Lonely no more
July 19, 2006 5:26 AM   Subscribe

Advice for an otherwise well-adjusted person who misses being in a relationship?

My ex and I broke up five years ago, and I've been single ever since. (If it's relevant, this wasn't my only LTR, but it was my most significant one.) For the most part, I'm fine on my own and have a relatively fulfilling life. I'm pretty comfortable with myself as a person and do enjoy having time alone. However, lately I've been missing the companionship that comes with a relationship. I've dated since the breakup, but nothing serious has ever come of it. I have good friends, but it's just not the same. It's not just sex I'm craving, either. I could get that if I wanted, but I've learned from experience that no-strings sex doesn't do it for me.

In the past I've tried online dating, taken up new hobbies, and asked my friends to introduce me to people, but so far have still not had any luck. I've seriously considered whether I'm just being too picky, but so far the friends I've called on for a sanity check have agreed that I'm being reasonable. I just haven't met the right person yet. (Just to clarify, I'm not always the one giving the thumbs-down, there have been several instances where I was interested and the guy was not, and there have been people I've gone out with several times before one or the other of us ends up giving the "let's just be friends" speech.)

So that brings me to my question: for now, how can I cope with the loneliness that comes from not having a partner? I'm starting to feel as if I'm never going to be in another serious relationship again. They say the right person will often show up when you're not actually looking (as my ex did), and I haven't actively been looking for a while now as I've been concentrating on finishing a graduate degree. Do I start actively looking again, or do I just let things be? And how do I manage to be content regardless of whether I'm single or not? The standard answer seems to be "keep busy, cultivate friendships, and do what makes you happy," all which I have been doing anyway, but the past few months the desire for a relationship has still been there in the background. I've been seeing a therapist for a while, and my general well-being is tremendously improved, but the loneliness has so far just shifted from "I'm lonely and unhappy" to "I have a good life - I wish I could share it with someone." Basically, I'm trying to free myself from those "Gosh, I wish I had a partner" thoughts (or at least the melancholy associated with them) so that I can enjoy the rest of my life. Advice?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I wish I had advice to offer, but all I can say is that you're not alone. I feel pretty much exactly like that (as a guy too) and haven't found there is any answer except to keep in the game, though more often than not I feel it isn't worth it. Sorry this doesn't help much, but you're not a freak is the point I'm trying to make.
posted by A189Nut at 5:32 AM on July 19, 2006

You can't free yourself from those thoughts. So free yourself from the need to free yourself from those thoughts.

What I'm saying is that everytime you have one of those thoughts, its OK. Those are normal. You are going to have them. As long as you don't try to escape them, note them for what they are and move on, you'll be fine.

This means you will sometimes be lonely. It also means that there are some feelings you won't have--being hurt etc. Each state has its plusses and minuses.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:01 AM on July 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

I think that people who say that "the right person will often show up when you're not actually looking" are full of crap. You catch a fish by putting some bait on the hook and putting it in the water. There is nothing wrong with dating for years and years. You might have fun and relieve some lonlieness.

True intimacy in emotion and deed take alot of time to develop in any relationship and that is what I feel that you are missing. So get out there and have fun, and when the right one comes along it will be nice, otherwise just enjoy dating. Dating can be fun even if it does not wind up being in a LTR.

So don't stress about not being in a LTR, but do date, and date alot.
posted by bigmusic at 6:12 AM on July 19, 2006

There was that woman who wrote a book about going on a date with every guy who approached her for one year. She went out with all of these guys she never would have gone out with otherwise, and she ended up marrying one of them, a man much older than she was, someone she said she never would have considered before her "experiment." It was a gimmick sponsored by a publishing contract, obviously, but the lesson she took away from it was to just "get out there," that there's nothing wrong with just having lunch or a drink with someone who turns out to be radically incompatible with you, and that you might actually be surprised by who you connect with.

Which is not to say that there's anything wrong with you, your singleness, your standards or your feelings of loneliness. Only that you might feel better if you take a pro-active approach and start seeking out dates, even if they aren't ideal.

on preview, what bigmusic said
posted by junkbox at 6:14 AM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sounds to me like what you need is some good old fashioned anonymous sex. That always helps me through the dry patches.
posted by ChasFile at 6:37 AM on July 19, 2006

ChasFile: from the question - It's not just sex I'm craving, either. I could get that if I wanted, but I've learned from experience that no-strings sex doesn't do it for me.
posted by edd at 6:47 AM on July 19, 2006

I agree with the others. You are definately not alone.

My ex and I broke up five years ago, and I've been single ever since.

Sounds familiar...

