Friday, 6 July 2012


If there is one thing that ex-Singles are going to forget, it's how deeply lonely the Single life can be. People tend to forget the icky stuff of their youth and remember only the good stuff. That's one explanation for why adults tell teenagers their high school years are the best years of their lives. (What nonsense. Spots, angst and curfews. Hello?)

So when the other day a Single friend told me how lonely she or he felt at night, I had to jog my memory and say, "Oh yeah. I was incredibly lonely when I was Single."

I really was. I hated how, after work, my workmates would walk in one direction, and I would walk in the other to my empty little apartment. Urgh. When I went back to school, I moved in with my parents, and I made a gazillion friends, and I had so much work to do, I didn't feel lonely, although a bit panicked about "What if I never get married?" That gave me a three year respite though the summers were really tough.

But then I went down to the USA to do a PhD and the loneliness just about killed me. I could keep it at bay by hanging out with my one (1)local girlfriend or with my very-soon-to-be-ex boyfriend and for two hours at Sunday Mass and Coffee Hour, but that was it. It didn't help that everyone in my program seemed to think I was a scary right-wing conservative when I thought I was a very nice center-left kind of gal.

There's no lonely so lonely as being lonely in a crowd, as they say. Wait--I take that back. There is a worse one, and it is when you are in a terrible marriage in which you can't tell your husband what you think and feel and believe because then he will shout at you. Even ordinary statements can trigger disappointment. You say, "I'm off to see my friend" and he says, "Your friends are all degenerates or religious maniacs."

Yep. The biggest loneliness is being married to a guy who is quietly, possibly unconsciously, trying to alienate you from your family, all your friends and you yourself.

But if you are Single, that is not your problem, so thank God for that and let's get down to how to deal with ordinary Single person loneliness.

First, most Single people feel lonely sometime. If you think your other Single friends have got it all together and are living blissfully 24/7, you are wrong. They aren't. Possibly a lot of married people feel lonely from time to time too, although to be honest, I don't if there are other women around and if B.A. is only a mobile text away. I'm not going to lie: a happy marriage is a great cure for loneliness.

Second, being part of a great community is tremendously helpful. If you are Single it is so important that you really enjoy your workplace or your school because that is where most of your social interactions are happening. Church, in my experience, is not enough. It might be enough for married people, but I don't think it is for most Single people.

Third, this makes me sound like my grandmother, but keeping busy is important, too. And by busy I don't mean working around the clock, but doing things you really enjoy, or taking on challenges that absorb your mind and/or truly leave you tired at night. The best way to approach an empty bed is half-asleep and with gratitude. "Oh, thank God for my empty bed because I really need some sl...zzzz...."

Fourth, without turning into a princess about it, you owe it to yourself to treat yourself really well. Nobody else is making sure you have a beautiful bedroom and clean sheets and the occasional breakfast in bed and a nice DVD to watch on a rainy day and a beautiful silk kimono to watch it in, so you had better be doing it.

Fifth, do not assuage your loneliness with food or you will regret it. When I was 27, employed and lonely, I worked out at the gym and ate only 1500-1800 calories a day. But when I was 36, studying and lonely, I could no longer afford a gym and developed a Ben and Jerry's habit. To this day I have not gotten back into a gym habit or shifted the weight I got from Ben and Jerry. Thanks so much, Ben and Jerry.

Sixth, there are spiritual benefits to just sitting on your bed letting loneliness wash over you and crying your eyes out. I am not actually sure what they are, but my shrink and various priests have told me that such spiritual benefits exist, so go for it. Sit with the pain and have a chat with it and cry. Only then turn on the TV or reach for the phone or check Facebook.

Seventh, don't sneer at Facebook as shallow. It's okay if you don't want to be on Facebook at all--you may have very legitimate concerns about privacy--but if you are on Facebook, don't dismiss Facebook interactions as shallow. They are a great way to keep in touch with friends of auld lang syne or friends who now live far from you.

Feel free to add your own tips in the combox for keeping loneliness at bay.


Catherine said...

For me it's prayer and receiving Jesus daily in the Eucharist. Sometimes no one else is there for me, but God always is and I couldn't survive without Him.

leonine said...

Adopt a pet. A dog is great, because it forces you to exercise, but a cat is lower maintenance. I find that having something living depending on me for its care is really good for me. I have a cat who runs to greet me when I come home, who snuggles up next to me when I sit on the sofa, who listens to me talk to him, and who helpfully sits on the corner of my desk when I'm working. I am much less lonely than I was.

(Also, I should say as a first-time cat owner, that I went to my local shelter, said "I have never had cats and I want one who's very friendly and NEVER has an accident outside the box." They knew the cats well enough that they could tell me a certain grey one was exactly what I was looking for, and so he was.)

Jo said...

You are so spot-on about Facebook. I sometimes recoil at how often I use it, but quite honestly, I would have lost touch with so many of my dear friends from college (both married and single, although the married ones are more difficult), old workplaces, and towns I've lived in by now if I had forsaken it.

One of the supreme joys of my life is writing letters, but alas, very few people are capable of sustaining a postal habit these days, which breaks my heart sometimes. But even if we don't know it, letters have remarkable sustaining power to those we send them, which is why I continue to write to so many old acquaintances (especially the single ones!) even though I know it might be months before a reply by post, phone, or until we run into each other at a wedding.

I do also wish more young men would write letters, or at least understand how to appropriately reply to them. Because sending snail mail, is, well, more abnormal these days, many young people of both sexes seem to have no clue how to respond (I reference also the recent discussion about texting).

Morgan said...

