Are there tricks to combating lonliness- on your own?
September 28, 2016 5:42 PM   Subscribe

Lonliness is one of the worst feelings I've ever encountered... yet it seems inevitable. The obvious answer is to just hang around more people- but this isn't always so easy.

Going to a crowded coffee shop with people around me helps... but sometimes this isn't enough. I don't really have any family and I spend holidays alone for the most part. Friends have come and gone due to cross country moves etc. Yes i've done meetups and classes and they've worked well for temporary fixes and for short term or superficial friendships, but nothing more familial ever manifests from them. The last time someone gave me a valentines gift was in high school... I'm in my latter 30's now, so I haven't really had many romantic relationships if you catch my drift. My longest term relationship which lasted years, was a man who was pretty emotionally unavailable in many respects though I did try to make it work.

I'm trying to put myself out there, but lets face it... even if I do find someone, the chances are high that I'll be alone at some point in life again since women tend to be widowed for years before passing on. So lonliness is something I'd really like to be able to 'master' if possible.

And I might not find anyone ever either so being alone may be something I'll always have to deal with so I'd like to know if there are any techniques on how to do that. I've heard stories that one can be alone for decades and not feel lonely, but seeing as how human beings are a species that for millenia social ties have been integral to survival... I wonder how true those stories are. It seems to me that awful pit in your stomach that comes from lonliness is just our DNA saying it needs company the same way it would with food or air.
posted by olivetree to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I know this won't help with the romantic aspect (I'll get back to you when I figure that out. ha), but is it possible to get a pet? I'm single but I have a dog whom I sing to and cuddle and pet throughout the day and talk to at night when he sleeps in my room, and I notice a marked difference in my mood when he is away for the day/night with my Dad. Like, I feel super lonely actually. He's really helped with my depression too.

I also put the TV on in a different room so it sounds like someone else is there.
posted by littlesq at 6:20 PM on September 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

This kind of thing is what TV and the Internet were made for. Or good distracting books. Anything to get your mind off of "I need people!"
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:22 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would recommend finding a local charity that you can volunteer for at least once a week. It gets you out of the house, puts you in contact with other people and gives you the right to feel good about doing something for others. If you need convincing -- Watch Amy Poehler's Power of Women 2013 Speech for more inspiration.
posted by pjsky at 6:27 PM on September 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I travel a lot for work, and so does my partner. Sometimes we go weeks without seeing each other in person, and our time zone differences make it difficult to have something as simple as a phone conversation. This really hits hard when I'm in a sterile airport hotel for the eleventh night in a row. I sometimes put on ambient café sounds or street sounds just to lift me out of the forced silence.

I know it's not some all-encompassing strategy, but it gives me a measure of comfort.

Volunteering is a great suggestion, especially a regular volunteering gig in your community if your schedule can accommodate it. Look for socially-minded volunteer opportunities (i.e. my branch library hosts these monthly LP/vinyl evenings where people bring in records, play a track, and tell a little memory associated with it, then there are drinks and chat afterward; you don't have to volunteer to participate, but I put up flyers for it with a couple folks and that gives us some familiarity to break the ice when we meet back up at the event... it's been really cool, plus the people I've met live nearby so I've been making an effort to meet up ith my neighbors from this event when I'm in town).

I've been doing daily guided mindfulness practices (10-20 minutes, tops, and there's an app for that), and that seems to help me address my moods a little more... passively? objectively?
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:34 PM on September 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I want to encourage you to not give up on making friends. Loneliness sucks in part because friendship and connection are so vitally important to us.

When you go to meetups and classes, do you look for people with whom you feel a sense of kinship and suggest getting coffee or something? I find this very difficult but it's the only way I can see to turn an acquaintanceship into a friendship.

