Techniques for dealing with lack of partner?
June 3, 2015 2:28 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for techniques for surviving when you don't have the kinds of loving relationships you want. I was dumped late last year and am having real trouble with loneliness and staying hopeful. I've tried all the suggestions, go to meetups, do stuff you'd enjoy anyway... the trouble is, i don't really enjoy spending time around strangers. the feeling i get going up to a meetup doesn't satisfy my need for emotional connection the way talking to someone i'm really close to does.

In fact it feels like the opposite- I tend to find it draining and alienating. I don't have any close (or otherwise) friends or people I can contact when I'm feeling alone. It feels like I need a certain amount of loving connection and as that dwindles its getting harder and harder and there's nothing to replace it, like a tank slowly emptying. It becomes even harder to say send messages on okcupid then because I don't have a baseline of connection so the threat of rejection feels more dangerous. So I am looking for techniques for instance DBT techniques to help me get through this time (which I anticipate might last for years or forever) and if possible if there are ways to feel less lonely?
posted by ninjablob to Human Relations (24 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
The DBT skills you mention, especially the Distress Tolerance skills, are very useful. The thing is, if you don't like one skill/one doesn't work, there's scads more to try. Good luck.
posted by intrepid_simpleton at 2:51 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Podcasts. Maybe it was kind of a crutch, but developing a rotation of chatty, fun podcasts hosted by kind, funny people really helped to fill a void during the times when I really had no regular source of fulfilling contact with people. Bonus: many of these podcasts turned out to have online --and even in-person-- communities that were filled with people I'd want to know, and already had that baseline of connection with for making the jump to actual friendship.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:10 PM on June 3, 2015 [12 favorites]

Can you reach out to old friends and try to rekindle those relationships?
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:12 PM on June 3, 2015

Blast, can you recommend any specific podcasts? They sound great.
posted by Jubey at 3:17 PM on June 3, 2015

The only way that strangers become friends is if you meet them, and then get to know them. You can get to know people a little bit in a large group setting, but big groups are never going to produce the kind of intimate friendship you feel yourself (quite validly!) needing. Try to identify at least one person at your meetups or hobby groups and invite them out of a coffee or some other activity to start building a friendship.
posted by BrashTech at 3:17 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

In my experience, political activism is one of the fastest ways to develop new close friendships. There's something about being dedicated to a common cause that seems to accelerate the process of becoming emotionally connected with people.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:22 PM on June 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

To be honest I find reading and writing fanfic and being involved in a fandom really help me take my mind off my loneliness, or at least subsume it in some good angst, and give me quite a powerful emotional fix. (Obviously this is a coping mechanism and not a fix of the fundamental problem, but I think it's a reasonably healthy one).
posted by mymbleth at 3:22 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you're an introvert, and you find time in groups to be more draining than enjoyable. That's not rare, or weird. So while you should continue going out in public so you don't become a shut-in or something, you should probably put more of your energy into trying to connect with people on an individual basis. Dating sites are a good idea, but it sounds like you're too nervous about one-on-one rejection and you need something low-stakes to get you started.

Maybe you should try some things that will get you talking to people without worrying about being rejected. I'd suggest doing some charity work and volunteering. You can work one on one with other volunteers, and interact with people you're helping. I'm terribly shy myself, but I find that it hardly matters when I have a specific goal to accomplish and I've got a reliable source of conversation in case I run out of small talk. As a volunteer, there are always goals to accomplish, and there's always something to talk about. Plus, you'll be getting to know people who share your passion for a cause. Even if you don't set out to make friends, it's not impossible you'll make some anyway just because you'll be around people who share your goals and they'll see that you're a nice person working hard on something they care about too, so they're bound to like you. If you volunteer at a homeless shelter for six months, I guarantee you'll have some experiences that will bond you with people.

