NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, Recovering Shopaholic.
I mentioned what my upcoming topics would be in my last post, but I decided I wanted to write about something else first. It’s a subject that has been on my mind for quite some time and about which I have many thoughts… loneliness. In today’s post, I share some of my thoughts about loneliness, as well as a selection of my photos which evoke this theme. The photos appear throughout the post, starting with an introductory image that is one of my favorites.
In one of my earliest posts, I wrote about the reasons people shop too much. Some of these reasons have been explored in greater depth in stand-alone essays. I have touched upon the topic of loneliness from time to time, but I have never devoted an entire post to it. However, in recent months, it has become abundantly clear to me that loneliness is a major issue in my life and has contributed to my overshopping behavior. In addition, as I looked at the images I’ve shot in recent photo sessions, I noticed lonely-looking scenes showing up over and over again. Clearly, my innermost feelings are being conveyed through my photographs.
A Life Lived Online
I have become increasingly aware of how much of my life occurs in the online realm. Most of the communications I have with other people occur through this blog, various Facebook groups, email, and other virtual modes. I have very few interactions with other human beings face to face. While the virtual connections can be highly meaningful and fulfilling, when I want to get out of my apartment and into the world, I have very few people to call upon to share my activities. I would love to be able to beam one of my online friends to San Diego so they could share the day with me, but that sort of technology does not yet exist outside of science fiction movies or television shows.
The only person who is regularly a part of my real life world is my husband. While I’m lucky that I have at least one person to be with outside of the virtual realm, I wish I had a wider circle of connections in my hometown. At this point, I really only have two friends with whom I get together in person, and I see both of them infrequently. Much of the time when I go out and about, it’s by myself.
Shopping as Respite from Loneliness
One of the main reasons I chose to go shopping was so that I could be around other people. Those people didn’t have to know me or even talk to me, but I enjoyed being in the presence of hustle and bustle… and life. Sometimes I did talk to others in the shops, and I even mistook salespeople for my friends for quite some time. I craved connection so desperately that I took it wherever I could find it.
In recent months, I haven’t been shopping very much, my overspend in April notwithstanding. Shopping no longer provides either the fulfillment or the connection that I used to believe it did. At this point, I don’t believe it ever really gave me those things. It merely provided a diversion from thinking about and dealing with the things that were broken inside of me and in my life. I thought about shopping and clothes and occupied my time with related activities so I didn’t have to feel the loneliness and emptiness that were intensely present in my psyche.
Taking Photos and Loneliness
Taking photos has replaced shopping as my activity of choice over the past six weeks or so. When I leave my house these days, it’s usually to take photos or for an appointment of some sort. I often piggyback the two activities and enjoy a photo-taking session either before or after a visit to a doctor or other health care provider. I truly love taking photos and feel fulfilled by it. I enjoy having something to show for my time, and the fact that it doesn’t cost me anything is a huge bonus over shopping. However, it’s still a very solitary activity and unlike shopping, I tend not to talk to a single soul while I’m on a photo jaunt. I am quite introverted, so I generally float around like a ghost, snapping photos as I go but speaking to no one.
Up until recently, I wasn’t even aware of how deeply lonely I am. But when I was out taking photos at a popular tourist attraction last Sunday afternoon, it hit me like a ton of bricks. There I was surrounded by families, couples, and groups of friends… and I was utterly alone. The contrast was profound and I was struck by intense sadness and regret. How did my life get to the point where I have virtually no girlfriends to meet up with and my husband and I have no couples friends? How did I let things get this bad?
When I got home that evening and looked through my photos from the two locations I’d visited that day, as well as those from my photo spot the previous evening, I noticed a striking theme among my shots. There were many lonely looking scenes, including empty benches, quiet pathways, and desolate beaches. Without even consciously thinking about it, I had echoed my mood through the photos I shot. Photography is a creative pursuit and I was subconsciously using it as a way to express the way I felt deep inside.
Afraid of Judgment and Rejection
I’m not looking for a bunch of suggestions for how to meet new people. Although I know such comments would be well meaning, I’m already aware of most of those ideas but have opted not to pursue them. I have been both hesitant and fearful of putting myself out there. I didn’t want to be judged or rejected as I have been in the past. I didn’t want to have to explain my unconventional life path and my health challenges and restrictions. So I continued with the status quo without realizing what it was costing me.
But once shopping stopped being the “fix” it once was for me, I was forced to face one of the primary reasons it had become so compelling for me over the years. I was using it as a salve for my lonely existence, as well as a way of being connected to others at a pseudo level without having to risk being hurt. I could spend a day surrounded by people, perhaps talking to a few fellow shoppers or salespeople from time to time, fill my connection storehouses a bit, and leave unscathed. No one could really hurt me and no one could reject me. I never let anyone get close enough to wound me, and I could pretend to be an outgoing, friendly, and gregarious person in the make believe environment of the local mall.