I also admit that I have a therapist primarily for this reason, because I'm lonely and at least with a therapist I can ramble without fearing that I'm oversharing and distancing a potential friend.
posted by bunderful at 6:35 PM on September 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Consider massage. The times when I feel the loneliest, it's because I am craving human touch -- more than just the hugs I get from friends or cuddles from animals.
posted by zebra at 6:37 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you considered church? If you are not religious or are an atheist, don't discount the Unitarian Universalists. Lots of atheists there.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:43 PM on September 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

YES to volunteer work and pets. You can even do both at the same time and volunteer at an animal shelter. Immediate rewards. Seriously.
posted by ainsley at 6:50 PM on September 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

I would recommend finding a pen or email pal. I don't always have one, but its easy enough to find pen pals through the associated reddit page. Often people are open to the types of conversations you are probably missing, idle musings, daily reflection, mundane frustrations etc etc. Which isn't to say thats all it is, but its nice to have 'kitchen table' talk, as I call it, in addition to talking about whats really interesting in each others lives.
posted by deadwater at 6:51 PM on September 28, 2016

I have a different take on loneliness. I view it as the open connection with the universe, and a call to get out into it, or remember to acknowledge it. I remind myself to connect with the nature around me, and tune into the daily doings of the planet. I listen to birds, and crickets, and the sound of the wind coming up. Being solitary for a while is good, it enables you to listen to others around you in public places and then you hear what their apparent cure is. There are a lot of lessons to be learned in solitude. I think it is good to share in common cause, or to serve. Once you tune into loneliness then you have to ask what is it you want, to soothe it? Then it takes a lot of careful maneuvering to find a good solution to loneliness. One of them, of course, is a better relationship with self. Loneliness and listening to the others is a good way to find out what you don't want.
posted by Oyéah at 7:01 PM on September 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

I think part of the key to making meetups, classes and volunteering develop into less superficial and more long lasting relationships is to find activities that you genuinely like and want to continue doing. I think that if you find a thing that you like, then it's not a huge effort to keep doing it because it's fun or you like doing it, then eventually you find that you've been doing it for a couple months and that turns into years. When you see the same people beyond a few meetups or class series, you start to know more about them and it's easier become friends because you've gotten past the initial level of getting to know them and you share a common interest. Seeing the same people regularly creates a proximity that makes it easier to become better friends.

Also I think of being alone as different from feeling lonely, where one is the state of not being around other people and feeling lonely is along the lines that other people don't care about me. I like being alone a lot, but if I want to connect to other people not irl, I can via the weak link ties that I have on facebook/mefi/reddit. I mainly just read and favourite things here and haven't developed any IRL friendships, but I get a sense of community from knowing that internet strangers care enough to try to help out.
posted by tangaroo at 7:09 PM on September 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

In addition to the problem-solving ideas above, regularly practicing Loving Kindness Meditation helps me.
posted by lazuli at 7:14 PM on September 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

The best advice my dad ever gave me was "become a regular". I go to the same coffee place, try for the same checkout clerk at the grocery store, and years ago, I was so much a regular at my neighborhood bar that I got my mail there, met blind dates there, etc.. Even if none of these people are my friend-friends, they are people who know me, who ask when I haven't been around for a while, and generally make my urban neighborhood feel a bit cozier. Online communities are also good, but to me, real-life interaction can lift my mood pretty quickly.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:22 PM on September 28, 2016 [24 favorites]

Loneliness is the most pronounced for me when I don't have any plans to look forward to. I joined the most liberal, come as you are church in my neighborhood (one that has an active coffee hour after the service); a low key yoga class once a week, a bi-weekly study group, and a once-a-month in person book club. I also have a standing once a month brunch group. So I generally have at least one planned activity per week. Then I try to fill in from there. Having something to look forward to keeps me from tumbling too far down the rabbit hole.
posted by vignettist at 8:12 PM on September 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

I just try to find ways to do what I'm already doing, just with other people.

