The other day, I ran into a divorced woman who I hadn’t seen in awhile. We said hello and then I started asking her questions—you know, the typical things you ask someone. “How’s life?” “What have you been up to?” “How’s work?”
Her responses were all very negative. “Eh…” was her answer to “How’s life.” “What have you been up to?” Her answer: “Nothing special, just trying to raise my kids and make a living on what that scumbag of an ex-husband gives me every month plus my two jobs.” Okay…
She seemed so bitter and angry and resentful. She was sort of playing the victim and almost seemed annoyed by my cheerful demeanor.
“So, are you dating anyone?” I asked.
The instant the question came out of my mouth and I saw the look on her face, I knew that the story wasn’t going to be good. She started telling me (complaining, actually) about her semi-new boyfriend, how he is non-committal, won’t really make plans ahead of time, and that she’s not sure if he is seeing other women. He says he isn’t, but she’s unsure. I sensed a lot of anxiety when she was talking about him, like the whole relationship was just causing her stress.
I sensed that she knew the situation she was in wasn’t healthy for her, and that it wasn’t making her happy. In fact, it was making her unhappy. But, for whatever reason, she was choosing to stay in it. The reasons could be that her self-esteem is low and she doesn’t think she can do better, or she doesn’t want to start dating again and it’s comfortable, or she thinks she can change him.
All of a sudden, standing there feeling sorry for her, but also wanting to give her a firm kick in the ass and say, “Boot this asshole,” it hit me. This woman, who was not always the negative, bitter, unlikeable person she appeared to be today, was in pain. A lot of pain. Why? Because she is lonely. Masking her loneliness is anxiety, anger, bitterness, resentment and negativity, she doesn’t want to admit to herself or to anyone that it fucking hurts!
Look, I didn’t just recently go back to school and get a degree in psychology, but I can read people, and I’m telling you, my heart went out to her because I could see the pain underneath her hard shell.
I’m not sure there are many things in life that are worse than loneliness. We as humans have it in our nature that we need love—intimate love to thrive. If we don’t have food, we will die. If we don’t have water we will die. If we don’t have love? I’m not sure we will physically die, but it can cause unbearable pain and suffering.
The shame of it is that this woman probably doesn’t realize that she is covering up the pain of her loneliness by acting pissed off and angry about other things. Instead of holding the loneliness accountable for her pain and unhappiness, she is blaming it on her job, her ex-husband, and possibly other aspects in her life.
But loneliness doesn’t just happen when you are dating the wrong guy or when you aren’t dating anyone. Some single people are perfectly happy and don’t feel lonely at all. On the flip side, there are married people and people in long-term relationships who are in pain because they are very lonely. I believe that loneliness stems from something missing–some big void in someone’s life. That could be the spouse, or it could be an unfulfilling life, which can include being unhappy at work or not having a hobby, an outlet or a passion that is satisfying. Or, not feeling like your life has meaning.
There are different kinds of loneliness:
1. People who are single and want to meet someone. I have been there. I get it. You want to meet someone so badly and it feels very alone not to have someone. But, there is a difference between being single and being lonely. Being alone because you just haven’t met the right guy yet is one thing. Being alone and lonely because you are making poor choices of the person/people you are spending time with is something that you can control. In other words, the lonely person has the power to make choices that might lead to possibilities of not being lonely anymore. It takes courage to make some of those choices, but the payoff is beautiful.
2. The end of a relationship. Maybe you just broke up with someone. Maybe you are a recent widow/widower. Maybe you just haven’t met the right person yet. These times are temporary, and the best way to get through it is to surround yourself with family and friends and those who care for you. Also, spend time with people who make you laugh, who you have fun with, and who make you feel good. Also, keep being a great mom/dad, work hard at your profession, and take time to do things you love—both by yourself and with others and things will change.
3. Being with the wrong person. In this woman’s case, the man she is with is unavailable. His terms of the relationship are making her miserable. How do I know this? Because if she was happy in the relationship, the answers to all of her questions would have been much more positive and uplifting. I personally think that if a person ends a relationship that is making him or her unhappy, the loneliness will get better. Maybe at first it would be more difficult, but being free opens the door to meeting someone who will fill your gap of loneliness.
The thing is, when someone isn’t lonely, everything else in life is manageable. Problems seem solvable. So you aren’t making as much money as you’d like? It’s OK. Having issues with your ex-husband? It’s OK. Your furnace just broke and financially it’s stressing you out? It’s OK. Even health problems. I think people get through things so much better when they have either a spouse or a job or a passion or goal they are working towards that keeps them inspired, and hopeful and happy. In other words, when they don’t feel alone.
Long term loneliness comes from low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence to get into the right relationship, or to learn how to enjoy being alone. I truly think that love comes to those who love themselves and who love and appreciate life. Yes, loneliness can feel very empty and sad, but with good self-esteem, hope, faith and positive energy, I think loneliness almost always turns around.
Jackie Pilossoph is the creator of her website, Divorced Girl Smiling. The author of her novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationship column, Love Essentially, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press. Pilossoph lives with her family in Chicago. Oh, and she’s divorced.