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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