed down and my mom dying and my divorce felt like a long time ago. At some point enough water will pass under the bridge and you'll be looking back.

- you'll make new friends!

- when I was super caught up in my mom dying I defined myself by that experience, but fast forward a few years and I am miss pony again. For years I wasn't myself because I was so screwed up over those life events- there was no time for hobbies and cooking classes- light hearted things had no place... Now they do again.

In short, this will pass. 5 years ago I mentally crushed/ill... I thought maybe I'd made a mistake in leaving my ex husband. But today I am living the life I was meant to live- with a great partner, travels, a job that makes me happy, and friends! Many friends!

Me mail me anytime...
posted by misspony at 3:49 AM on January 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

anonymous, you might like this: www.7cupsoftea.com.
posted by devnull at 4:18 AM on January 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

I reached a point about 10 years ago where I was having this feeling. I saw the road taking two turns - 1) I had to go out and find new friends or 2) I had to do a better job of connecting with the friends I already had. Being the introvert that I am, I chose option 2. I reached out to a friend from college who I had let slip away. I am really glad I did because she is now one of my closest friends even though we live a time zone away. Every year, we take a trip together over a weekend. This year will be our 9th trip and we both very much look forward to it.

Part of the reason I had reached this point was that, I was still living in the college/school mentality. In those settings, I was always meeting people and my chance to make connections and find friends was pretty infinite. After school once I had entered the workforce, the world became so much smaller and the opportunities to meet people became that much harder. I learned both how to find new friends but also how to cultivate the friendships that I did have.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 7:39 AM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it's pretty common to feel completely untethered when your mom dies, regardless of whether you had a close relationship with her or not.

You didn't mention whether you broke up with the boyfriend anywhere near the time that you lost your mom, but breaking up with someone is another kind of loss, and can trigger feelings from previous losses as well as the current one.

And now you are facing the inevitable loss of your grandmother, first by virtue of her medical condition, and later the physical loss.

In my experience, support groups are very helpful. There are support groups specifically for grief (and, it's never too late to do grief counseling. I did mine a full ten years after my mom died). You might also look into some support groups around Alzheimer's, or possibly a group like codependents anonymous, if you think that would be a good fit (not that your question indicates it, but it's just another avenue). You might also spend a few individual sessions with a counselor.

Best of luck.
posted by vignettist at 7:47 AM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Rue72 started getting at what I was going to say, which is that this sounds like some sort of existential loneliness. With this in mind, I'd suggest something counterintuitive which is to spend more time alone- but quality time, particularly in nature if you can.

When I feel this sort of existential loneliness I seek out reminders of my place in the universe and time as a whole, if that makes sense.

If I can't/ don't want to venture outside my house: I read or watch documentaries about history, or watch old movies (like, old enough that the actors are probably no longer alive). Reading and watching documentaries about human evolution helps too. These things remind me that the human experience is:
-Sort of incredible in that it exists at all, and that we're evolved enough to even feel things like loneliness and happiness,
-Human problems are pretty universal and don't seem to fundamentally change (old movies help here),
-People in the past have been amazing, and done amazing things, and human existence is this long and dynamic chain that I've somehow found myself to also be a part of, for one tiny moment in the grand scheme of things.

Basically, the univeral-ness of the human experience across time and place makes me feel an overall connection to people in general, including people who lived a long time ago and people who are living now that I will never meet, and people who may live in the future. It also reminds me of the incredible diversity of the human experience on the individual level, which is important when you consider the unsatisfying or superficial nature of many relationships that happen by default with the people who immediately surround you- classmates, or coworkers, or someone who was an ass to you on the train or in a coffee shop- this is something that just happens, and is not a reflection on you personally. It just means you need to seek out people you have more in common with. They're out there, but I think it helps to think of people with whom you can have a meaningful connection as the exception rather than the rule, just as a function of the diversity of people and their personalities and experience.