Caveat to that: one *must* stay before and after to chit chat, and say yes to unstructured hang out time. Your response to that might well be, "That sounds like an anxiety inducing mess, I would want to run away if I did that, what if nobody talked to me" and hah hah hah that's the bad news YOU TOTALLY DO WANT TO RUN AWAY AND PEOPLE WON'T WANT TO TALK AND YOU'LL BE STANDING ALONE FEELING AWKWARD IT'S HORRIBLE.

It doesn't last forever, though. It doesn't. If you really like doing the thing, other people will talk about the thing. Or not the thing. Or you'll just talk and not care. Showing up really is 90% of it. Deep friendships don't magically pop into existence, they just happen over time when you both keep showing up.

Anyway, this takes years, and a spirit of forgiveness to one's self, and courage. But you can do it! You are a human being just like everybody else here. You are a child of God, as they say, somebody intrinsically just as worthwhile as anybody else at the supermarket or the hospital or work or the comic shop or Metafilter. You will make it just fine.
posted by billjings at 9:06 PM on September 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah: get people's contact information, too. That way, when you're feeling lonely, you can text them and eat a hamburger together or something.
posted by billjings at 9:08 PM on September 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding volunteering! While volunteering I've met some people who are just my style and others who aren't, but it feels great to be a part of something good with a regular cast of characters AND to have a place to be other than your own head, if that makes sense. If you find a cause you enjoy lending a hand to, it's going to do much more for you than help with your loneliness.
posted by phatkitten at 3:33 AM on September 29, 2016

My co-worker and I were lamenting about not being able to find suitable romantic partners recently. She said, "What are we going to do? There's no one good out there!" My response was, "We're going to have really, really interesting hobbies."

That's sort of my general strategy. I have 4 roommates I don't see that often, and most of my friends have moved away. Sometimes I have 3-day weekends when I don't see another human being unless I go out to a cafe. For a while I would get very anxious when I knew I wouldn't see people for a few days, but now I think about it this way: someday maybe I'll have a lot of friends or a family and no free time for myself. What do I want to work on while I have the time now? I'm learning that if I throw myself into new projects, I also get so busy I don't notice whether I'm lonely or not.

I also do my best to be open to new acquaintances, especially if someone I meet elsewhere has a distant friend/whoever in my city. I always say yes when people invite me out, even if I'm not sure how it will go. I've also found certain cities are better than others for meeting people - I have no idea why, but sometimes my social environment has nothing to do with me and everything to do with where I'm living.
posted by Penguin48 at 4:35 AM on September 29, 2016

For a while I would get very anxious when I knew I wouldn't see people for a few days, but now I think about it this way: someday maybe I'll have a lot of friends or a family and no free time for myself. What do I want to work on while I have the time now? I'm learning that if I throw myself into new projects, I also get so busy I don't notice whether I'm lonely or not.
I'm like this. I've learned that if I have a weekend where I just potter around the house and garden and do things by myself, it isn't a bad thing and I shouldn't feel guilty for it. My family are always trying to make me feel guilty for spending a lot of time alone doing things for myself - always saying "you need to get out and meet people!". But the reality is that most of us have jobs where we have to spend eight hours a day, five days a week surrounded by people, talking to people, listening to people, always being "on" for people. I'm quite an extreme introvert - even being indirectly surrounded by people (eg. in a traffic jam) drains me and I need alone time afterwards. My weekends and time off are recharging time, not "do loads more social stuff" time.

Something I've done for low-energy social activities on weekends is to start attending a local Quaker meeting. It might not be something that exists where you live, and it's sort of predicated on the idea that you're religious or at least spiritual but I bet there's something similar that would fit you. It's quite a sociable event each week despite (or because of?) the fact that the worship itself is silent. There's always tea and coffee before/after the worship itself and once a month there's a bring-your-own vegan lunch. I like that I can stay as long as I like (or as short as I like) after worship and there's no judgement. Sitting in silence with other people is a different feeling and atmosphere from sitting in silence by yourself.