Yeah, sometimes the loneliness gets to me, but at the same time, I have no responsibilities to anyone but myself, I'm free to flirt with whoever I like, spend my money on whatever I like, go wherever I want whenever I want, etc. In other words, spend the time furthering yourself. Find out what you enjoy and where you like to go, and make note of the most awesome of these. One day, you'll find someone special to share these with, and if nothing else, you'll wow them with your past experiences.

Now, you've said you've tried all this, but the point is, there's nothing wrong with that. I can say that when I have those feelings of loneliness, it is usually because I am home alone and bored. So, the best you can do to overcome those feelings is to get out there and have a go at life. Talking to/dating members of your preferred sex is one of those activities that should be included in your activity list, but don't make it the only thing on your list, either. Hell, increasing your pool of friends is worthwhile regardless of their sex - this increases your chances for someone to introduce you to your future SO.
posted by mysterpigg at 6:57 AM on July 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

I was once talking about this to a girlfriend I had at the time. I tried explaining to her the feeling of loneliness I thought I would have without her, or without someone in general. I asked her if she knew what I was talking about. She said she did know the feeling, but that it didn't go away just because one got into a relationship. You just find other ways of explaining the feeling to yourself when you're in a relationship.

We didn't end up working out and that's for the best, but this little bit of wisdom has stuck with me. It's some of the best relationship advice I've ever received. Of course, it doesn't stop you from being single for a long time, like I have by now, (sigh).

Oh, and don't miss out on good movies in the theaters or dinner at great restaurants just because you happen to be alone. It takes some getting used to, but it's very worth it.
posted by ontic at 7:10 AM on July 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

Despite all jokes to the contrary, online dating services are growing by leaps and bounds. A lot of people who use these services have essentially stopped shopping for Mr. or Ms. Right in the "real" world, preferring to pay for screening and interest matching services through these services. So, in answer to your question "Do I start actively looking again, or do I just let things be?", I think you've got to come up with a strategy, and invest some time and energy in it, if you're going to have a reasonable chance of being together with someone in the future.

Your strategy has to be right for you, whether or not you feel that the online thing is worthwhile. If you're doing things the old fashioned way, you've got to put your best foot forward in places and venues where Mr. Rights are doing the same. For a lot of people, that turns out to be school or work, but if those places aren't turning up likely prospects, you have to widen the throw of your net. If you're a social drinker, that might mean bars; if you're a singer, that might mean churches, glee clubs, and places that put on karaoke nights. But you have to devote some thought as to where the kind of person you'd like to meet would be going to meet you, and then you have to go there, often enough to meet someone.

In the meantime, there's nothing wrong with enjoying your single life, and you should. But it's easy to get spoiled in solitude too, and be loathe to give it up. That's a sense you can come to project subconsciously I think, and if you are already doing it, subtly, in attitude, posture and introductions, that alone could account for people not seeming interested in dating around you. Change your mindset to "actively looking," and your newly re-animated face may send signals that change your life, if that's what you really want.
posted by paulsc at 7:49 AM on July 19, 2006

There is so much loneliness in the world. I see it in the faces of strangers everyday. They probably see it in mine. We are in a very similar situation anon.

I've read that the number one place to meet that special someone is church, and alot of my single friends have found that 'special someone' there (although I have not personally had success yet). The Latter-Day Saints also have single wards, which are congregations specifically for single people. Going to church is a very low-key way of meeting people too. It's not like shouting on a rooftop that your single and lonely (although I've probably felt like doing that before).

I also recommend getting professional photos of yourself done, or at least by someone really good with a camera (if you haven't already). Use them for your online dating profile and anywhere else you might meet people. This brings to mind there are a tonne of social networking sites of every stripe on the internet - you'll get a trickle of prospective dates from that source also.

So, I guess my answer to your question "how do I cope with loneliness" is be strong as you have been and continue to tough it out like the rest of us. Take it one day at a time, one moment at a time, and remember you are part of a very large army.
posted by rinkjustice at 8:01 AM on July 19, 2006

Expanding your social circle is still, IMO, the best way to meet people. The internet creates shallow connections in general. I'm also single for over a year now, and it bothers me sometimes, but mostly I'm happy with my life. It's definitely normal to get lonely in our culture.
posted by knave at 8:17 AM on July 19, 2006

Just chill out and adopt a dog! I'm serious. Having a fun dog hangin around my place has provided me with boatloads of patience and company while waiting for that right human being to come around. How lonely can you be with a sweet little doggie that just wants to lick your face when you get home?
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 8:38 AM on July 19, 2006

Um, I've often found myself in this same position - loneliness battling with the sense of futility, been single FOREVER, etc. - and with all due respect, rinkjustice, what helps me the most is NOT pondering the vast numbers of lonely people but, contrarily, the fact that MANY if not MOST people in the world find love - people from a wide range of social, cultural, ethnic, financial, sexual, etc., backgrounds. This does NOT mean that you can relax your search - I'm a big proponent of online dating, and I think pretty much all of the advice here about getting out there as much as you can is spot on - but it does mean that you should have some faith. Be an interesting and interested person, put yourself in situations where you can meet people, and I believe that you will find your mate.