Going along with what Jo said -- correspondence of any kind is a great salve. I wish I wrote more letters, but I also treasure email correspondences -- including the kind that are spaced perhaps as infrequently as snail mail but that you craft carefully and reread with happiness the same way you could a letter.

Jam said...

Hooray for point seven. I go back and forth on Facebook over privacy issues, but I dislike whining/moralizing over it being shallow. I find it tends to hinge on a very high school obsession with "who your REAL friends are" -- REAL being defined by bringing you ice cream when you're sad or some such thing. Among other benefits, it's through Facebook that I've often discovered that someone I knew distantly in high school or college actually turns out to have similar religious/political/cultural interests to me as I am today. Sure, these aren't the friends I unburden my soul to, but I only have so much soul-unburdening that needs doing in my life, and I'm much happier to have discovered someone who can share wisecracks on an article about Tallis played on kazoos or something equally high-minded. I discovered this blog through one of these Facebook friends. QED.

My moments of great loneliness tend to shade over into "and look at this horrible apartment! I'll never have a home of my own" etc. This is easier to bust out of because it can be directly tackled through (1) taking whatever's currently lounging around in boxes and putting it away/rearranging it in a more permanent "behold I live here" fashion (2) making that enormous family-friendly casserole recipe that sounds so good, leftovers be damned - and/or (3) deciding that you WILL have that Girls' Night or tea party, picking a date, planning the menu, and sending an invite to every female acquaintance you have in the area.

Sometimes when I'm lonely I sit down with my planner, my credit card, and my laptop, and I order concert and theatre tickets. Just one per performance; none of this pressure about finding someone to take the other ticket. But there's something about the sheer fact of having things scheduled -- "sorry, I'm busy that night" -- that makes me feel better. Not to mention the feeling that one is actually participating in Culture, seeing/hearing the things one is excited to see/hear, supporting the artists one likes, etc.

Anne said...

I'm with Jo on Facebook. I live in an area where there is plenty of community...if you're a retiree, that is (and let's not even get started on the dating drought. Four years and counting since I had a date at all...). There is no young adult Catholic presence in my town and that makes it especially challanging to find Catholic support. Facebook is wonderful in that regard, because it enables me to keep in touch with many faithful friends who I might have lost touch with otherwise.

In terms of #4, I am challenged with keeping my home neater. Because I don't have community, no one ever comes over to my place, so sometimes I get into the "why bother?" funk. But it's true that a prettier, more inviting environment does loads to improve my mood.

Phone calls to girlfriends are also a huge help. And I agree that sometimes just sitting down for a good cry does wonders, because at a certain point, I always realize that I need to snap out of it and go do something.

The my best friend's husband also recently came up with the brilliant idea to hold a weekly Skype-based Bible study. It enables several of us who are busy young adults (married or not) to spend an hour in fellowship studying the next Sunday's Mass readings and being fed spiritually, even though we're scattered around the country.

Urszula said...

As an introvert who is for the first time working in a cubicle, struggling with roommate/apartment issues in the US metro area with the highest-priced real estate on a non-profit salary, and recently over a very, very toxic relationship, I can only say privacy, quiet, and yes solitude is something I desperately crave. Maybe a good mindset to cultivate is "I'm alone in this apartment, but at least I have an apartment to be alone in"... I think I would definitely adopt that were I actually to find something within my price range.

In my less logistically-complicated days, I would just force myself to go out of the house whenever I would feel a bout of loneliness coming on. Movies, the park, the library, church. Preferably somewhere far away, where you have to walk on foot, so as to tire yourself out physically.

I love the idea of sending old-fashioned letters - I try to send cards to lonely aunts, piano teachers from high school days. Nothing like making someone's day a little brighter to help you feel good about yourself as well.

Jessica said...

It was interesting to me that on the same day I read Seraphic's article about single loneliness, another Catholic blogger wrote about married loneliness, kind of:
The article and the comments are about how young brides felt when leaving their family home for the first time. I know that moving to your own apartment is different from going to the home that you and your husband share (well, actually I don't know that, because I've never done the second one...but I can assume it's different!), but it was a nice reminder that married life does not mean the end of missing home/family/old friends/familiar social routine.

n.panchancha said...

I've had plenty of periods of singleton loneliness, and it completely sucks, but I think the worst loneliness I've ever felt was while doing field work in California with two other women. We lived in a minivan together for two months, and one of them was consistently really, really stressed out. This made her really angry and abusive most of the time, which then made my other van-mate very defensive and angry herself. So it was essentially two months of hostility and NEVER getting away from people, not to mention that (since we were all tied to the van and working every day) I couldn't attend mass. Arrgh! I remember there were times when I literally thought I was going to die somehow before this all ended; it honestly felt that horrible and hopeless, and I had nobody to talk to.

In the midst of that, writing postcards PRETTY MUCH DAILY to my friends back in Canada was a major solace. (We didn't have wireless in the van - no kidding, eh? - and we were all sharing one pay-as-you-go cell phone, so snail mail was pretty much the only way to stay in touch with people.) Even though nobody could write back, it felt really good to think about my friends and what stories they might enjoy. It made me feel connected to people who cared about me. The whole situation also drove me deeper into prayer, which was great, and helped me prioritize "possibility of mass attendance" over any other interesting job aspects in the future. So in that sense, a lot of blessing came out of it. But in retrospect I think I ought to have bought my own cell phone, at the very least.

Having even ONE dear friend whom you can talk to in a lonesome situation is such a relief - although you can never have them 24/7, and that makes for some lonely nights. But as people have said, it is a wonderful (horrible, but wonderful) opportunity to be poor before God. I suspect that even marriage isn't a perfect cure for loneliness, in this sense. In the end we're probably all longing for heaven.