Feeling lonely after breakup
November 12, 2021 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Recently went through a breakup and questioning a lot of my friendships and relationships.

This relationship finally came to an end (and honestly, the physical chemistry never got better). It was super jarring and painful -- while it wasn't a fit long term, he started giving me the silent treatment and then broke up with me in five minutes in a hurtful way (by criticizing me) and then ran away. It feels like a very strange ending to dating someone after six months.

The hardest part is that I've been crying and reaching out to some of my best friends and friends, but they didn't call back or comfort me. My birthday was recently and I was disappointed by how some friends didn't show up, which also hurt me. And I was thinking about how I've only been in one wedding.

I guess my overall question is that I feel really lonely, how to process this breakup, and whether it's normal that I don't have many friends. I feel older too at 31, and it feels like my friends are getting more and more deep into their new lives as parents (which I desperately want) or moving away, which makes it even harder.
posted by pando11 to Human Relations (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're in the U.S., at least, Loneliness has sharply increased over time. The modal number of confidants that an American has was zero more than 15 years ago, and I suspect things have not improved in this regard since then. Things are very hard right now, most people are stretched thin, and many people therefore won't show up for you when you need it even if they care for you.

So yes, what you're feeling is normal. In-person interactions and belonging to social networks will help. Can you join a community? Church, synagogue, meet-up group, art class, gym class, etc.? Join a community that interests you and show up even if it feels awkward and pointless. Make it a practice to talk to someone who is only an acquaintance and ask for coffee once a week. You're having a moment at an especially difficult moment, but things are likely to get better for you if you're able to keep putting yourself out there.
posted by shadygrove at 8:52 AM on November 12 [1 favorite]

I have never had many good friends and although sometimes I feel kind of lonely or "less than" when I notice how much wider of a circle other people have, I also recognize that this isn't because I actually want more friends and more social obligations -- it's not that I'm not open to it, but I remember that when I had a bigger social network, I didn't feel less lonely. I just felt busier. What I really craved was a sense of connectedness. Maybe you are too, and maybe you need to find it in different places than you did in the past.
posted by sm1tten at 9:08 AM on November 12 [9 favorites]

Seconding what sm!itten says above; some people are wired to have a lot of casual friends, and some people are wired to have just a couple really close, deep, they-would-help-you-move-a-body friends. My parents and brother are more like the former, and I'm more like the latter; I felt weird and unpopular about it until I realized that I was just wired different. (Plus I had this dream when I was about 8 years old about this issue where the symbolism was so flat-out obvious that I've kept it in mind ever since.)

Still, even for the people who like the few-but-deep friends, you might kind of want some kind of social life so you don't feel like you're turning into a weird hermit or something. I find that a couple of random activity-based social clubs have helped scratch that itch for me - I belong to a monthly book club, and a monthly hobbyist photography group. And while I don't feel that kind of deep-friends connection to anyone in the group....that's also kind of not what they're for, you know? If I want the deep-talk kind of stuff I have those 4 people in my life I can reach out to....but for the more low-key stuff, I have the book club and the photo group once a month, and there's just enough inter-group familiarity that makes me still feel "seen" (like, I can get the in-jokes from the group about the TERRIBLE book we read two years ago, or I always get a kick out of how the photo group leader has nicknamed me "Miss Detail" because I'm always taking close-up pictures of random things because there's an abstract pattern I like).

I think the key is figuring out which of the two modes you are in and what you're looking for - which I am guessing is no mean feat for you right now, since it probably feels like everything is sucky and chaotic right now. So I would call this something to be pondering and reflecting on long-term as opposed to "I need to decide right now what I need for the rest of my life" or whatever. But even just the knowledge that "huh, maybe my definition of 'friend' is different than other people's" helped me a lot.

I also wanted to speak to what you said about having friends who missed out on your birthday. You mention you're 31, and this is about the time when a lot of our friends start having their Other Adulting Life Stuff start to pull focus; so it may not be that they didn't want to show up, they probably did very much but work went late or their toilet exploded or their mom just told them she's got Lyme disease and needs help with the grocery shopping early or other stuff like that. And the sad fact is that some of this Adulting Life Stuff may pull some of those friends away from you. But the good news is, it won't do that to all of them - the gatherings will be less frequent as life is taking all of you over, but things will still happen. If you're still miffed, I would reach out to a few of the friends whom you're especially close to, and if they didn't show up, just quietly mention that you're feeling a little fragile right now because of the breakup, so you may need to hear from them and see them more often.

I realize this doesn't mention your birthday, but this isn't an accusation from you - this is just giving them a heads-up that "hey, I need a little more support than usual right now". I sense that you maybe were assuming that your birthday would be more of an obvious cue and you wouldn't have to tell them that you wanted their presence, but....maybe they need a little more direct intel that "I kind of need a little more of this kind of thing for the time being".