I Don’t Have the Answers… Yet
This is not a post in which I will come up with “the answer” or a fix for what ails me. It is merely a realization of a problem that I’ve been sweeping under the rug for far too long. It is an acknowledgement of something that I need to change before it destroys me. No amount of new clothes, shoes, or accessories can replace the connection that other human beings can provide for us. Clothes can’t talk to us, hug us, console us, or engage us in meaningful conversation. We need other people for that… And as much as I value my virtual connections, I’m tired of living my entire life online. It’s time for me to venture out, take risks, and make changes.
The photos were just the beginning. They have helped me to acknowledge how deep the theme of loneliness cuts through to my soul. I was able to see in photographs what I wasn’t willing to acknowledge in my heart. I need to have a real life in the real world. I will continue to cherish all of those who matter to me in other cities, states, and countries, but I need to have some connections in my home town. I need to have people with whom to share a cup of coffee, a meal, a movie, or a walk. I need to have more people who I can look in the eye and share myself with.
Willing to Take a Risk
I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. I may start with attending a Meetup here and there, or I may opt to attend a church service or take a class or two. I know what all of the possibilities are, but I haven’t been willing to pursue them. I’m feeling more ready now, and I am willing to take the risk of being hurt. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the story goes. I’m tired of living like a ghost. I want to be seen, heard, and loved here in the town where I live.
I love all of you and will continue to cherish the connection we have. I love that I have so many readers who regularly comment and email me. But I appreciate each and every one of you who reads my words and is touched by them in some way even if you never contact me. You are the reason I keep writing and sharing myself and my journey here. If any of you live in San Diego or nearby and would like to meet me, I’m open to it. I’ve already made one new local friend through the blog, but she lives somewhere else for half the year and will be gone for a while. She took a risk and contacted me and it paid off for both of us. Such meetings won’t always lead to a “friend connection,” but we won’t know unless we try. I’m ready to take risks again with people – and reap some rewards.
Now it’s time for you to chime in. I’m sure many of you have felt intensely lonely over the course of your lives. I’m sure quite a few of you feel that way right now and may use shopping as a salve for your lonely souls as I have done for years. I would love to have a meaningful discussion here on the all-important topic of loneliness. I’m sure we would all learn from each other’s experiences and insights. We are all at different stages of the journey, so please feel free to share your thoughts.
90 thoughts on “On Loneliness – Some Thoughts and Images”
What a beautiful and honest post, Debbie. I so hope to come to San Diego next year and let’s be honest, you are more the reason I’m coming, than the conference is:-). Being honest and open about your feelings is the most important step you can take, and if you decide (and it sounds like you have decided) to act, it will reward. Hugs to you – introverts are great at online connections because we are in charge of when, how and who. Do this at your own speed, as an introvert you are at risk at over-doing social activities/trying too hard and you might crash and burn and feel lonelier than ever before. Set yourself a five year goal and go at it slowly. Biggest of hugs <3.
I really hope you’ll be able to make it out here, Mette, as it would be great to meet you in person. What you wrote about introverts is right on. I think the 5-year goal is a good plan. Maybe fodder for a future blog post… Thanks for your kind words and wishes.
Debbie, you are a very brave person to share so openly. I too recognise your feelings; I care for my 93 year old dad and it’s very tough. Because of his needs I don’t feel able to leave him for very long and I don’t know many people in my immediate area. Like you, I wish I had friends to meet for coffee or a chat. In the past I have had most success when doing something and meeting people through that (for me it takes the pressure off a bit since the activity is the focus and the people side a bonus) Your photos are lovely and very evocative; I wonder if there are any photo clubs by you. I agree with Mette on the babysteps – it’s progress not perfection. Kudos to you for trying
ps have you ever read Gretchen Rubin on making friends? altho she does make it sound quite easy!
Thanks for your kind words and compliment on my photos, Cathy. I am going to look into the photo club option, as it could be fun. I agree with you that the best way to meet people is through doing things we enjoy. I haven’t read Gretchen Rubin on making friends, but I will check that out. It must be hard for you caring for your elderly father and I can see how it would make it much harder to socialize. My heart goes out to you… I hope that both of us are able to meet some friends in our area soon. It really doesn’t take a lot. Even a get-together once a week for an hour or so could make a big difference.
This is a beautiful post, Debbie, and I really love your pictures, you seem to have quite the artistic eye! I’m wishing you the best for your next steps, but I think you’re past the hardest : the acknowledgement of your loneliness. Even if I’m still very young, I’ve struggled with some addiction and other issues and I know that each time, the hardest was to recognize that I had a problem, not that the rest of the way was easy.
I’m glad you liked this post and my photos, Cedrique. I agree that acknowledging a problem is often the hardest step. Thanks for sharing a bit about your story and for the encouragement you gave me.
Debbie, Passage des Perles blog, has a timely post about friendship in adult life. Her insight is very inspiring and encouraging. Currently, I have been experiencing some lonely times as well. I’ve had to let some long term friendship go. We’ve sort of out grew each other due to various reasons. Now, I’m trying to figure out what interests appeal to me and just get involved with them and see how it goes….and not overthink the results. Sort of let it happen. Ugh, sounds like dating! Anyway, least I don’t have to do that. I’m happily married 30 years!
