Dealing with Loneliness: Hold onto Patience, Not the Past


“Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength.” ~Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

Last night, I discovered the tiniest of creatures in my shower: a minute scorpion, no larger than the average human fingernail.

I could not for the life of me work out how it had ended up here because I live on the third floor of an apartment building in a busy South African city. Nonetheless, there it was—a little fellow in the corner of the tiles, receiving ricocheted water droplets on his tiny little carapace.

My main personal learning theme for this year seems to be patience, and, whether initiated by the universe or by my own hand,  I have set out to embrace it in everything I do.

Starting my first job in January required me to apply patience in many ways: in my interactions with co-workers and clients, in driving in to work every morning in such a bustling city, in waiting for a slot between several adjacent meetings to eat my lunch. Most importantly, it required me to exert patience on myself.

Patience has never really been a strength of mine, especially with regard to relationships.

I was a serial monogamist since I was 17, bridging each ending relationship with a romance that I could immediately start. Even small gaps between these adjacent relationships were filled with several casual physical interactions just to ensure that bridge was securely built.

But somehow, it has been over a year since my last romantic commitment to another human, and I have learned to curb my need for somewhat less committed relationships to a great extent too.

On the second night since the little being’s arrival, I could not find it anywhere. I bent down to examine every crevice, every dimple, every crack. Nowhere.

I was concerned it may have ended up under my duvet, but decided to deal with that concept closer to bedtime.

For now, I could remain blissfully unaware.

I got into the shower and, after a few moments, the scorpion appeared to me mere centimeters from where it was discovered.

I picked it up with an ear bud and it reared its tail and claws at me, before promptly turning and marching straight down the hard plastic rod away from me. I decided it would be best to release him outside, where he would hopefully find a decent meal and undergo less stress.

After a good couple of flicks of the ear bud outside of my window, he let go. I released him to the external world knowing that the large tree ferns below my apartment would cushion his fall.

I suddenly felt sadness wash over me for a reason I could not instantly grapple. It was such a transient little creature and I had so little to do with its life—nor did it have very much to do with mine. So why did it make me pause to feel and think?

It became clear that the metaphor had struck my subconscious mind and was allowing me to work through feelings, those that I had previously not fully embraced, in a safer environment.

The scorpion was akin to many a romantic partner: showing up from seemingly nowhere, planting themselves in the heart of our lives for a moment, and then inevitably vanishing from our existence.

And sometimes, when a romantic partner gets ripped away, we panic in the void left behind, and make hasty decisions to fill it with something or anything at all.

When my last relationship ended, I felt so terribly empty, as if part of me had evaporated alongside him as he walked away from me for the last time. He told me that I was not “the one.” I translated this as him saying that I could not be loved by him because I was innately flawed, beyond being lovable.

So I threw myself into an active social life. I met people while out in bars—people who seemed to see the beauty in me—and established whatever form of connection with them they would allow me to have.

Again and again, all they allowed me was a material connection based on physical need. I was fooled by them wanting to see me again. All they wanted was a repeat of the night we met. All I needed was to be deemed loveable.

When they saw this need in me, they ended their connection without contemplation or care, and I didn’t always see it coming. But I was dragging this behaviour out of them. I was the cause and the effect. I was the sole player in the game. They were not to blame.

Lovers and partners may exit in innumerable ways: they may aggressively march out of your life, they may gently release you, or they may leave you breathless by their abrupt and unjustified departure. They may leave this earth physically altogether. You may do the equivalent to your lovers and partners.

I wandered into three considerable outcomes, and justifications, of patience.

  • Only patience allows us to fully understand why important people in our lives come and go.
  • Only patience allows us to reap the lessons of a past emotional interaction in its entirety.
  • Only patience from the point of solitude onwards will allow us to wander into a truly constructive circumstance with another human being.

To liberate others is to liberate oneself. And vice versa.

I then recognized that I had been holding on to some things (or someones) for a long time. People that I consciously remembered had left my world, but part of whom were still with me.

I held onto their messages, gifts to me, and belongings they had left at my apartment. I held onto the things they said to me out of sheer gratitude and love for me, and replayed these over and over in my head, out loud. I held onto the smiles that I had caused. I held onto the idea that they would come back.

These were not the full, whole, and meaningful parts. These were exoskeletons—something left behind that the person no longer needed when they moved on, but that I held tightly in my grasp to reassure myself that I was not alone.

And in no way will these parts ever be that person. In no way will these elements ever represent the entirety of a being. In fact, they are warped memories that are left by your mind to comfort you and nourish your wounds, but are anything but true.

