There’s no shame in being lonely.
That’s what friendship expert (and friend!) Shasta Nelson, founder of GirlfriendCircles, said to a group of women at the launch of her second book, Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness.
And yet, the word “lonely” itself is scary. Even those who love and treasure their solitude (um, me) don’t like the word lonely, and certainly won’t cop to it. Why? Because of the horrible picture it paints. No matter who or where you are.
If you’re married and lonely, well, something must be ‘wrong’ with the marriage or with your partner, and you’re not having your needs met;
If you’re dating and lonely? You haven’t met the right person or are wasting time with someone(s) who can’t fulfill you.
If you’re single and lonely, well, it’s your fault. You worked too hard and didn’t put enough stock in finding your perfect match. (If you own a cat? Forget it.)
There’s the rub: If I admit I’m lonely, then I have to admit that something’s wrong with my life, or me. And that I may in fact be doomed to a life of it. And so we do everything we can to point away from loneliness: “I can’t possibly be lonely! Look! I’m up to my ears in work! I have been out every night! I have friends up the wazoo!”
Most of us don’t say we’re lonely because of what it would imply: That we’ve done something wrong or that our lives and its brimming obligations and people aren’t cutting it. That it’s all a sham. And that’s scarier, perhaps, than loneliness itself.
And yet, it’s not true.
Loneliness is a symptom, not a disease
Shasta said this, and it is brilliant: Do you have a problem admitting when you’re hungry?
Of course not! If I’m hungry, I say, Gee, time for food. Let’s see what I have here in the fridge. Nothing? Out I go. (This is a very common occurrence.)
The urge to connect with people, to be heard and seen and known, is as normal and regular as basic hunger.
If you cannot admit that you’re hungry, you’re going to have a very big problem, very soon. And plenty of people DO struggle with hunger and what it means. And they suffer dearly because of it. They need medical help. But most of us answer the call and put food in our gullets.
However. If we cannot admit to bouts of loneliness, be they a blue moment or a soul-shaking cry, we have a real problem. And Shasta says that it’s this inability to look our loneliness in the eye and accept it for what it is, a basic human hunger, we cannot and will not be able to address it.
And therein lies the problem.
Yes, I have a full, busy life full of friends I can call, a close relationship with family. I go on dates and get invited to events and have my share of professional and personal attention.
And yet, sometimes I feel lonely.
While I put a premium on alone time, sometimes I feel that tug, that wanting to be known, seen, touched on the shoulder. Someone who says, “Come and meet me. I need to see you.”
We all need this, and as with real hunger, there is no end to it. Not in this life. And that’s ok! You’re not doomed to a life of loneliness. Anymore than you’re doomed to a life of hunger just because you missed lunch.
(I’ll add that women are terrified of coming off as “needy,” and are told it’s a bad thing to need, so many of us put feelings and need on lock-down, which has just as damaging effect. “Neediness” is a drowning person who will take you down with them, and no it isn’t healthy. But need is different. Dismiss need and you will also ward off connection.)
When loneliness shows up, as it has, does, and will, take note. Don’t create a narrative around it (unless you find it useful for your novel or opera, sure.) Instead, say simply, Huh. Guess it’s time to feed my hungry little soul.
Then: You reach out, give attention, show some love. Call and text and email folks. Invite someone out. Show up to something. Raise a flag. Let people know you’re there and interested in what’s going on with them.
You don’t need to post on FB that you’re lonely. Do you do that when you’re hungry? No. You simply go find something that nourishes you. And the beauty of the transaction is that when you give what you need most, you have plenty to go around.
Take Shasta’s quiz to find out if your friendships could use a little more love.