It sounds like you did reach out to some people after the breakup too - if they just ditched your call altogether, I would quietly and calmly reach out again acknowledging that hey, you know you were kind of a mess when you called; you're better now, and it's cool if they were busy or whatever when you called, but...going forward, maybe if they were way too busy for a lengthy call, if they could at least just acknowledge your call so you feel a little more "seen". I had to have this talk with a couple of my friends when I would send out invites to things and get no response at all, and I found out a lot of them were just thinking that "sorry, I'm crazy busy and I just thought you only wanted a response if I was coming." After I said something, they tried to do better about at least answering ("Hey, wish I could make it but my boss is a dipshit and is making me work late that night"). Mind you, some people DIDN'T do that, and I just quietly stopped inviting them to things if they couldn't be trusted.

Finally - the friends who do rise to the occasion and stick by you will stick by you and will be there for you even if they do move. Almost all of the people in my Inner Friend Circle are outside New York - one couple moved to Denver, one is in Connecticut, one isn't even in this country. But I am still confident that if I called them like "yo, I really need to process stuff" they would make time for me even if we haven't seen each other in the same room in years. They may not be able to drop everything and handle things that exact instant, but if I've caught them in the middle of something they will find a time when they CAN talk and they will be there for me.

This is a lot to take in, and I apologize; so the TL;DR is

a) breakups suck, but the icky part does pass in time;
b) it is okay to reach out to some close friends and alert them that "Hey, I may need a little more from you these days, so maybe could we be in closer contact";
c) Some of these people may not be able to do that for you, and this is more of a reflection on them than it is on you;
d) you are not weird or broken or wrong for not having a big social circle; and
e) the friends who are real serious intense friends will stay your friends no matter where on the planet they are.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:53 AM on November 12 [9 favorites]

Empress has covered almost everything I would have said, except just one other thing on the birthday issue. It kind of sucks, but once you're in your 30s, you reaaaaaally have to ratchet down your birthday expectations.

It's not to say that you shouldn't have ANY expectations--people should still RSVP, and show up if they've committed to it, and other basic politeness things. And not to say that you shouldn't keep having parties if that's what floats your boat! But just be aware that for a lot of people, birthdays after your 20s are like, milestone-only things. I think it's absurd, why wouldn't people want more parties? But it's apparently a Whole Thing.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:04 PM on November 12 [3 favorites]

So it sounds like right now you are pretty sad and lonely, and those emotions can sometimes take over and become the filter through which we see everything.

I'm sorry the break-up was hurtful. It sounds like the way it happened also added some extra hurt. But, there's often not really a good way to break up, to have someone break up with you. It just kinda hurts and sucks. Your ex might have been feeling quite a bit of rejection from you for a while, given your lack of attraction to him. You had a lot of doubts, and it sounds like it's for the best that it ended, even though it sucks to move through the break up emotions.

As for friends: maybe it's good to take some time to think about the kind of life you want, and the people you want in it. If your friends are new parents, then yeah, that's a lot, and they might not be able to make it to your party or call back right away. The pandemic has been particularly tough for parents, you know? You might try reaching out to one or two and asking when would be a good time for them. Sometimes, before you have kids, you don't realize that the time you've planned could be really inconvenient for them. You might also offer to hang out while they walk the baby, go to the playground, etc. If you're looking for some of their time and attention, it might need to be on their terms a bit while their kids are young.

You say you are 31 and you want kids. So in that case, it's a good thing that a relationship not suited for the long term ended. Break ups are hard, even when they're right.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:48 PM on November 12

I'm sorry to hear you are going through this.

I wanted to share a common experience I've gone through, from the other side of the friend equation and from the tail end of my 30s, to see if you might see yourself in any of it. If not, totally fine, but food for thought.

As a woman rounding the corner on 40, I spent much of the last 15 years of my life single as being in a relationship hasn't been a priority for me. But as I watched friends of mine make partnering up a priority, they often fell off the face of the planet either focusing their time on pursuing or nurturing relationships. They don't reappear until they become single again and need a shoulder to cry on or feel lonely and need company. Often I found myself put off by it and wouldn't reciprocate because it made me feel like I was just a stop-gap between romantic relationships and the friendship itself didn't matter.

Do you nurture and prioritize your friendships as much as you do your romantic pursuits? Or do you only reach out when you need emotional support? Are you providing the same attention and support you seek, when you are partnered? Friendships are a two-way street and I've let friendships fizzle when I feel I'm the only one making an effort.

If this sounds like it could be you, I would make sure to take some time to repair friendships you may have let slide or to make new friendships where you practice being present for them and engaging with them regardless of your relationship status.
posted by greta simone at 2:27 PM on November 12 [9 favorites]

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