My last romantic relationship’s end had been the most peaceful departing that I had ever experienced. He had gently released me. But for a while, I was lost—with the shell of him, and (seemingly) as a shell of myself.

The fear of not being complete when solitary can be devastating. You are more inclined to stick with people who abuse and degrade you. You are more likely to pass up opportunities that may lead you to fulfilment in your career and personal life if they don’t allow you to stay with the person you’re bound to.

Your confidence and lust for life diminishes when you are alone, and you may make harmful and self-destructive decisions.

The time I have spent “alone” has been remarkable. I have embraced my deepest fear: loneliness. I have been afforded the opportunity to see my courage, and my scorpion-like perseverance.

Now that I hold onto patience and not the past, I am more free. My confidence has been amplified, my sleep and concentration have improved, my moods have stabilized, pursuing my passions has a daily place in my life, I show more love to the people that matter, and I am a more easy-going person. In an interesting way, this all sets me up to meet the right people as a side effect.

 I encourage you to hold onto patience, and not the past, too.

One of the easiest ways to instantly gain patience is to carry out a kind of on-the-spot meditation. When you are feeling overwhelmed or flustered by guilt, sadness, or regret from your past, stop your thoughts altogether and focus on the tension in your muscles, especially your face, neck and shoulders.

Blink slowly, and let this tension go with a deep breath. You are not your worst mistakes. You are not the person from yesterday, or last month, or the previous year. You are present in this moment as a full human being. You have the ability and freedom to make new choices.

Photo by Raj

About Katie Roller

Katie Roller has a background in environmental science, and has recently started a career in management consulting in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has a passion for corporate sustainability and conservation. Katie spends as much as possible of her spare time outdoors pursuing bird watching, hiking, scuba diving and photography.

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  • Laura

    Thank you for this beautiful article. It is coming on the tail end meltdown of realizing the true end to my memories “exoskeletons” that have falsely “comforted” me from a previous relationship that took my heart and sometimes I think my soul. I hurt, I claw, and I have realized I have been running and trying to fill that awful void called “love lost” for too long. Once again I am rebuilding but I don’t wanna isolate nor do I wanna rebuild with empty relationships that are temporary as you stated. So here is to working on new solutions to the old film reel of questions, emotions and memories. Love & thanks to you my friend!

  • Shane

    Well written and well said. I have come to learn all that you have described over the past year, but wouldn’t have been able to so eloquently describe what it is I learned. Way to go to be able to understand it and communicate so thoroughly.

  • Sarah

    Wow…just…WOW. This hits close to home for so many people and I’ve never read anything that articulates this concept quite like this. Perfection.

  • Miguel

    This is a beautiful article. Thanks. Bless you.

  • Chris

    Just what I needed today. I know of many that can use this article right now, including me. I’ve been experiencing a daily struggle and transition while I work through issues with love addiction and how my past has shaped my current state of mind. Its important for me to examine the past (the why) in order to work on today and the future (the how). While I examine and explore to understand my past, at the same time I’m learning to reteach myself what it means to love myself and others. My view on what relationship should be are unrealistic and have developed because of voids in my past. I have patience for all other things in my life EXCEPT love and relationships, which have caused me to self sabotage each and everyone one of them within the first few months. At 36 I’ve finally surrendered to my patterns and have committed to change them. Continuing to work on having patience with myself and others will aid in my growth and period of transition into a new way of managing my expectations, emotions, balance, needs, wants, and love for myself and others. Your words are a great lesson to add to my daily journey right now. I’m raw with emotion 24/7 while I embrace what is happening in my life right now. I hope this chaos precedes positive change. Thank you for sharing.

  • Dee

    Thank you for sharing this Katie! This was/is the spitting image of me. Coming out of a harsh ending to an 11 year relationship has left such a huge void in my life and much to rebuild in myself. It is a slow process of self-realization and healing but the time will come when I will open up, I will bloom and it will be a beautiful day. Your article gives me comfort and great hope.

  • Katie Roller

    I really love your metaphor of blossoming into a better state. All of these difficult situations, as negative as they seem, push us closer to realising our full potential in a way – the introspection they create is powerful, and we learn so much about ourselves in the process. You may be a ‘bud’ at the moment, but you are still a flower. You have so much beauty ahead of you, but don’t forget the beauty within you right now.

  • Katie Roller

    I am very glad you appreciate it. I appreciate you taking the time to read it, and (hopefully) relate to it. It means so much to me. Best of luck to you, Miguel.

