How can I avoid feeling lonely?
October 11, 2006 8:51 AM   Subscribe

How can I avoid feeling lonely?

I have a fair number of friends, both close friends and more casual acquaintances. I don't suffer from a lack of social activities. But sometimes I just feel lonely, even though I don't really have more time hang out with others. I start distorting reality and believing that I don't have any friends when I probably have more than other people in my environment. It can be especially hard when I feel that I am excluded from cliques or activities involving more casual acquaintances.

Is there a good way to avoid these feelings? I don't think they are really based in reality. I could make more friends and spend more time socializing but in the end I don't think that would help. I think the problem is more the unrealistic thought patterns than anything else.
posted by rwatson to Human Relations (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Though I'm not much of an expert on the topic, it sounds like you may be describing a form of mild depression (anyone who has more experience with it want to chime in here? this is a bit off of the cuff).

If you think that may be the case, there's always the drugs/therapy route to at least investigate. If that's not really your cup of tea (and I know it isn't mine), be sure to stay involved in things that keep you connected with other people. Hanging out with your friends is a great start, but try building up some sort of scheduled event. I have a scotch and poker night with some of my buddies every week and exercise with another group of friends on another day of the week, both of which I can always look forward to. Also, correspond with others, especially friends you haven't seen for awhile. Write letters and emails to figure out what people are up to.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:57 AM on October 11, 2006

Get a partner / girlfriend / boyfriend. Worked for me. I felt somewhat the same as you once.

Alternatively, get used to it / rationalize it. We're all lonely really, just some of us feel it more than others. At the end of the day, we're the only ones to inhibit our own skin and feel the way we do, and most of that is impossible to share or dispel.
posted by wackybrit at 9:01 AM on October 11, 2006

I don't think anyone can avoid feeling lonely. In some ways, we are alone- no one can jump in our heads and be there for us 100% the way we really want. I think accepting your feelings as normal might make you feel a little less lonely.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:01 AM on October 11, 2006 [2 favorites]

Get a pet.
posted by johngoren at 9:04 AM on October 11, 2006

i second the pet idea... they're needy.
posted by octomato at 9:09 AM on October 11, 2006

It's normal to have feelings of loneliness sometimes, but it is also true that we sometimes blow these feelings out of proportion. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be a help if you're "distorting reality"-- my therapist suggested this book, which is really just a handbook of CBT exercises with a chart at the front to help you decide how to address your particular issues.
posted by InfidelZombie at 9:13 AM on October 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

It's certainly normal, and I think the more you fight it or avoid it, the worse it can feel.

This thread, Lonely No More, might also help.
posted by occhiblu at 9:16 AM on October 11, 2006

I third the idea of a pet, they are wonderful companions. Just a word of warning though - My dog of 13 years died a fortnight ago and it crushed me. I have never felt as low as when I had to take her to be put to sleep. Just like a close relative dying. If you couldn't handle that bond (though it is so worth it!) don't bother.

I have a very large social circle and a great partner who is always there. There's still plenty of times where I feel 'lonely'. Sometimes you just need a bit of you time to be alone and get it out of your system. People around all the time can be worse!

Just always remember you rarely ever alone. I'm sure you have friends that would drop everything to meet up if you really needed that. If you can look at it that way then you are never really lonely, just a bit low which is totally normal (I hope!!!)
posted by twistedonion at 9:26 AM on October 11, 2006

You can surround yourself with pets, playmates, and group activity and still feel lonely. The problem is your mind is not in the same room as your companions. You need to figure out what your passion is and find a group of people who share that passion.
posted by StarForce5 at 9:26 AM on October 11, 2006

Go out to a place where other people are around. A moderately crowded mall, restaurant, bar, movie theater, store, whatever. Strangely, this works for me when I'm feeling lonely--it's enough just to be around other people, even if I don't know them and I'm not really talking to them. YMMV.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:29 AM on October 11, 2006

Marijuana. Hooray for drugs!
posted by comatose at 9:31 AM on October 11, 2006

I have the same problem when I'm bored. I joined a martial arts organized that keeps me busy and exhausted for 4 days a week. I'm so physically exhausted on my days off that It's nice just to sit around and do nothing.
posted by bleucube at 9:52 AM on October 11, 2006

I get this too, even though I'm not actually clinically depressed, I have a boyfriend, cats, hobbies a job, lots of friends and a workout routine.

