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Being Single: How to Handle Loneliness

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There are many things to love and enjoy about being single. Being single, as I have said before, is not a bad thing. However, as with anything, being single is not always fun or easy.

There are cultural and societal pressures/judgments/beliefs associated with being single that often weigh heavily on single people. In our culture there is a very real pressure, whether spoken or not, to be married; an expectation that at a certain point in life, people should want to be married. However, it is not always the external pressure or presumptions that are the hardest for single people to bear or the most dangerous. Often, the toughest challenges and most significant pressures of being single come from within.

Many of us internalize the external pressures and expectations around us -- we adopt or over-identify with the issues of other people and society. We aim to please or meet the expectations of others rather than focus on our own expectations and desires. If enough people ask, "What is wrong with you?" because you aren't married, eventually, some folks will internally conclude that something is wrong with them because they are not married. Who knows how many family, religious or geographical cultural beliefs are tattooed on our lives to our own detriment.

One of the dangers of internalizing the beliefs and pressures of others is when those feelings start to drive life decisions. I think this happens most often when the internalized pressure to marry mixes with the occasional loneliness and/or fear that comes along with being single.

Merriam-Webster defines lonely as:

1. a : being without company : lone

b : cut off from others : solitary

2 : not frequented by human beings : desolate

3 : sad from being alone : lonesome

4 : producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation

Of course, not every single person is lonely. There are married people who are lonely, despite having the company of their partners. Even though we often equate being alone with being lonely, the two are not the same. Aloneness always means solitary, but it does not mean you are feeling sad, bleak or desolate. So, we can be alone and not lonely, or we can be alone and lonely. Being single/alone and not lonely can be a great thing. But, being single and lonely can create problems.

When you are single and not lonely, it is easier to ignore the external pressures surrounding getting married and enjoy being single. But, when you are single and lonely, it is much harder to lay aside the pressure to be what others expect. It is easier to accept that there is something wrong with you or to feel hopeless because you are not married. If we take no action to address our feelings of loneliness and stay in that head space too long, those feelings can start to drive our decisions.

Feeling loneliness or fear from time to time as a single person is normal. In fact, it is normal for everyone. Problems arise when we make decisions that are designed to provide relief of temporary issues, like loneliness, but ultimately have long-term or permanent negative consequences. The desire for instant gratification, especially in relationships, rarely produces the best results.

At 30, and by nothing short of a miracle, I extracted myself from a relationship that I, by the grace of God (and three good friends), identified as going nowhere. One of the shocking responses I got from friends after that break-up was how "brave" I was for ending the relationship. "Brave?" I asked. "Yes," they said, because "most women at your age would have just stayed in order to have someone." I was stunned. I could not imagine staying in an unhealthy relationship just to avoid real or perceived loneliness or being single. I was lonely and sad in that relationship and for me, the result of continuing that relationship would not have helped me to avoid loneliness -- I would have ended up lonely and married. I support relationships and want one, but only one that is good, healthy, and stable.

We not only stay in bad relationships to avoid loneliness, but we initiate relationships as a solution to our loneliness. We get involved with people that we would never date but for the loneliness. I had a friend who once took up with a man who lived in a basement room with no windows, had once been a mortician and admitted to her almost immediately (within 10 minutes) when they met that he has shot someone. This fella was so scary that I asked her to not let him know where I lived. Seriously. I have also watched more than one person get married because they thought they were running out of time to have children or get married; they were scared of loneliness.

We tolerate unacceptable behavior from friends, family and partners to abate loneliness. I made a deal with myself a long time ago that I must avoid selfish people, even if they were the only people I knew. Like the friend who does all the talking and can't talk about anything but herself, a meal alone is so much better. I can't achieve long-term happiness by engaging in unhealthy and unhappy relationships of any kind. And there are countless other ways people respond to loneliness and the pressures to conform to what others expect. These are just some of the things I have witnessed or done.

How do we avoid making bad decisions? In my experience, we have to slow down, recognize that our feelings are temporary, relentlessly pursue self-awareness (know thyself first) and get help when it's needed.

Why am I not afraid of being alone or lonely? I know who I am. I know that I am not broken because I have never been married. I have faith in a God who promised to order my steps. I also know what I need if I am lonely: I need to take healthy action -- pray, talk to someone, or go be and connect with other people. I don't make important decisions with permanent results that only serve to resolve a temporary problem. I know that lonely is temporary. Being alone is not a bad thing, it is just not being married.

The following quote from a minister friend of mine speaks volumes on this issue.

Don't make important decisions from a place of loneliness. When you finally come to yourself, bad decisions will enhance loneliness. B. Loammi Diaz

Let's look at lonely for what it is -- a temporary condition -- and then move forward.