I also like to read and watch documentaries about the universe and the geologic evolution of the planet and that type of thing. Also about plants and animals. For the same reason, essentially- it reminds me how incredible it is that I'm even here at all, and I'm a part of this vast and complex world full of people and other living things and even though humans are intelligent, we came to be the way we are through evolution, in the same way that a sequoia tree came to be massive or a cuttlefish gained the ability to change its appearance, and in that way we're all in it together. That makes me feel not only not-lonely, but feel a pretty solid affection towards the world in general.

Once you are able to feel this way, going out in nature is basically amazing because it takes this feeling and makes it powerful and emotionally overwhelming in a good way. As I get older and have the means to do so, I've been making it a priority to visit famously beautiful natural places and I have to say the more I see, the stronger this feeling gets and the more connected I feel to the world, and it's wonderful. But even if you can't visit Yosemite tomorrow, just going for a walk in the woods or a park is helpful, I think. And this can be as spiritual as you want it to be- I'm an atheist, and yet I feel I have a kindred spirit in John Muir, who viewed the power of nature through a deeply religious lens, but the positive feelings we take away from it are fundamentally nearly identical.

I guess essentially, thinking about science and evolution and geology keeps me from feeling lonely because it helps me remember that I'm a part of the whole world- not just a part of the current, human-centered cultural world that immediately surrounds me. So I venture into the non-human part of the world and feel less lonely. Don't get me wrong- of course, relationships are crucial and the answers you've already gotten are great. I just think that cultivating this feeling of an existential connection to nature and humanity as a whole is an excellent safety-net to fall back on in a crisis of loneliness, such as a breakup or a death or moving far away. (Obviously, traditional avenues like counseling are important here too if that works for you.) I think it also helps to chalk up imperfect relationships to a natural consequence of human diversity and not a personal failing. Not that you shouldn't try, but it's helpful to have the attitude that not everyone is meant to be your best friend, or your boyfriend or whatnot.

With that in mind, I'm also going to suggest my other frequent, reflexive answer to people on the green which is to go to Burning Man- a community which is essentially based on people connecting with other people, being interested in and accepting of you even though you've only just met five minutes ago, being their creative best selves and working their asses off together- and the consequently amazing things that these people create when they work together is just incredible and can really restore your faith in humanity.

Of course, I'm an introvert, a scientist and a hippie so this all works well for me, but YMMV.

On preview: Lunasol mentions getting a dog and cutting back on superficial relationships in favor of spending more time on deeper connections- I've done both of these things and fully agree that they help a lot, too.

Sorry for the long and rambling answer, best of luck, and feel free to memail me if you want suggestions of my favorite existentially-reassuring documentaries (many of which are on netflix!)
posted by GastrocNemesis at 2:05 PM on January 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

Oh, and I should also mention this- I don't know how long you've been single, but most of the stuff in my answer above are feelings I've cultivated over the past three years during which I've been single after a totally devastating breakup- the longest I've ever been single since I started dating as a teenager- so approximately a similar timeline to you, though I was a serial monogamist rather than being in one long relationship. I think it was in me all along, but it took being alone for years, as an adult, to truly sort out my feelings and find my means of coping with loneliness. And now I can say quite honestly I rarely feel lonely anymore, and although I suspect I'll be coupled again sooner or later, there's no longer a sense of urgency or unhappiness about being single. Being single for a long time can be hard because it starts out so lonely. But once your individuality begins to resurface, a year or two or three in, it's so empowering and enjoyable.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 2:19 PM on January 23, 2014

From the OP:
Thanks for the very good answers. The SAD lamp person must have a good read on anonymous internet posters because sure enough I got one about a month ago! It didn’t quite work and so I put it away and felt grumpy that it didn’t magically fix my problems. I could give it another try though. Dec-Feb are usually pretty treacherous for me so nice job hitting the nail on the head.

I think one reason I decided to post anonymously was that I knew on some level I was allowing myself to wallow in it somewhat and anticipated being called out on it, so thank you to those of you who did so in the gentlest wisest way possible. I really really liked QuispLover’s advice too, and also the poems and other good advice. And your kindness, which was heartening!
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:32 PM on January 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, it's worth giving the lamp another try - it can take a while of using it before you feel it working.

