Relationships won’t cure loneliness
Why do you want to be in a relationship?
One of the questions we like to ask our SLOVVE members is “Why do you want to be in a relationship?” The most popular answer has essentially been “To not be alone”. Based on that, you would think that more people, especially during the current pandemic, would feel the same. But recent studies show that the rate of breakups and divorces has significantly increased in the past couple months all over the world due to the pandemic. And it is even expected to continue increasing post lockdown.
- “Diana Isaac, a partner at the family law firm Shulman & Partners LLP in Toronto, says she’s seen a 40 per cent increase in calls from couples seeking to end their marriages since the pandemic began.” (Source: CBC)
- Leading British law firm Stewarts logged a 122% increase in enquiries between July and October, compared with the same period last year (Source : BBC)
- By April, the interest in divorce had already increased by 34% in the US, with newer couples being the most likely to file for divorce. (Source : National Law Review)
It seems like most people would rather be alone than unhappy. Couples are separating at a time when people feel more isolated. Why is that? I would venture to say that one of the reasons is because relationships don’t cure loneliness. And those who experienced loneliness within a relationship know it all too well.
Feeling lonely in a relationship
Speaking from experience, one of the worst type of loneliness, is to feel lonely while you are in a relationship or marriage. Anyone who’s been in that situation can attest to that. There are books about it, songs about it, poems about it, movies about it, etc. If you haven’t felt it, consider yourself lucky! “According to surveys, some 40 percent of people know the pain of being lonely in relationships because they’ve been there at some point.” (Source : IDEAS.TED.COM) It’s a confusing and unsettling feeling that can throw you and your relationship off balance.
How can one be with someone and still feel lonely? It’s a fundamental disconnect that can happen on one or more of four fundamental levels (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual), but it’s easily masked with distractions. Since many people, even in a lonely relationship, fear being alone, they distract themselves with things such as social gatherings, parties, work, entertainment, shopping, travel, alcohol, sex, etc.
When the pandemic hit, many of these distractions not only went away, but forced a lot of couples to stay in close quarters with each other. Some probably had to face the fact that they weren’t connected anymore. Having participated in a number of online events with people seeking new connections since the lockdown, I noticed a lot of them were recently separated or divorced. The pandemic seem to have brought covered up issues to the surface, forcing people to take a better look at their relationships. And many opted to be alone.
Lonely or Alone ?
A friend once shared with me an insightful distinction between loneliness and aloneness. She said : “Loneliness is the absence of another. Aloneness is the presence of oneself.” When I heard that, something clicked. People aren’t afraid to be lonely, they are afraid to be alone with themselves. And if they can’t even stand being with themselves, how can they expect someone else to want to be alone with them?
Lonely : The absence of another
In a sense, most of western society has been conditioned to fear being alone because it’s been associated with feeling lonely. As a kid, I remember the punishment for a lot of my friends (who’s parents were not immigrants), was to be sent to their room. The punishment was essentially to isolate them. It’s no surprise that, years later, there’s still a fear of being alone because it’s associated with the removal from their tribe : the absence of another. The focus is on a feeling of lack.
Consequently, most people don’t really know how to be happy and content alone. They constantly need something to make them feel either connected or distracted. And there are plenty of choices for distractions, including a partner: Anything to not feel lonely.
Alone: The presence of oneself
If you’re comfortable and content being alone, you already know how important and valuable it is to have some time alone. That means no distractions: No computer, no phones, no books, no TV, no podcasts, just you and your thoughts: You and yourself. Once you’re able to achieve that, chances are you will feel less lonely.
It’s important to learn to be comfortable being alone in order to avoid feeling lonely in a relationship. When you’re at peace with yourself, you’re grounded and secure enough to not need something or someone outside of you to fill a gap. You can enjoy life, with or without someone, a lot more.
“All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” ~ Blaise Pascal
How to minimize feeling lonely
There are many ways to help alleviate the feeling of loneliness. I’d like to suggest 2 simple ways :
- Spend time alone
- Change your perspective
1. Cure loneliness by spending more time alone
It’s not necessarily easy because each person has his or her own stories, but if you want to remove the feeling of loneliness, start by spending more time alone. It may sound counter intuitive but it works. Often, the reason people feel lonely is because they are looking outside of themselves for something that resides inside of them.
Get to know yourself a little more in depth. Do something you enjoy and observe how it makes you feel. I find journaling to be great way to spend some quality time with yourself, as well as creating in many forms (painting, cooking, gardening, building, exercising, meditating, etc.) If you can, do it in silence so you can hear your thoughts too. The more you do that, the more you realize that you can spend hours with yourself without feeling lonely. It’s an opportunity to recharge your own batteries by giving yourself the space you need to breathe.
At that point, especially if you’re single and looking for a partner, you’ll be able to come from a place of security within yourself. You won’t need to seek that security from another and won’t come off as needy. It will enable you to choose (and be chosen by) someone who’s right for you as oppose to someone who will simply keep you from feeling lonely.
Choosing a partner to not feel lonely is like choosing a random job just to earn a salary.
Choosing a partner because it feels right is like taking a position that matches your personal life aspirations and fulfills you. You do it because you love it.
You are never really lonely
On a more philosophical point of view, although we may feel lonely we are never really lonely. Being lonely is a state of mind where we’re too focused on the feeling of lack to notice the abundance of people who surrounds us. We fail to pay attention to everyone and everything that is surrounding us and supporting us on a daily basis (even in isolation).
If we were truly alone, especially in the 21st century, a large portion of the population wouldn’t survive. Bringing awareness to that fact and being able to express gratitude for that can also help alleviate the feeling of loneliness. It’s hard to feel lonely and grateful at the same time. It’s not easy to get to that point, but practice helps.
We are lucky to live in a day and age where we can easily connect with people from the comfort of our home through the Internet. Join groups of people who share similar interests than you with no expectations. Connect with friends and family, connect with neighbours, be friendly to the delivery people, the cashier at your grocery store, etc. Then see how you feel after you’ve had a positive interaction with them.
Not only are you not alone, you’re also supported. Think about how you can make coffee using a coffee machine from the comfort of your home. Now try to imagine the number of people who had a role to play in your ability to drink freshly brewed coffee in the morning from home. How many do you think there were?
Who grew the coffee? Who roasted the beans? Who packaged them? Who designed the packaging? Who brought the beans from Columbia to your local grocery store? Who organized them in the store for you to pick up? Who designed the store for you to go to? Who build that store from the ground up? Who build the roads to get from your home to that store? Who designed the car you drove there? Who built that car? Who designed the traffic lights to make sure you get there safe? Who designed the POS system so you can use your credit card to pay for the coffee? Who designed the credit card? Who designed the coffee machine you used for your coffee ? Who delivered the coffee machine to your door from Amazon? Who packaged it before it got delivered to your door? We can keep going and that’s just for a cup of coffee.
Feeling lonely is a state of mind. It’s not easy, but you have the power to change it, if you want to.
How do you keep yourself from feeling lonely?
We’ll be hosting an intimate conversation about loneliness on Feb 20th, join us here.