  • Katie Roller

    Thanks Sarah. I’m glad it captures something that others may have had to endure. It seems many of us are vulnerable in similar ways. It’s nice for me to be able to be this honest and have it mean something to another human being! Thanks for your comment.

  • Katie Roller

    I am so grateful that you feel this way. I don’t write often, but when I get an urge to, I pour out all of my emotions/experiences so abruptly and honestly that it pretty much makes sense as a story 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

  • Katie Roller

    Thanks very much, Chris. It feels great to have people relating to me because, as a human being, it’s easy to feel that I am the only one feeling a certain way – especially with something as private and personal as love and intimate relationships. I wish you the best of luck with your journey. I believe that chaotic situations will almost always precede more positive ones – IF you decide to learn the lessons they provide, and embrace your true self more closely, in spite of the struggle.

  • Elizabeth Anne Coughlin

    Just beautiful.

  • Marylou

    Thank you for this wonderful article. Its like you have literally spelt out what I feel so much right into the depths of my heart. Relationships are something that have always left me with an emptiness that cannot be explained. While i am just out of a painful relationship, I know only time will heal & I do hope that I am able to see myself as a stronger person, in the long run.

  • Sarah

    This is one of the most beautiful and helpful articles I’ve ever read. Thank you for pointing out the idea of “exoskeletons” and the false hope and peace they bring. I am not a patient person either but I am learning to just sit with and live with where I am so that I can understand and learn from what has happened to me and then move forward with strength.

  • S

    Why wre you responsible for dragging this behaviour out of them?

  • roseyq

    Katie, you are a writer.

  • sia

    the title of the post itself is awesome… that was what attracted me to this post… everything you have written is so beautiful, the words just fit perfectly… i was feeling cheated when my friends walked away from me, i felt them walk over me and pass away as if i don’t exist… and you are right… what makes it more painful is that we cling onto our memories of friendship/ relationship which is just an exoskeleton…. wonderful post..i might come back and read again and again..
    p.s: just like someone else wrote in comments, i see a writer..

  • Madison

    Thanks so much! I just went through my first breakup and it really shocked me (obviously, since I’d never experienced anything like it before). I was scared when he left that I wouldn’t feel full again, like a part of me was missing– the first time I really felt a poignant sense of emptiness. He was with me during a very hard time in my life, so I felt reliant on him for too many things. Needless to say, there was a bit of separation anxiety involved. It was terribly lonely. Over the months it’s dulled and passed, but the ghost of it still lingers around every now and again… This really offered me a new perspective. Especially when it comes to letting go of the things that we hold onto to give ourselves a false sense of comfort. I really related to the fear of being alone. We broke up at the toughest time I’ve gone through yet, and I was still able to persevere and be strong through it without him. It strengthened the belief I have in myself. So thank God we broke up! With every sorrow comes a blessing. Namaste. 🙂

  • Katherine

    I felt very moved after reading this post by you, Katie. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Rezianne

    I can definitely relate to this one. All of what was written reverberated through my thought processes and I couldn’t agree more. More often than not, relationships are built out of fear- of abandonment, aloneness, and loneliness. No one wants to be alone, hence humans cling to each other. It also comes from a place of insecurity and unhappiness with oneself. I’m admit that I am guilty of all these things… However it is true when they say that time and patience are key to dig deeper to your sense of self. I always felt anxious when people leave me, asking myself “what do I do now?” What I’ve learned is that instead of spending my energy to something I cannot change, I always try to figure out what to do to invest in myself even more. In times like that, you really can’t cling to anyone, much less point your fingers to them as to why you are not content. All you really have is yourself.

  • Amy

    I really enjoyed reading this article. Thank you.

  • Sophia

    I really needed to read this. After many years of being treated like a doormat, I am finally realizing that I deserve better than people’s emotional scraps.

  • Paolo

    Thank you for this
    Your words have helped me regain perspective
    After all, perspective is key
    Thank you so very much

  • Steve

    I’m struggling so much with this. I feel like my losses were so drastic and sudden. My twin died a few months ago before our 21st birthday and my 3 closest friends left the following weeks after. One slipped into a random psychosis, one just stopped taking to be, and one is so busy with his new job that I rarely see him.

    I try to accept it, but I constantly reminded about how lonely I am, and it hurts so very much. How can get to the point of acceptance?

  • Rachael

    Thank you for sharing your story, I am at a point in my life where I don’t know where i am going. I use to be the girl who was known for being in and out of relationships. I appreciate what you wrote, it hit home and made me cry! God bless xx