It may also be a good idea to sign up for some really active message boards dedicated to subjects you're passionate about, and make yourself a busy, friendly presence there. If somebody posts a question, do what you can to help answer it. Avoid flamewars, and get a rep as the nice person who is unusually helpful. People will notice you and some of those chatty relationships may develop into something deeper. At worst, you'll have an online community where you're always welcome. (Just make sure you pick the right forum. If it seems like people are endlessly fighting, or days go by between posts, don't bother!)

While I've been typing this, more suggestions keep appearing. Podcasts, fandom, that's all good stuff... and has the advantage of being fun, in addition to helping you stretch your social muscles.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:24 PM on June 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Really good tv and really good fiction can be palliative. A strong meditation practice can be palliative.

A tremendously compassionate relationship with yourself can be palliative. If DBT intrigued you, I strongly recommend you look into Focusing (Gendlin's book), and/or Internal Family Systems Therapy (Earley's book), and/or Coherence Therapy. Whichever speaks the most to you or all of them.

All the above helped me. I have a tremendously difficult time feeling connected to other people in a way that nourishes me and touches me on a deeply satisfying, mutually resonant, mutually fulfilling level.

I had to start multiple experimental meetups to get good at it. And eventually I started a blog with a connected online community, and I reached out to neighboring mailing lists and eventually got a tiny, fragile thing going in real life. X months later I have friends that I really connect with. But, again, it feels fragile and hard.

Consider that you may have to massively upgrade your organizational skills, your search skills, your goal pursuit skills, your quickly-assessing-and-understanding-people skills, your community organizing skills, and the patience and hope-management skills to sit through months and months of the meetups you create... It's not fair, but you might need to upgrade yourself in order to build the community you want and need.

And/or, explore in therapy, too, what barriers you might have to relaxing into human connection. But you may just be different and rare, and you may need to expend outsize energy to track down other people who are rare and different in ways you can deeply connect with.
posted by zeek321 at 3:28 PM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

(Note: I'm definitely an introvert if you're wondering if the above is a potentially good path for an introvert. Also, nthing chatty podcasts, especially if there are at least two people talking at each other and even "callers," e.g. old Loveline recordings.)
posted by zeek321 at 3:31 PM on June 3, 2015

I'm single and have been for more than a year and honestly, my dog is the best stave against any loneliness. Depending on your ability to invest time and resources, consider getting a pet! It's really nice to come home and feel another presence there. It has been great to have another living being as a part of my daily life. Bonus points for unconditional dog love! And walking him and taking him to the dog park has introduced me to other nice humans as well.

Also, some of my closest friends are MeFites whom I initially met through meetups. It was nice to know we probably had some common worldviews before ever meeting.
posted by chatongriffes at 3:57 PM on June 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

Podcast recommendation: Strangers

Especially the linked series: Love Hurts.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:02 PM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think volunteering is a great idea, particularly at nursing homes or hospitals or somewhere else you might get one-on-one time with people and slowly develop relationships. (Or at an animal shelter, if you prefer). Focusing on how you can help them, versus your own needs, will almost definitely help lift your own mood and make you feel better in general.
posted by three_red_balloons at 4:16 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Blast, can you recommend any specific podcasts? They sound great.

Peoples' podcast mileage *definitely* varies but I find that the offerings on the Maximum Fun network are almost all fantastic, and their topics/hosts range widely enough that I'd imagine most people could click with at least one of them. Personally, I'm a big fan of Judge John Hodgman, Jordan, Jesse, Go! (with MeFi's own Jesse Thorn!) and Bunker Buddies. The community around MaxFun is mindblowingly great; they have annual conventions and cruises and meetups and live shows. The tenor of the org is one of sincere enjoyment, passionate avocation... and occasional dick jokes.

