Taking a break from dating when you're lonely and have no friends.
November 26, 2015 7:04 PM   Subscribe

I want to take a long break from dating to get to know myself better. The thing is, I don't have any in person friends and am very lonely. I mostly just hang out with my Mom. How do I keep myself from dating again just to fill the loneliness?

I'm about 3 months single; when I hit month 4 it will have been the longest I've been single since I had my first boyfriend at 13. I don't know if I'm a serial monogamist as most of my relationships have been long-term, butyeah. I want to really get to know myself before dating anyone else.

I'm on a few dating sites already but haven't put much effort into them since I'm pregnant (ex isn't in the picture) and that's just awkward. I don't want to deal with the rejection when I tell them I'm pregnant, and I feel weird just putting it in the profile.

I spend every day alone and I'm very lonely. I wake up every day wishing I had a partner that would send me a good morning text, someone to cuddle with, to give me a hug. Instead I wake up to no texts, no messages, nothing.

I don't have a working car, can't afford to fix it or get a new one, and am going to school online which makes it hard to make friends. I've tried Meetup groups but everyone in the ones I went to were much older than me (I'm 25.) Most of my life has been like this; my primary socialization is usually with my significant other and their friends.

I'm not looking so much for advice on how to make friends (working on that with my therapist and will hopefully be moving to a larger city next year that'll make that easier) but how to do the self-improvement thing when I'm incredibly lonely and crave socialization. I have no idea how to even begin getting to know myself because I don't like to do things alone. Life feels meaningless having no friends to share it with. I do activities around the house and such but mostly I just feel sad and lonely. This also makes it more difficult to stop missing/get over my ex.

For some reason I have an easy time finding partners and I don't want to just fall back on that for my socialization needs, but I'm very close to doing so.

But I feel like if I do that, I'm cheating myself in my next relationship. I've been in several relationships where I was really into the person, but it wasn't working as well as it could because I hadn't spent the proverbial "time alone" getting to know myself that's supposed to enhance future relationships. (Thankfully I don't have the clinginess problem that often comes with having no social life outside of relationships.)

At this time I am dealing with the problem by spending most of my time playing multiplayer games for the human interaction. By most of my time I mean, from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, usually. But that isn't "me." I do enjoy the games but I'd rather be spending a lot more time on more productive, self-improving, skill-developing things (like practicing an instrument or writing.) But when I leave the virtual world I'm just reminded of how alone I am and how I have been my entire life (severe social anxiety growing up, so I didn't make any lasting friends in highschool or college when it would have been easier to do so).

This is me in 2011, for an idea of how long I've been trying and failing to make connections outside of relationships.

Has anyone been in this situation? How do I get to know myself when I feel like "myself" is a person that prefers doing things and going out with other people? Is it even possible to get to know myself when I hate spending most of my time alone? How do I do it?

Thanks in advance. Also I'm female, if it matters.
posted by Autumn to Human Relations (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What do you like to do, when you're with your partner (other than the "partner-specific" stuff)? You should go do that, in groups, if possible. If the Meetup groups are too old a crowd for you, then find classes or teams or coops or theater companies or leagues or paint and wine nights or whatever, and do those things.

If you don't know what you like to do, then just pick something and go do it. As long as it's with some other people, eventually, you'll connect with someone, and then you'll not only possibly make friends, but you'll also not be sitting home alone, wishing you were with someone.
posted by xingcat at 7:24 PM on November 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've made most of my friends through work or school or gym classes or any activity that I do on a regular basis - anything that I go to consistently and over a long period of time. It takes time spent together to make friendships and they happen over time, not necessarily immediately. If you go to a job everyday, you usually start out making small talk. Then if you happen to click, you get into more revealing conversations or you go to lunch and after you do this for awhile, friendship happens. It seems to happen organically but the key is that you have to give it time. Even at a job you go to everyday, it probably takes a couple of months to develop friendships. I went to a gym class three times a week and after a year made friends
Meet ups accelerate that process but that takes a conscious effort.

So I think the key is to get out of your house and do things on a regular basis. Everyday or a three times a week. You could volunteer somewhere or go to a gym class or cooking class or art school or join a tennis club. Or develop online friends but then make an effort to meet them.
posted by gt2 at 7:41 PM on November 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Can you volunteer or get a very part time job that you can walk to? Doing anything you like is a great suggestion by xingcat and I suggest you do that too! But having to go to a job/volunteer gig for a few hours a few times a week may help fight off the huge loneliness. You may also make a friend, some money, or help someone.
posted by Kalmya at 7:43 PM on November 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just a note that I do have a job (we take a break for the holidays and start back up in January), but I don't like the environment or the people there. They gossip about each other, one coworker is outright mean to me and another is my ex (not the most recent one) that makes fun of me at work and says things like my vagina stinks and I was bad in bed. Most conversation at work is people complaining about each other. I stay out of it.