/blind optimism
posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:58 AM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, regarding the title of your question - being in a relationship does NOT mean that you will never be lonely. Or without sex. Or bored. Those things will be a part of your life probably for the rest of your life. Best to learn how to deal with them independently of your current relationship-status. Being lonely is NOT the end of the world. Being excessively lonely for long periods of time is bad, but this doesn't sound like your situation. Be grateful!
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:00 AM on July 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I second adopting a dog. That is, if you like dogs, and you can have one where you live.
posted by thejanna at 9:37 AM on July 19, 2006

Anon wasn't asking to be proselytized, rinkjustice.

I'm in the camp of everyone who says, "keep doing what you're doing".
posted by brujita at 9:47 AM on July 19, 2006

I agree with most of what's been said above, and just wanted to add a slightly different line of thought to it.

There's a great book called Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, written by an American psychiatrist who's been practicing meditation for quite some time. In it, he contrasts Western ideas of ego with Buddhist ideas of connectedness; he talks about how the field of psychiatry might change if we looked not to prop up our egos and rigidly define our sense of "self" whenever we were hurt or lonely, if we stopped shoring up our defenses and "being strong," but instead looked to dismantle the walls and defenses that we were using to try to set ourselves apart from others and then worked to find strength in the loss of ego.

More practically (and this is my interpretation now, not his), I think the idea is to find the connection you're looking for in everyone and everything around you, in opening your heart to such an extent that you can identify with everyone from the homeless guy on the corner to the dogs in the park to the president of your university. You find that spark of divinity or humanity or soul or whatever you want to call it in every person, you realize that you're only lonely because you're cutting yourself off from your natural connection with everyone around you--not because you haven't found one person, but because you haven't opened yourself to everyone.

It's not supposed to be an easy process -- achieving it would basically be achieving nirvana -- and I'm sure I sound like a woo-woo New Agey freak here, but it's a worthwhile process, and the reason for a lot of meditative practices.

Again, I'm not disagreeing with anyone above, just throwing out another perspective.
posted by occhiblu at 10:11 AM on July 19, 2006 [14 favorites]

As was said upstream, you don't catch fish without baiting a hook. So definitely make an active effort out of finding someone. Try to use the same mentality that's getting you through the rigors of grad school: you don't get that degree by simply sitting around thinking how you'd like to already have it, you set the goal and worth towards it.

Similarly, spending time on your way to that degree moping about not having it yet doesn't get it there any quicker. Keep the goal in mind, stay positive about it and how you WILL eventually get there. Finding a partner has a less clear schedule than grad work but it's every bit as much a multi-faceted effort.

You may not want meaningless sex but you'd do well to cultivate some appreciation for the joys of dating. Which isn't to say it doesn't blow in many ways, but the larger connection you seek is also somewhat gratified in the process of meeting new people and talking about things you maybe wouldn't otherwise. Also said upstream, there's fun and surprises to be had there.
posted by phearlez at 11:11 AM on July 19, 2006

The woman who dated everyone who asked her for a year was discussed here, fwiw.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:56 AM on July 19, 2006

(occhiblu, if you're a woo-woo New Agey freak, then count me in as one too!)

I second all the suggestions to keep doing what you're doing with cultivating a full life -- pursuing your hobbies, friendships, etc. I also think it might be a perfectly good thing to get back in the dating pool and to decide to pursue the whole process (warts and all) for awhile. I did the online dating mambo for more than a year before meeting my boyfriend a little over a year ago after going on dozens of good, bad, and ugly dates. (In fact, as I was walking out the door to go on our first date, I told a coworker, "eh, I dunno about this whole online dating thing anymore. If this guy tonight's a dud, I'm taking a break from the whole damn racket." Within 10 minutes of making that statement, I was on the best first date of my entire life.)
posted by scody at 12:37 PM on July 19, 2006

brujita: I suggested she widen her social circle by going to my church, for the reasons explained in my prior post. Chill.
posted by rinkjustice at 12:54 PM on July 19, 2006

She may be perfectly satisfied with her own faith, and going to the social activities arranged by her local congegation may help her find a relationship.

Suggesting that she go to YOUR church is proselytizing.
posted by brujita at 1:39 PM on July 19, 2006

I second adopting a dog. That is, if you like dogs, and you can have one where you live.

Plus, having a dog is a great way to meet people, assuming your dog doesn't bite other dogs or people.
posted by myeviltwin at 1:55 PM on July 19, 2006

Brilliant comment occhiblu. Everybody should read it! Voted as fave!
posted by rinkjustice at 5:11 PM on July 19, 2006

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