Having spent these past three years living alone, I have come to terms with the difference between being alone and being lonely. Although they can be related, they are not the same. While we are unable to control or change the factors that led to us being alone, we don’t have to choose feeling lonely when people are not around. This is an important distinction to make if you want to live a fulfilling life even when you find yourself alone. Being alone is a physical condition while feeling lonely is an emotional reaction.
This difference is illustrated by how the two terms are defined. The dictionary says that alone is,
“With no one or anything else; not involving or including anyone or anything else; separate from other people or things; without people you know or that usually accompany you
It defines lonely as;
“Feeling unhappy because of being separated from other people; sad because one has no friends or company.”
Alone versus lonely
Although being alone may have resulted from choices and/or unexpected events, there is little you can do about it, for you cannot force others to be with you. For instance, you may be alone because you lost a partner or spouse, or because your youngest child moved out of the house. You can feel isolated when you first move to a different city or start a new career.
Lonely is a choice to be miserable. It is the decision to see the glass as half empty. It is a choice to live as a victim of your circumstances. Our culture can enable us to adopt these feelings because it labels those who are alone as isolated, lonesome, friendless, rejected, unloved, unwanted and outcast, forsaken, abandoned or lacking someone to turn to for help.
My Self Pity Party
In my latest book, Catch and Release: One Man’s Improbable Search for True Love and the Meaning of Life (available on Amazon, Kindle or through my website) I write about how I chose to feel sorry for myself right after my divorce.
This was comfortable for a while until I realized that my choice to stay sad and lonely was draining me of the energy needed to step out there and rejoin the world. I had reached a critical fork on my life’s path and I was being confronted with a choice; continue on the road of the helpless victim or follow the path of the courageous adventurer.
I did not want to do this at first. I felt justified in my position that I had been betrayed and victimized by the people I trusted and loved. I could argue, even today, that my conclusion of betrayal has a lot of merit, but thinking of myself the victim was a waste of time and effort. The fact remained that I still had to deal with being alone, unwittingly retired and relocated to a place where I knew no one and vice versa. Acting the victim was only going to make that adjustment harder.
Progress finally came when I recognized that sulking and self-pity had only isolated me further. I had to reengage in life or be mired in defeatism for years to come. I chose life.
Selecting the more constructive path allowed me to make a simple but important discovery, with all the traditions and roles of my old life gone, I was free to follow my heart’s desires. Like the phoenix, the long-lived bird in Greek Mythology, I could create a new life from the ashes of my old one.
Create a life where you feel loved and supported
You too can do this, but you must make changes. A new life will not come around the corner and bite you in the ass, you will have to do some work. The best way to overcome loneliness is by connecting with others. Here are some of the things that helped me.
1) Get out and make new friends.
The best place to start is to follow your own interests. For example, I enjoy playing tennis and working out, so I joined a tennis club and a gym. There are other ways. Join a church, take dancing or cooking lessons, etc.
2) Become the friend to others like the ones you want to have.
It was good to find social activities to engage in, but that was not enough. I also had to change the way I viewed relationships. This would not be easy, for over the years I had lost my ability to make friends. I had allowed all my external relationships to become transactional. In my new place, not only had I little to offer in terms of business value, but I didn’t want those kinds of friendships anymore. I wanted close friends, people who would be there for me come rain or shine. Friends that were accepting and proud of the person I had become. I wanted to be a part of a network of people whose love for me was certain.
The best way to learn about people is to not talk about yourself more than necessary. This meant I had to become more open and less distrustful of people and reach out to them with genuine interest and concern. I also had to present my true self and not the exaggerated caricature I had shown to others in the past. As I got to know new people, I treated them as if they were the world’s most interesting individuals and showed them the qualities I wanted from good friends. Good friends materialized as a result.
3) Say yes to all invitations
New connections will not show up at your front door. I had to stop sulking about what might have been, get off my butt and venture out into the world. The best way to rise when feelings of loneliness knock you down is to say yes to all possibilities.
Reluctant at first, I managed to say yes to all invitations that came my way, even when that meant playing canasta in the middle of the day. To my unexpected delight, my effort soon opened the door to meeting Steve, who has become one of the best friends I have ever had. Saying yes has allowed me to meet many other great people. I have developed some new interests as well.
4) Start new activities or reconnect with old habits that involve other people.
One of the best times to start a new hobby or recommit to an old one is when you are alone. Tennis and weightlifting were my main activities, but I also joined a group that went paddle boarding and free diving, both are water activities I had never done before. I must admit, I am never thrilled to see sharks near me in the water, but even overcoming that fear has become an exciting thing to learn.
There are many other activities you can do, like joining a running or biking group, take a night class, join a board or organize a book club. I prefer exercise related activities because they will fill you with endorphins which will gift you with positive feelings about yourself.
5) Develop a spiritual practice.
Combating loneliness takes mind, spirit and body. Exercise, diet and cultural activities are all great, but you also need to feed and refresh your spirit. This is especially true if a life transition is battering you. I took up meditation and joined a group of meditators. This has been great for me and has filled my life with patience and serenity. There are myriad forms of meditation and contemplation you can learn. If you are more traditional, join a church. If that is too much, take a yoga class.
Sometimes I feel down and need inspiration. Reading stories about people who overcame great odds or lived through great adventures is always helpful. I also get a lot from books of great masters like Wayne Dyer, Gary Zukav and Deepak Chopra. The effects of reading are not at all like the stupor you get from binge watching television. Reading is a much more personal experience. This was best said by Francesco Petrarca, commonly anglicized as Petrarch, who was a scholar and poet of the Renaissance and one of the earliest humanists,
“Books give delight to the very marrow of one’s bones. They speak to us, consult with us and join with us in a living and intense intimacy.”
When you are alone, you can choose from two paths, the trail of the victim or the way of the explorer. It is up to you. Choose the latter, and you will create a new life that is far better than languishing about the loss of your old one.
If you are ready to trade in your humdrum life for one of meaning and purpose, subscribe to my free weekly newsletter on my website and receive motivation and encouragement to help you on your way. Share it to help family and friends.
Going through a difficult life transition?
You might enjoy reading Guillermo Vidal’s latest memoir, Catch and Release: One Man’s Improbable Search for True Love and the Meaning of Life. Download a PDF of the first 5 chapters of Catch and Release free. To order your inscribed copy in either hardcover or paperback, click here (https://guillermovidal.me/shop/). Catch and Release is also available on Kindle here (https://www.amazon.com/Catch-Release-Improbable-Search-Meaning-ebook/dp/B07F26N1HS/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1535494644&sr=1-2). Happy reading!