And this is a pattern - I've been made fun of at every long-term job I've had.
posted by Autumn at 7:46 PM on November 26, 2015

Volunteering sounds perfect for this. It will help get you out of your own head and empower you by helping others, which in turn, will help you be secure enough to make other new friends.
posted by Vaike at 7:57 PM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

First, I'm sorry for your challenges and wish you luck with your future plans. It sounds wise to take a break from dating for now and focus on your own well-being. I'm glad you're seeing a therapist and to hear that they're helping you process things.

Having low self-esteem is rough but, fortunately, it definitely can be improved with time, effort, and help. Right now you keep telling yourself that all the bullshit people have said about you is true when it's not. You are deserving of love and respect, and always have been. Every time a negative thought comes into your head, be it remembering something from the past or your being self-loathing, stop yourself (be gentle but firm!) and say aloud: "I am deserving of love and respect." You may not believe it now but eventually you can; it's about changing the narrative and breaking a pattern of learned helplessness. (Super hard but do-able!) I'd make suggestions for dealing with the people on the outside on how to stick up for yourself: you can't change how they treat you but you can show them it's not OK. For now though, I'd focus on telling yourself that you are worthy of love and that the love you feel for yourself is all you need. Because it's true! It's not your fault that life has been so hard and you've been treated so badly. However, you do have the chance to start making things better! Go you for working on it!

A few more thoughts: having older friends is actually pretty cool, and certainly helpful in that they can share their life experience and caring. Ideally, you'd want to start expanding your support circle so you have some people to lean on when you're a mom: it may "take a village" to raise a child but one caring and committed "grandparent" is better than a thousand shitty partners. That said, even if the ex isn't in the picture, please do the paperwork so you get the financial support you -- and your soon-to-be child -- deserve.
posted by smorgasbord at 9:28 PM on November 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

In most circumstances, I'd second volunteering and joining activity groups.
But you're in a unique situation and it's not the time to be joining a volunteer or activity group.
Instead, try to find pregnancy and baby care classes now. In addition to learning what you really need to learn now, you will be able to bond with other pregnant women there. and some of those friendships can last into motherhood. You really will need a community when you have the baby and this is a good time to start making one.

New motherhood is a time when a lot of women are suddenly open to new friendships with other new moms. Check the local hospital or churches, ask your ob-gyn or even put up a flyer on a community bulletin board at your food co-op or library or church and start your own. If you can possibly get one going for single pre-parents all the better.
posted by flourpot at 5:21 AM on November 27, 2015 [11 favorites]

I think you're going to have to fake-it-till-you-make it here. You have to act as though you have more confidence than you do.

If your work situation is hostile, find a new one. During the holidays you should be able to find employment, heck, the economy's better, maybe you can just find a better permanent job. I'd look into serving or bartending; something that takes you out of yourself and interacting with lots of people. Don't dwell on the fact that your last jobs sucked, focus on finding a job where you can meet new people and make new friends.

As for on-line school, transfer your credits to a local community or state college and start attending on campus. If you're isolated and lonesome, sitting at home on the computer all day is the WORST thing you can do for your self-esteem.

Accept the fact that it's going to feel uncomfortable and weird for awhile, roll with it. It does get better. You have to exercise your social muscles before you can build them up. If you don't like where you are, you have to make changes, and it's daunting and scary and it sounds like you really don't want to change because the unknown is worse that what you have. I"m here to tell you that this is not the case. Anything is better than where you are now.

I absolutely thing that dating is the wrong answer right now. What do you bring to a relationship except neediness and loneliness? You want your next relationship to be one where you are enhanced by the other person and where you bring great things to that person as well.

Good luck to you!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:52 AM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this. While it does sound tough, you can survive and thrive; it's absolutely do-able. The suggestions everyone gave above are already really great. I went through a tough breakup this year and while its not the same as your situation, what really helped me was having a goal to achieve that got me out of the house.

So imagine you want to 'level up', how would you do it? How would you gain experience points?

Earn a belt in a martial art? Become a yoga teacher? Learn CPR? Fencing? Trying all the burger places within 50 miles and ranking them? Sky's the limit!
posted by driedmango at 6:43 AM on November 27, 2015

...another is my ex (not the most recent one) that makes fun of me at work and says things like my vagina stinks and I was bad in bed...
This is unacceptable. If your job has an HR department, you need to make a complaint about this to them ASAP.
posted by blueberry at 7:01 AM on November 27, 2015 [11 favorites]

I'm sorry, it must be very hard for you right now, the pregnancy is probably kicking your emotions into overdrive on top of everything else. Big hugs.

