Something I've been thinking about lately? Loneliness versus being alone.
I saw some research recently regarding loneliness and how harmful it can be to someone's health. The research stated that social isolation increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%. The research also stated that the amount of Americans that felt they have no close friends has tripled since 1985.
One may think that loneliness is only something that the elderly deal with, but this is not the case. Another study showed even millennials were dealing with feeling lonely. One reason for this was that many in the millennial generation use the internet to connect socially via gaming and social media. This ultimately leads to superficial feelings of being connected, which leaves one feeling unsatisfied more quickly.
After reading this research, I started to think about the difference between being alone and loneliness. I talked with my husband about it as well. We both came to the conclusion that being alone is something that someone chooses to do (as an action). We all like to be alone sometimes. It's a period where we get to contemplate, create, and just sometimes rest. Loneliness, however, is a feeling. Loneliness is the feeling you get when you don't feel a true connection with another human. (We also discussed and agreed that one can feel lonely even when they are around others. I think this happens when we aren't around our "tribe", or the group of people that truly gets our who we really are. I could write a whole other blog post on that.)
I then started to think about how humans can start to move away from this epidemic of feeling lonely. I think many have felt it at some point in their life. I know I felt very lonely before I met my husband. I went on date after date before meeting him, yet never felt a true connection with anyone. I had a couple of close friends, but everyone was busy with school and their own lives and I was lonely. I prayed and wrote in my journal and ultimately kept putting myself out there, as I knew I wouldn't find a true connection by staying at home all the time.
I called a close friend one night in July 2000, and we went to a new environment. It was a bar/restaurant that I had never been to. That night, I met two men. Choosing the first man that approached me would have lead me down fraternity row once again. I was still in college, but I had dated fraternity guys before, and learned the sorority/fraternity world wasn't for me anymore.
The other man was a college graduate, had a steady job and had the most beautiful crystal blue eyes I ever saw. I decided I wanted to go down the path that led me to him. I gave him my number and we went on one date, then saw each other every day after that. We moved in together within within three months and were engaged within six months. We were engaged for three years while I finished school. I am happy to say this is our 18th year of Tommy and I being together and our 15th year of marriage. That one night changed my life forever. I wasn't expecting to meet my husband right then, but I figured putting myself out there in a new way couldn't hurt.
I haven't felt lonely since meeting him, but because I've been there, I have some suggestions on how you can work to remove loneliness from your life:
- Put the REAL YOU out there. I was never fake with Tommy. I figured if I couldn't be my true self around him, then it would be a waste of my time.
- Before you put yourself out there, take some time to be alone, because you will need that time to figure out your next steps. That time may be a week to a year or longer. Do what works for you. I went on 1 or 2 dates with some guys in the 6 months prior to meeting Tommy, but had no actual relationships. Once I started dating Tommy, I dated no one else. I knew I wanted to give him my full attention, and we agreed to that from the very beginning.
- Truly contemplate about whether or not you want to keep going down the same path or try something new. I chose Tommy over the fraternity guy and was so proud of myself for choosing correctly! When the fraternity guy called, I thanked him for calling, and told him to enjoy the party he invited me to--without me.
- When you finally decide you are ready for something new, be open to meeting with people (in-person) and get to know what makes them tick. I say "in person" because I think feeling someone's energy in-person can be very telling of whether you want to spend more time with them or not. If they aren't giving off the best vibes, then maybe you should steer clear. People can say all the right things in a phone or texting conversation, but the feeling you get from their character in-person is what truly matters. I intuitively read Tommy to be full of the best kind of energy-love!
- Be patient and communicate. A new true connection, whether romantic or friendly, doesn't happen in the blink of an eye. If you don't want loneliness to creep back again soon, you have to put in a little time and effort. And the time and effort should be equal on both sides. Tommy and I did not have what one would call the "story-book perfect" romantic courtship, but we worked together to make it what we wanted it to be. We had many disagreements as we adjusted to our commitment to each other, but always used our gift of communication (we still talk all the time!) to quickly dispel any negativity.
- Lastly, remove all your fears. If you fear the new relationship will turn out horribly, it probably will. Taking fear out of the mix and replacing it with love can guarantee all things good. I never once feared our relationship wouldn't work. I just let it flow and still continue to do so.
Should you still take time to be alone even when you aren't lonely anymore? Yes! Just because you are in a relationship (again, whether it be friendship or romantic), alone time can be very helpful. When I write or work on my art, I tell Tommy I need to concentrate, and he respects that. When he watches sports, I usually find something else to do. Once again, communication is key to making alone time work in a relationship. Tell the person you need the time and why, and they should respect that.
I hope for anyone reading this to think about being alone versus loneliness and what it means to them. What it means to me may be different to you. I only wish for people to start to put themselves out there in ways they never have before. What's the worst thing that could happen? Someone says "no"? Oh well, it would be their total loss.