I was going to say (but didn't have time to post this morning when you first asked...)

I'm so sorry, you've had a really hard and sad time for the past few years. There's lots of good advice upthread which I agree with and so won't repeat.

But I also wanted to share with you Stephen Fry's excellent blog post on loneliness, which I have found comfort in reading when the lonesomes strike, if only to affirm that you're not alone in feeling lonely. It's not a personal failing but a very human trait.

(Trigger warning - the loneliness part comes part way through the article, after an opening which talks about the contemplation of suicide. Worth getting through that to get to the loneliness writings, if you're able.)

posted by penguin pie at 3:43 PM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sometimes I feel like what you describing is the big, sad secret about adulthood in the 21st century. I wish I could tell you it doesn't have to be that way but I'm not sure yet.

About a year ago, I decided to make making friends my number one priority in life. So far I've made great strides and have several new friends but I'm still not anywhere near as close to any of them as I was to my college and high school friends. I'm going to keep chipping away at it, though.

One piece of advice I would give is to put making new friends and deepening your existing friendships (and family relationships) ahead of finding a new SO. Otherwise, you're just going to find yourself back at square one a few years down the road (whether it's another breakup or you're just emerging from the "you're all I need" lovey-dovey stage).
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:05 PM on January 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Jess, it's a fact of aging. The bonding's less intense as you age. That's just how it is. Compare 50 year olds at a dinner party (just the vibe in your mind) with twenty year olds at 3am. It's just different. It just is.

Lots of things are that way. Life gets less intense and colorful, which is a drag. Less of that burning sense of meaning. But it's also less over-dramatized, which is a huge blessing. You get more level-headed and mom-and-dad-ish. Less geared up, but more mellow. I'm positive it's endocrinological, fwiw.

As with other sorts of inevitable change, the only sane response is to embrace it and ride it. New movie! Cool!

[moderators, this isn't just cross-chat; I hope it might help the OP]
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:14 AM on January 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

Many of the greatest minds (from Einstein to Woody Allen) have publicly spoken of their sense of loneliness. I think that as a person's life interests get more complex and sophisticated, their possibilities for deep connections with others decrease significantly. There are, of course, sometimes other factors involved (kind of job you do, very close, extended family knits, etc.). But I am still surprised at how for children virtually any shared activity can lead to a friendship. As adults, some people retain that trait, and hobbies such as football or card games are enough to make friends. Personally, while generally acting friendly with well-intentioned people, I choose to spend time only in what I feel are spiritually nutritious relationships. They do not abound. But it might be worth respecting loneliness as a sign that one, although human, does not have the same higher needs as everybody around.
posted by kayrosianian at 12:53 PM on January 24, 2014

I just wanted to come back in again and say that of course, to an extent, the loneliness is just the way you describe it to yourself. Being alone isn't at all the same as being lonely if you don't choose to let it be. But I do think that there are some feelings that are deeper than our labels for them, that we feel despite words, despite all the framing exercises you try to do. Just as it's the monkey mind that imposes a negative interpretation on loneliness, it's the monkey mind that makes it into something romantic, etc. "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

But at the same time, the reality of that feeling is still there. And this was what I meant by existential loneliness - a loneliness independent of the monkey mind, independent of the stories we tell ourselves. I've felt that most of my life, regardless of my circumstances or my happiness or number of friends or romantic involvement, whether I lived alone or not. It's not a constant thing, but it's recurrent enough that it feels like a subconscious awareness.

So yes, by all means, strengthen your relationships with family and friends. Those are still good things to do. Don't get caught up in the loneliness either and spin it into a "pity me" story or "I am such a cool, romantic loner and no one understands" or whatever. But when you feel it, do it the honour of feeling it. Just breathe and accept that it's something that happens to some of us and not others. (I'm saying this not because I think I'm particularly special, or you either, but because others I know genuinely don't seem to have had this experience.)
posted by Athanassiel at 9:03 PM on January 24, 2014

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