A lot of cities have free community programs for pregnant women, prenatal classes, support groups, etc. You can even find some of the online pregnancy forums have local chapters for your city, where they may organize meetups. There's likely one for single moms-to-be.

I know you've maintained that you have a hard time making and keeping friends, but this is probably the best time since school to make new friends, while you're pregnant and when the baby comes. At the very least you can simply relate to them on being pregnant/having baby.
posted by lizbunny at 7:27 AM on November 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Hey guys, thanks so much for all the advice so far! This is more getting it off my chest than related to the topic, but HR doesn't care at all. I was touched inappropriately by a coworker there twice, and when I reported it to the boss nothing happened. I was then demoted and he got my position and hours until he got himself fired months later. It was rough with my hours being cut. I don't know if I had saved the evidence of what happened and showed it to my boss, maybe they would have believed me and things would have turned out differently. But I was so upset I couldn't stand to look at the conversation (he apologized to me on FB the first time it happened, but then it happened again a few months later.)

I think the boss probably just thinks I'm a liar and was making stuff up, since I didn't tell her until he made up some lies to try to get me fired (I thought I was protecting him.) To this day I wish I had saved the evidence.
posted by Autumn at 11:56 AM on November 27, 2015

A specific suggestion for volunteering -- consider joining the Big Brother/Big Sister program in your area. You would get the benefits of having someone to focus your energy on that isn't a romantic partner, it will get you out of the house to low-stress activities, and mentoring (at least for me) really helps with building confidence and dealing with loneliness.

Good luck. You can do this :)
posted by ananci at 12:52 PM on November 27, 2015

Oh honey. Find a new job. You deserve so much better.

Seconding the idea to go to pregnancy and baby care classes – you'd likely meet someone neat there.

Sometimes we go through years where good things – friendships, love, interesting/supportive work – just.don't.happen. It's not you.

But definitely, oh my gosh, look for a new job. I suspect it's contributing to not having enough energy to find friends – soul-crushing places like that take so much from a person. (I speak of what I know, sigh. After being transferred, which in my company was essentially the equivalent of changing jobs, life has changed in so many positive ways. Especially my energy levels, and that's at the root of so much.)
posted by fraula at 12:53 PM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh my goodness! I'm with fraula--sounds like your incredibly shitty job and shitty boss and shitty coworkers are actively making the problem and eroding your self esteem more. If you can find a new place, that will make a lot of difference on its own. (I acknowledge that this can be hard when you're visibly pregnant if you're in the US, though. If you aren't visibly pregnant yet now is an awesome time to do some job hunting--that, or maybe figure on leaving shortly after you give birth and max out your paid maternity leave?)

All the people here recommending picking one recurring thing and sticking with it for at least a month are right. Going to one regular thing gives you practice, lets you have a chance to gradually relax in a space and get to know people, and also gives you a chance to meet people repeatedly in a low-stress situation. I'm your age, and I really have had quite a bit of luck with meetups when I moved to a new city and had to try and make friends--but then, the regular thing I really wanted to do with people didn't exist, so I put out a meetup account and showed up every couple of weeks to a particular coffee shop at a pre-determined time and eventually people I liked showed up and stuck.

Of course, maybe the culture in your city is really different and the twenty-somethings are doing something else. Board game groups (my local gaming cafe has one!) or new mother groups are good, too, or maybe you might find volunteering low-stress. Sometimes it's easier to tell yourself that you're welcome when you're shy if you can point to something tangible you're bringing to your groupmates, or if you can focus on doing something with your hands when talking to new people seems scary.

I'm also with Ruthless Bunny--a lot of the time for these things, you kind of have to fake confidence till you make it. If you can find a regular thing to go to, even if you don't know anyone there yet, sometimes it can help to look for other people who seem shy or nervous. Usually, if you walk over to them and project friendliness at them, they take well to that, and if you keep doing it eventually you'll find someone that you have other things in common with. I often go up and bond about being confused or a little uncertain about what I'm doing if I'm trying to make friends in a setting I'm not confident in yet. You don't have to pretend to be confident, if you see what I mean; you just have to act like someone who can do something confident like approach another person, and that's where the whole "fake it till you make it" thing comes in.

Of course, I acknowledge that pretending you're a confident person is super hard, so I'd also encourage you to accept that and think of social confidence as a skill that you can practice. When you pick a regular social event you can go to, at first give yourself brownie points just for showing up. Go you! You did a social thing! As just hauling yourself to your new event gets easier, set yourself a "harder" goal--"go up to a person and start a conversation." Make sure your practice goals are things that you, personally, can control--not things like "get someone's contact info for outside the meetup", but things like "ask if $Person might like to be friends on facebook" or "see if one new stranger likes cats" or whatever. (More on that here and here.)

