“Relationships are like glass. Sometimes it’s better to leave them broken than hurt yourself trying to put it back together.” ~Unknown
I am at a phase in my life right now where I’m struggling with loneliness.
Most of the time, I feel a deep sense of disconnection from the world around me and the people I share it with.
The mere fact that I am writing this in the small hours of the morning, deafened by the ear-splitting silence of an empty flat, unable to sleep, simply emphasizes this point to me even harder.
The empty flat in question is mine. And the situation in which I find myself was not part of the plan that I had envisioned for my life at this moment in time.
Everything that was once familiar has now changed.
It was during the end of summer of last year that I split up with my long-term boyfriend. We had begun our six-year relationship stepping out into the big wide world, side by side, doing the grown-up thing of getting our first place together.
It was new and exciting. The future looked promising. And to be fair, it did work, on and off, for a respectable number of years.
However, fast forward past the cluster of good times and the occasional happy holiday, and I found myself having to face up to the heartbreak of a damaged relationship. In particular, the daunting prospect of sharing my future with another human being who, in essence, I just did not feel a connection with anymore.
I could choose to spend my days feeling alone, on the surface still part of the relationship, but deep down feeling emotionally detached and distanced from him.
I could patiently wait for the days where I felt an element of hope—the momentary optimism that everything would turn work out okay for us in the end. I could even reason with myself that this is only a rough patch in our relationship, just a little blip in the overall bigger picture.
Or I could face up to the truth and accept the glaringly obvious: it was over, unfixable, and time to move on.
For months my thoughts were in constant battle. The laborious task of trying to make things work seemed like it was set up to be life-long endeavor. Neither of us had the enthusiasm anymore. It seemed we had simply lost the passion.
In the end, we knew what was coming. It was time to call it a day, move on, and go our separate ways.
Here is what I’ve learned about dealing with loneliness:
Feel your emotions.
When you strip away a big part of your life, you feel exposed, empty, and vulnerable.
During the time after my breakup, I experienced deep feelings of unshakable loneliness. And I still suffer with these feelings from time to time.
However, I have learned that masking those uncomfortable feelings (my escapism being alcohol and meaningless dates) only leaves the pain unattended for a while longer.
I started to understand that I needed to accept my loneliness as a true emotion. It would not just softly fade away, no matter how hard I tried to numb my feelings or look for distractions.
As you experience your emotions, you start to feel lighter. Give them the time and space they need to be fully expressed. Write down your thoughts. Talk about them with someone. Acknowledge that they do exist and that what you are feeling is very real to you.
Trust that the pain does eventually lose its intensity, making room for you to experience a sense of calmness and clarity amidst the difficulties.
Listen to your own advice.
I have indulged in my fair share of self-help books over the years, ranging from detailed accounts on depression, self-esteem issues, and more recently, tips and tricks on beating loneliness.
These stories may offer a few moments of fleeting comfort as you flick through the pages. But they are not able to take the sting out of the raw emotions that you experience first-hand, such as during those times when you are sitting alone, feeling fed up and isolated from the world around you.
Therefore, I have learned to take only the advice that works best for my own mind, body, and spirit, and leave the rest for someone else.
Maybe you are someone like me who prefers to stay at home, enjoying a book, watching a film, or having a bath rather than getting “out there,” meeting people, and forging new relationships.
Sometimes you just need to give yourself a break, making space during those times when you need to rest and restore. Go at your own pace. Understand that you are your own best teacher. And only you will know when it feels right to take the brave step out of your comfort zone into the unknown.
Realize there is nothing to fix.
We know the world is a busy place, crammed full of busy people with busy lives. But that doesn’t mean we need to rush around trying to mend everything that is seemingly wrong with us all of the time.
While learning to stay with uneasy emotions, I realized that I didn’t need to find a speedy resolution for the difficult feelings. It’s okay to feel lonely; it’s just one of our many human emotions.
In fact, it was a relief. There was no need to force myself to search in all the wrong places for the solution anymore. I am certainly not the only single person in the world. Why did I feel that I needed to fix this aspect of my life so soon? It wasn’t even broken.
Try and enjoy the freedom that comes from being detached. Appreciate the opportunity to gain introspection on yourself. You may even discover new interests or familiarize yourself with old forgotten hobbies now that your life has shifted focus.
Accept how it is.
Accepting that there is nothing wrong with how I am feeling gave me the grace to relax. There is no problem right now; therefore, there is nothing I urgently need to attend to.
I know that eventually life will change again; it always does.
How I am feeling now may not be a true reflection on how I feel in a few weeks, months, or years’ time. And I trust that I will stumble across whatever it is I am looking for at some point again in the future.
Right now, though, I am experiencing my life as it is, complete with its bundle of thought-provoking emotions that come as part of the package.
I have learned to accept that this is just another passing chapter in my story, purposely placed here to keep life interesting and meaningful.
It may not be a highlight, but it is still part of my life. And I can live with that.