Also, seconding the person who mentioned massage. I haven't been for a while because I moved away from the place where my previous (awesome, queer-body-friendly) massage therapist was based, but it's a wonderful way to get low-pressure, relaxed, non-sexual touch and as much or as little conversation as you like.
posted by winterhill at 5:35 AM on September 29, 2016

you mention going to coffee shops by yourself but have you tried going to movies by yourself?

unlike the coffee shop, you don't have to look like you're doing anything else. everyone is doing the same thing and experiencing the same emotions. when i do this i tend towards more generic action/comedy/kids movies as they have more moments that inspire that communal "we're all feeling the same thing" than dramas do.
posted by noloveforned at 7:49 AM on September 29, 2016

Coffee shops can help only to a point, sometimes you end up feeling more lonely just sitting there and have been doing it for awhile :(. I am going to suggest the Buddhism I practice-not for the religious angle (you can ignore that angle if you want) but for the social side but more importantly the nice family network it provides. The way it is arranged is that each State is divided into districts and folks living there, from all walks of life (professionals, moms, housewives, students etc.) meet every week at one member's house. There is a general sharing of life issues, happiness, updates etc. It is very pleasant-sometimes there is coffee. Another beautiful factor is the diversity-(you will find Japanese, Chinese, Malay, Africans and people from so many countries). It is a great place to feel safe, make friends, be open about your daily struggles. People do care about you, that is the premise they work with. People have formed life long friendships there. Since Buddhism is quite universal you can just adapt it to your beliefs and there is no conflict-but it will help you connect with others on a much deeper level.
posted by metajim at 1:13 PM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is a total bandaid solution, but I find keeping NPR on in the house to be a great comfort. (Or podcasts, but something about the real-time is very soothing).
posted by athirstforsalt at 1:49 PM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't know what makes loneliness so hard for some people and not an issue for others. I'm in the latter camp. As a general rule I don't experience loneliness. I can list a handful of exceptions to prove that I'm capable of it, but in the day to day ebb and flow of my life, it's not an issue.

I live alone, and recently immigrated on my own, so everyone I know well lives in another country. While I appear to be an extroverted person, I cherish my alone time and would enjoy more of it. My work requires me to interact socially and professionally with a lot of different people, and I find I get my social needs met there. Evenings and weekends I'd rather not share with anyone.

I do what I want. If I want to go somewhere, I go. I travel on my own, I go to movies on my own. I take myself out for dinner, with either earphones, my phone, an unlimited data plan, and netflix, or with a book (or both). My primary hobby is pretty unsociable (writing fiction), so not having to give up my time for someone else's social needs is something I like. I listen to the radio all the time. I watch documentaries. I mainline tv shows. I'm involved in a few online communities that can be a tremendous time suck (for good or for ill). I like being able to make decisions about what I'm going to concentrate on, or spend money on, with no compromise required whatsoever. I am so personally satisfied with my alone time that only a profoundly exceptional match for me would make me consider sharing it. So I suppose I'm the opposite of you.

I'm not sure if this is inherent to who we are as people, or something that I'm doing differently than you.

I've only experienced persistent, bone-numbing loneliness while in a relationship, which might the influencing factor. To me, loneliness is less about being alone and more about the expectation that a specific someone is going to be there for me in some critical way and fails to be.

Obviously, what everyone else said above about ways to meet people applies. But I guess I'd say, to address the alone time issue: figure out how to love your time with you. Give yourself stuff to do that you want to do; explore your city, take up photography and fill out your instagram feed, read through lists of books and review them, take up video editing or gif-making or something fun and challenging for you, whatever that is. Nurture your curiosity. Fall down wikipedia holes. Get on a MOOC, learn something new. It's wonderful having time to yourself, but only if you can do something with it that makes you happy. Surely other people's time and attention isn't the only thing that pleases you. What else do you enjoy? Do that.
posted by Hildegarde at 2:11 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

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