I'm also going to add that you can actually practice a lot of these skills on online communities if that's easier for you. National Novel Writing Month is nearly over, but there are a lot of other online writing communities you could join and see if you can practice your writing if those are easier for you to negotiate. (Or you can join offline local ones!) Hell, you can actually watch me using that strategy for bonding with other uncertain people over here on MetaTalk if you want. I know you really want offline friends and I totally encourage you to pursue that, but if you have a lot of problems accessing or finding offline communities with Your People in them--well, try looking for Your People on the Internet and practicing there if that feels less insurmountable for you.
posted by sciatrix at 1:21 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

So, so difficult, and I'm sorry to hear that you're struggling like this. I just wanted to provide you with a quick link to read, as it gives advice that may well be helpful and relevant (I do often recommend this advice columnist - she's great). It's solid advice for battling loneliness, I think:


This bit may be especially relevant:
You MUST break this fixation on love as the cure to all of your ills. If you found love right now, you would run it straight into the ground in seconds. You need an outward focus that has nothing to do with guys or even making new friends (which you currently view as merely a vehicle for meeting guys). Forget some of your assumptions about where your interests lie. Sign up for classes and clubs that are outside of your comfort zone, and see what happens. Observe others without worrying about what to say. Don’t chide yourself for doing it wrong. Just exist, in your awkwardness, without apologizing or explaining yourself, even to yourself.

I think this is very useful advice for how to *be* in the world and survive on a day-to-day, or even hour-to-hour basis, when you're feeling lonely, unlikeable, sad and empty.

Also, the people above who said you need to find a new job, pronto – please listen to them. You deserve much better. Please do it, for your own sake.

And as other people have said, the fact that you're pregnant surely means your emotions are going into overdrive, so please be as kind to yourself as you possibly can be.
posted by considerthelilies at 4:04 PM on November 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

There are some good practical answers here regarding your work life and sociallising, so I won't add to that. However noone seems to have answered your question about how to get to know yourself. I don't think there is a simple answer to that, but I have some ideas about it based on my own experience.

Your question actually made me laugh, where you said that you will be alone soon for 4 months. I haven't dated much, so personally I wouldn't start worrying until it gets to 4 years. It just goes to show how different people's expectations can be.

What I have done a lot of, is getting to know myself. I'm a bit older than you at 34, so I've had longer at this game. I think I was about 25 when I started to get interested in my own psychology. I think it can be natural at that age to start questioning why you do things the way you do. You've been an adult for a few years, and held down a job for a while. It's long enough to start seeing patterns in your behaviour. If things keep on not working out the way you want, you start wondering if it's something you're doing, and not just random bad luck. That's certainly how I felt.

I started reading psychology books. As I wasn't dating, I was relatively undistracted in that sense. I also started doing body based awareness practices, such as the Alexander Technique, yoga and tai chi. I meditated every day for 40 minutes. I didn't do all this at once, but over 2 or 3 years. It's really quite easy to do these things and start picking at your thought patterns and sense of self. There are lots of resources to help you. You've already got a therapist, which hopefully helps.

The difficulty is knowing how far to go in your quest for self knowledge. Some people become buddhists and find themselves doing 10 day silent retreats. Others get addicted to therapy. Where does it end? Who knows?

For me, I found that within about 3 or 4 years of self study, I had inadvertantly become very good at understanding other people, which led to closer relationships than I was used to. But I've also had long periods of "losing the plot". Your mileage may vary. After 7 years I was starting to develop a sense of self that was quite different from who I was at 25. I think my personal quest at this point is to date more. You can learn a lot on your own, but then I think there is a time to apply it in relationships, which I haven't done much yet.

I smiled reading through your post because you worry about not knowing yourself. "Where do I begin?" you ask. I would suggest to you that you have already begun. You were astute enough to realise that maybe things aren't working out for you and it's time to change tack. Then you go on to list several things that you've already learnt. I've extracted them for you:

I'm very lonely

I wake up every day wishing I had a partner

Most of my life has been like this; my primary socialization is usually with my significant other and their friends.

I'm incredibly lonely and crave socialization.

I don't like to do things alone.

Life feels meaningless

I just feel sad and lonely.

I have an easy time finding partners

I don't want to just fall back on that for my socialization needs

That's not a bad list of things to have realised about yourself by the age of 25. Many people would take decades to work all that out. Whether you date or not, you can carry on learning things about yourself. You won't stop learning if you pay attention to your behaviour and feelings.
posted by UncleCaveMan at 10:19 AM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

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