Lots of people are really into Marc Maron's WTF but it's 50/50 on whether that's a great idea when you're not in a great headspace. The interviews are the chatty part; the openers are like having a coffee and kvetch session with that one friend who's great but not always living his best life, you know?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:40 PM on June 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Introvert here-- post-divorce I found a group centered around running and a new one now around hiking. Participation didn't require me to be great at parties, and running one-on-one often opens the door for deeper conversations. Hiking is the same feeling.

I also reached out to friends I had neglected during my marriage and was humbled and surprised how many of them were still there for me. I had started from the assumption they wouldn't be. Facebook interaction with different countries became a lifeline.

My cats helped enormously too, which sounds like a joke, but is not.
posted by frumiousb at 5:44 PM on June 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'd actually look to emotion regulation section of your DBT handbook. Look at paying attention to positives. Reduce any vulnerabilities you may have by paying attention to the PLEASE skills. Build mastery by doing something where you can see yourself succeed. Even if that something is to wash a dish or take a shower.

Do some things on the Adult Pleasurable Events schedule. If you're not enjoying the ones you are doing, think about things that you have liked to do in the past. Don't eliminate things you can do by yourself, if they truly give you pleasure.

Go back to core mindfulness and do some observe and describe exercises. Don't forget the "How"--one-mindfully, nonjudgmentally, and effectively. Pay attention to the stories you tell yourself and the judgements you make of yourself that do not fit the facts.

It might be a good idea to find a DBT group to go through again. I first did DBT about 11 years ago, and I've been in my current group for about 1.5ish years. Just recently the new edition came out (woot woot!), and it's so so much better.
posted by Stewriffic at 6:36 PM on June 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm going to go to two things I think are important:

1) You really sound like you need to speak to a therapist. You sound down on yourself and that can be a really big block for both yourself and potential partners. Working on that means doing real emotional and social work and there's nothing wrong with getting good help.

2) I know you said techniques for dealing with not having a partner, but that just makes me thing "You actually want a partner?" You should date. Now my situation is different than yours because I am incredibly good looking and awesome in every way, but when I was single for a long period of time, I made myself go on a date a week. At first, I hated it, in fact, I had a lot of problems with it for almost the entire time, but I began to relax when I stopped thinking of it as actual dating, and began to think of it as practice dating. I got a little better at it and holy moly, just like your keys are always the last place you look, sometimes you find yourself going on horrible date after horrible date and then suddenly you have a small family and everything is gravy.

So first therapy, but don't wait to start the dating. One small correction: I am not in fact incredibly good looking or awesome in every way, though after a drink or two, I can be a pretty good time. Good luck.
posted by history is a weapon at 6:48 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I get close to people by sailing. If you're on a boat with folks for 3-4 hours, problem solving then enjoying the scenery, you become fast friends.

I imagine the same would hold true for a lot of small-group activities.
posted by slateyness at 9:02 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Podcast recommendation: Strangers

Especially the linked series: Love Hurts.

This podcast REALLY hurt me as a guy coming out of a relationship with that series. At one point the podcast says all men are scum, just want sex and will cheat... and no one in the podcast argues. It is taken as fact. Very. Hurtful.

OP didn't state their gender so. It's still a good podcast, but that was a huge misstep.

It sent me to a very bad place so I felt it was worth commenting on. I also did to the podcast host directly.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:09 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

This really resonates with me. Although I'm in a satisfying romantic relationship I struggle to make friends and I understand your craving for a close connection.

Do you have friends far away who you've lost touch with? Write them a letter and try to rekindle that friendship, as suggested above. What works for me is that I devote whatever I can to my friends who are far away. I will take a trip to the other side of the country once every few years to see friends, and the ones within 5 hours driving distance I see at least a few times a year. It's really satisfying.
posted by pintapicasso at 11:18 PM on June 3, 2015

Honestly, it's hard. I'm an introvert and I have depression, which is kinda bad at the moment, so I cannot make myself go to meetups and things with strangers. Just can't. The things that save my sanity which don't involve friends that you say you don't have:

- Social media and Metafilter. Seriously, it's a way of connecting to people that doesn't require me to leave my bed, which is sometimes very difficult for me to do. Also keeps me in touch with my family, who all live in another country.

