“Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it’s dark.” ~Zen Proverb
After my ex-girlfriend and I broke up several years ago, I never felt more alone in my life. I hung up the phone with tears streaming down my face as I stepped into my new reality.
I only had one friend in the world, who happened to live fairly far away, so most of my newfound singlehood was spent alone.
It was difficult for the first few weeks due to all the painful emotions that usually come with a breakup, but after a while the pain went away.
Usually I could keep a positive attitude and project the appearance was all okay, but truth be told, I was a very lonely person back then.
Sometimes, a coworker or some acquaintance would ask if I was seeing anyone to make conversation. I told them that I was taking a break from dating for a while to heal from the breakup.
However, I really had no idea how to meet people. After being in a relationship for seven years and losing touch with a lot of friends, my social skills were pretty much nonexistent. I wanted to meet people, make new friends, and date, but I really thought I was just incapable of doing it.
At one point the loneliness just overwhelmed me. I was walking down a street one night. As I was passing by a busy restaurant, I looked in the window and saw so many people at quiet, intimate tables sharing smiles and conversations over candle light.
Suddenly I just couldn’t take it any longer. My mind became flooded with all of these thoughts like “Why is it never me in there with someone else?” or “Why am I always alone? Is there something wrong with me?”
Before I know it, I was crying right there, while walking down the street.
It all just seemed so futile. What was the point of living if I didn’t have anyone to share my life with?
That’s not my proudest moment, and back then, I’d probably be ashamed to share that with you. That was likely one of my lowest moments in my life, at least when it comes to loneliness.
However, I’m hoping that I can share some positive advice that I’ve learned since then that has helped me—and may just help you too.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you feel lonely in your life:
First: Remember that feeling separate from others is the direct result of focusing on how others are different from us.
When you look for differences, you will find them. When you look for similarities, you will find them as well. There’s nothing wrong with doing either; however, each has their own set of consequences.
When we spend your time focusing on the differences, we begin to have thoughts about how “It’s different for him because he’s a man,” “She wouldn’t understand because she’s rich,” “He has kids so he wouldn’t have time,” or “She’s so attractive, she would never ‘get’ my situation.”
We start to place others into all sorts of categories.
Most of these categories include all the things that make them different from us. If this sort of thinking continues, eventually, we will find ourselves standing alone against the entire world—us versus everyone else.
There are indeed different circumstances and situations that we all have to deal with; however, it is also just as easy to see that underneath all the differences we may have, we all share a common human experience. We all feel the emotions of pain, love, loneliness, fear, loss, sadness, and joy.
When you start to understand that the human experience we share gives us more in common than the different circumstances we may be in, we can start to feel a lot closer to other people. This is the way to begin to mend feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Second: Become curious about others and you will never be at a loss for words or feel unable to connect with them again.
Have you ever memorized a bunch of “conversation starters” to keep things flowing just in case a conversation hits a dead end?
“So, do you like cats or dogs better?” “If you could be any ice cream flavor, which one would you be?” or “Did you hear that they want to charge a toll on the freeway now?” often come to mind.
Sure, they might keep the conversation going, and they can work well, if your goal is to avoid anything resembling an awkward silence.
But silence only has to be awkward if you let it.
The secret to connecting with someone else and feeling a sense of bonding isn’t to simply fill up time up with idle words and pointless conversation topics. Connection is achieved through shared experiences or empathizing with others.
Instead, allow your curiosity to naturally steer the conversation. Ask a simple question. If you’re paying attention (instead of worrying what you’ll say next), you’ll notice that there are many conversation topics embedded in a simple answer or comment that can keep you talking for hours and result in a much deeper connection.
Third: Be brave and put a bit of yourself out there.
If you’re hungry for a deeper connection with others, don’t be too reluctant about taking the lead in the situation and putting a little bit of yourself out there to steer the conversation in a deeper direction.
Talking about the weather or your 401k can get old after awhile, but if you change the direction and start talking about how the weather makes you feel or what you’d like to do with your retirement savings after you retire, then that can make for a much more personal and interesting conversion.
Essentially, what you’re doing is you’re welcoming other people to get more personal and share more of their feelings and experiences too.
That’s really at the root of building a connection with someone else—getting to know them as more than just a collection of surface level facts. Once you start to learn more about their feelings and opinions on things, you can start to develop a real bond.
It may seem vulnerable to put yourself out there, and it is! It can be difficult at times to share parts of yourself with others, but that’s how others will really get to know you.
Loneliness can be something difficult to deal with, and it is a sad fact that so many people suffer from a lack of close friendships and connections, despite the fact that many of us live in or near major cities.
If you ever feel lonely, don’t be afraid to try and strengthen a weak friendship or build a new one. There are people everywhere and I truly believe that all of us are worth getting to know.
Photo by Kara Allyson