A lonely woman. Aren’t these powerful, dare I say, almost ugly words? Conjuring up someone pathetic, perhaps? Someone you probably don’t want to know?
I’m writing this piece because of all the recent press about how loneliness is now considered not only dangerous for your health but even a fatal condition. Loneliness, it seems, has become a matter of life and death.
British Prime Minister Teresa May appointed a Minister of Loneliness because of the magnitude of loneliness in the U.K. Sixty and Me features articles and videos on loneliness and how to meet people.
Who’s Lonely Now?
If you were to meet me, you’d never think I could be lonely. But I am. You’d think I’m a vibrant, fun loving woman, brimming with energy and panache. I’m not sad sack lonely, I’m deeply lonely.
I’m not depressed enough to stop caring for myself, be a hermit, dress in drab clothes and stop caring kind of lonely. I’m fashionably dressed and coiffed, makeup artfully applied lonely.
That’s why loneliness is so insidious. It’s a silent killer. Women who suffer from loneliness die a little each day, unseen.
It’s embarrassing to admit I’m lonely. First, it seems ‘silly’ when there are ‘real’ problems in the world, like hunger, disease, political unrest ravaging millions of lives.
Second, admitting to loneliness is like I’m announcing that I’m the unpopular girl in school. I use girl instead of woman, because being lonely brings out the girl in me.
Loneliness Breeds Depression
Loneliness is more than just about feeling lonely – it breeds depression. And that’s a tough thing to crack.
Another unfortunate issue about loneliness is we blame the victim. We think loneliness is the lonely woman’s fault. And so, we pepper the lonely with advice: you should go for a walk, go to the library, join an adult education class, go to a meetup group, do volunteer work.
And it’s true, the ‘cure’ for loneliness is not dependent on other people springing into action. No, it requires you, the lonely person, to spring into action.
But know this: just being an active person doesn’t mean you’ve conquered loneliness. I am very busy all day, and still am lonely, whether I’m out in the world or home alone.
I Never Thought I Would Be So Lonely
Even I’m surprised that my life has reached such lonely proportions. It has largely to do with time and circumstances of life in our modern world. I grew up in a loving family and had a small town, active childhood filled with connection.
As an adult, I adored the full, energetic family years of raising my children and being active in my community. Then came a divorce. The children grew and flew. Parents die. People move. Career ends.
Loneliness is so much more complicated than people care to consider. For instance, I’m not shy, but rather outgoing in my own way. I find it easy and pleasurable to chat with strangers if I’m in a waiting room or in the supermarket standing at the deli counter.
But living alone has begun to make me feel very vulnerable in the many ways that have been written about: being sick, traveling, cooking alone, having no one to pick you up from the hospital, navigating holidays. It all adds up. You know what I’m talking about.
Loneliness has many different faces and styles. It’s not what you’d necessarily expect it to be, or look like.
I’m an introvert, meaning, I get my energy from time spent alone. I’m also a writer (check out my book!) and writing doesn’t happen at events, activities and parties. Writing happens sitting alone in a room for hours, every day. So, the essence of my life is solitary and requires hours of solitude.
I’m not a social butterfly like some people I know who go to most every event they can, but I do have meaningful and deep relationships with wonderful friends, mostly women. My soul tribe, however, doesn’t live in my city.
Because of work and love, my tribe lives around the world – in Vancouver, Vietnam, Berlin, Kolkata, London and France. I have acquaintances where I live, but when you are an expat, as I am, you often befriend people you wouldn’t necessarily want to know simply because they’re from back home.
I thrive on meaningful conversation, not cocktail party chatter. I’m not often invited to coupled dinner parties in the socially conservative part of Mexico where I live. Hard to believe in 2018, but I’m viewed as a threat – imagine, me, a threat? – and my presence upsets the balance at the table.
I’d like to think that in a cosmopolitan city this would not be the case. I feel like a decades older Bridget Jones, spirited and trying hard. Then there’s our ‘lovely’ patriarchal society where a single older woman is not at all in demand or valued, much less desired.
Coming Out of the Loneliness Closet
Admitting and accepting that I’m lonely makes it less scary somehow. As a result, whilst existential loneliness is not so easily banished, I have noticed a subtle shift in me. I’ve started making more of an effort to get out and connect with people.
I’m not a complainer. Life’s too short to complain. I’ve got a lot of living to do. So I’ll powder my nose, put on my lipstick and get out there. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Do you ever feel lonely? What positive things do you do when you feel like you need more social contact? Please share your thoughts below!