- My kitty. I have a very active, very snuggly kitten who is just a joy. I'm considering getting him a friend to play with for even more kitten love and hijinks! This is also important because another thing you may come to miss (if you don't already) is physical touch. My friends aren't very huggy or are interstate, so getting regular kitty pats and head rubs is really important.

- Lots of distractions. For me this tends to be cross-stitch in front of the TV, but it can be anything. Good music and jigsaw puzzles. Walks in the park with headphones and good tunes. Whatever. For me the key components are mental absorption and auditory input, but YMMV.

- Trying to remember to acknowledge the good things that you pretty much only get to do while single. Sprawling in bed. Picking your nose while watching TV. Leaving the dishes instead of washing up because you are the only one who will care. Dancing like a dag to embarrassing music in your lounge room. Also a good habit to get into is just paying attention to when you are actually enjoying yourself and acknowledging it, whether it's a single-thing or not.

As for the friends, unless you are a hermit you must know people - at work, the local shops, etc. Start small. Invite a colleague out for a coffee. Join in a water-cooler discussion about a TV show you also watch. Ask the checkout chick at the supermarket how her day has been. All are moments of connection - not close, but all close friendships start from small things.
posted by Athanassiel at 12:39 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

What's your living situation? What helped me was that I lucked into a small apartment building where I got to know a couple of single neighbors, especially one woman. She seemed to be the sort of person who made it a point to set up a friends network everywhere she went. I had dinner with at least one of these people 1-2 times a week. We had dogs that we had playdates for. We didn't spend all that much time together; everyone was in fairly high pressure situations. But I remember coming home one day and someone saying, "Yay, you're back!" Having someone you see regularly, who is happy to see you, is huge.

If I wanted to duplicate this situation I would look for an apartment (condo, townhouse, whatever) in a place where there are single people and be actively open to meeting neighbors. I know it's hard and for me, it fell into my lap the first time but it was so wonderful. I always say I want to end my days a situation like that.
posted by BibiRose at 6:10 AM on June 4, 2015

In my experience body contact or physical experiences are extremely important to feel happy, especially if you do not receive the physical affection of a partner. Some ideas to get you started:

* Get a pet / spend time with pets from neighbours or friends or the animal shelter
* Horseback riding is a great hobby in that regard as well, as horses will directly interact with your touch
* Regularly get massages, if you enjoy being touched try warm oil massages and if your are more timid, I suggest you try shiatsu, a technique for which you can stay fully clothed
* Sauna: the heat, the ice buckets, it all makes you feel very alive
* Swimming in natural water (preferably naked :)
* Going barefoot, laying in the grass
* Activities which give you can adrenaline rush such as rock climbing, anything new and exiting to you will do
* Ballroom or salsa dancing is also great if you go to singles classes
* Join a choire: activity with others without talking
* Joing a board game group: it was my first weeknight activity when I moved cities and I really liked it since I got to interact with people without the usual akward small talk

Nthing the volunteering idea: you could find volunteer work where you get a chance to help people less fortunate than yourself. There is satisfaction to be found in rising above ones own misery and helping others.

All the best to you!
posted by Fallbala at 7:25 AM on June 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

Let me give you a scenario:
I recently went through a breakup and felt all kinds of sorry for myself and feeling lonely. I went out to have lunch with my lady friends (two of whom are married), and over a few glasses of wine they started telling some pretty terrible stories about their marriage and kids and the struggle. One's husband had resorted to drugs and just lost his job, the other one was getting passive aggressive texts from her husband at that minute about coming home to take care of their kid.
My other single friend and I looked at each other with a look of knowing that "well, we may be lonely but at least we don't have a terrible partner or kids".
I went home and took a wonderful quiet nap.
posted by hillabeans at 11:56 AM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

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