What I need is to chat. Make sure some of your friends are close ones, even if that means pouring your guts out once or twice to achieve intimacy deliberately. Then you can call them up and just check in or jam, whatever conversation comes from asking "how are you doing?" and meaning it. Afterward, you'll feel a lot better, having made that connection from your insides to theirs.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:58 AM on October 11, 2006

I don't hear any mention of really close friends - reading into your post it sounds like you have a lot of friends, but not the type that you spend a ton of time with, can drop in on without scheduling a time, etc. The kind of friends my boyfriend calls "family." If that's true, that might be part of the problem. I know I am less lonely when I feel like I have people around me that really care about me, not just people who think I'm fun to hang out with.
posted by Amizu at 10:05 AM on October 11, 2006

But also what wackybrit says. I think this goes along with the idea of having people who really care about you. I am a lot less lonely when I have someone who loves me, and the people who have loved me the most (besides family) have been my boyfriends. I don't think it's healthy to be dependent on that, though, so I think ultimately it must be necessary to be okay with loneliness to a certain extent - we are alone, after all.
posted by Amizu at 10:07 AM on October 11, 2006

In addition to all the great suggestions above, I nth the idea of getting a pet, preferably a dog, although of course it's not a cure all. Not only are they great companions, but they force you to do a lot of healthy things you wouldn't necessarily feel like doing otherwise, like getting outside to the park etc. There is also a wonderful social scene that revolves around pets, and I find that I often meet interesting people when I'm out with my dog. Probably most importantly, having something other than yourself to focus on, take care of, and worry about can be really good for one's mental health.
posted by walla at 10:31 AM on October 11, 2006

To chime in with what wackybrit and others have said, life is simply lonely at times. If you run around looking for distractions and experiences to keep you from experiencing this loneliness, you will find them easily and maybe have some fun for a while, but it will all still be there waiting to confront you during moments when you aren't accompanied.

Rather than try to chase your loneliness away, why not thoroughly explore it? Imagine what your life would be like if you really had no friends, like those around you that you acknowledged. Is their worth as a person diminished because of a lack of participation of other people in their lives? Is a human life worth less when considered solely on its own merits? If not, then you can recognize that these spells of loneliness, while very real, are not rational.

Make a list of ways in which you could explore time on your own. Look at small getaways, a trip to the zoo or the the botanical gardens, a day trip to a nearby city. Consider art or home-improvement projects that you can work on alone. No matter how tempting it may be to call someoneand turn it into a social event, resist this urge and reaffirm that you can enjoy your own company. Your list can include all sorts of things that you've been meaning to do: make your christmas cards, plan surprises for friends. Learn self-massage. Read in the bathtub. Explore your sexual interests solo. Over time that lonely feeling will be immediately accompanied by the thrill of anticipation at having time in which you are accountable to no one but yourself. And you will be a more passionate, interesting person for it.

Our friends share most of the best parts of our lives with us, but we are more than that, and the sooner you face and cultivate that, the more relaxed and confident you will be. Ultimately we are each all alone, and that is only as scary as we make it.
posted by hermitosis at 12:15 PM on October 11, 2006 [15 favorites]

"I think the problem is more the unrealistic thought patterns than anything else"

You're close to answering your own question. Write these thoughts out, and then write out exactly why they are unrealistic. And then refer back to the sheet when you have the same thoughts again (this is a cognitive behavioural therapy technique, InfidelZombie mentioned it above).

Personally I think that although loneliness is common, it isn't a healthy emotion. Getting a boyfriend/girlfriend or a pet may only transfer this feeling into something else, without really fixing it.

Try listing out all of the things you enjoy doing, and notice how many of those things you usually do alone. I think you'll find it's a large majority.
posted by Idiot Mittens at 12:22 PM on October 11, 2006

as others have said, your comment about "distorting reality" sounds like you could benefit from cognative behavior therapy. it's practical stuff. i like the 10 forms of twisted thinking which includes:

Overgeneralization: a single negative event is seen as a never-ending pattern of defeat. And Mental filter: picking out a negative detail and dwelling on it.

You might recognize some patterns there (and hopefully start to catch yourself going into them.)
posted by kamelhoecker at 8:08 PM on October 11, 2006

n+1 the CBT things. I have a ton of friends (at least I do according to my MySpace page!) and still most weekends I end up by myself. Dont fight it, explore it. And anyway, there's a significant difference between being alone and being lonely. You can be alone and happy, many people are. Chances are you're pretty good company.

That said, taking a walk and smiling at strangers sometimes helps...not in a creepy stalker way, though.
posted by softlord at 6:23 AM on October 13, 2006

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