Thank you for baring your soul…you are courageous and no doubt will help others, too!
Renee in Northern California
Thanks for the heads up on that blog post on adult friendship, Renee. I will check it out. Sorry to hear that you are also feeling lonely. I have also had to let go of some friendships and I haven’t filled in the gaps with new ones, which is a big part of my problem. I appreciate your kind words about my courage. I always hope that my words will help others.
Renee, thank you for the blog suggestion; I’m looking forward to reading more by and about la Duchesse. Your comment about it being like dating is apt. It’s friend dating. That’s what I call it when my husband asks what I was up to. It is scary sometimes, but definitely worth the risk!
Debbie, thank you for your courageous and intimate post. Moving every three years made it difficult to make friends, but easy to make acquaintances. These people were amazing, and since we were all in the same boat (Navy joke…), we could all count on each other, but lasting friendships they were not meant to be. I started to make friends here in our new city when I began a teaching job and grad school; most of my newly blooming friendships were with women whose children I was teaching… That felt uncomfortable, so I let those new frienships rest.
When my mother moved down to be nearer us, and in with us, I knew it would be difficult for her to make new friends as well, but she does not seem interested in trying. Now that I am home with her, we are two lonely women together. I am thankful for this time with my mother; she is a lovely woman, but we share almost no interests except shopping. Not very helpful!
I’m not much of an online reach-out girl. Facebook creeps me out, and this is one of the only places I have felt welcome to comment. This season of my life is just particularly challenging. I am so thankful for my amazing husband, and my faith. (Speaking of amazing husband…) I am tagging along on his business trip later this month to San Diego. I’d love a coffee date, although I know I can’t be a local friend.
I agree that trying to find new friends is like dating, Liz. It is definitely scary sometimes, but can be worth it if we find people with whom we resonate well. I like your Navy joke about being in the same boat – cute! It’s good that you have your mother to be with, but it’s too bad you don’t share any interests beyond shopping. My mother and I don’t have too many interests in common, either, except movies. I would love to get together with you while you are in San Diego, even if you can’t be a local friend. I will send you a message.
Debbie, such an honest and insightful post. You saved yourself a lot of money by not needing a psychologist ! But seriously I can relate to your life somewhat. I think woman usually have careers or jobs outside of the home along with a child or children. If you do not have those two major ways to “be with people” you do have a tougher time. Same for the male species, but I don’t think most men crave the social connections that women do (just a generalization, but probably true). I have an advanced degree, but only worked a short time before having my 3 children. I moved to my husband’s home town, and honestly, my kids and the friends I made through them became my world.
I also met a few close couple friends via my husband’s partners , so we had an immediate social circle of sorts.
Fast forward twenty-five years, and my kids are grown and living in 3 different cities, and many of my so-called “mom friendships” have slowly died. Many of the women moved away or returned to work.
So yes, I understand the need to connect and having a hard time putting yourself out there. But you seem very self aware, and if you have deciphered your problems, I have a feeling you will be able to work on it now. Wishing you success on your journey,
Thanks for sharing your story, Sherri. I know that many of us go through ups and downs with friendships depending upon where we are in life. I agree that men don’t seem to crave as much social connection as women do and I think you hit the nail on the head about it being tougher to have friends without children and/or a job outside the home. I feel very isolated and being introverted, I really have to push myself to make an effort to be social. Thank you for your vote of confidence and your encouragement.
Hi Debbie, What an honest and thought provoking post. As you know I’ve been wanting to visit San Diego to see if I might possibly want to move there but alas, it will not happen this year as I have my surgery scheduled for the end of the summer. I wish I could meet up with you and give you a big hug!
It’s funny how we all see different things when looking at art though. Maybe I am lonely too without realizing it, but when I look at your photos they draw me in with their solitude. (I’d love to see a giant coffee table book of all your photos! Or maybe your local tourism bureau would pay for your lovely beach photos?!) I am one of those extreme introverts as well, and I really enjoy being alone. Or do I? I have so little time outside of all my work and school, I don’t really have much time to consider social events and dating. This type of schedule is probably starting to wear on me, but things will change next May when I graduate from my graduate program, hopefully. Like you, I only have a couple of close friends, and most of my acquaintances live an hour away. I’m at the point where I don’t really want to start making more friends here, though, since I intend to move away.
I would love to meet you when you come to San Diego, Sarah, and will take you up on the big hug. I hope your surgery goes smoothly and you recover quickly. Thanks for your kind words about my photos. I like the coffee table book idea. Maybe down the line I will consider doing something like that. I am accumulating quite an assortment of photos now… I think that if I worked outside the home, I wouldn’t feel so lonely. I would probably feel much like you do, as I don’t need a whole lot of social interaction. A little can go a long way for us introverts… I just need to find a way to get that little.
Hi Debbie, gosh it’s such a recurring theme around the blogosphere about making friends as an adult. I’ve had some friendships go/end badly which makes me more cautious, and have def. found health challenges/restrictions to be isolating and an added layer of complication.
In my particular case, i’ve come to realize that animal involvement/companionship is a vital component to my social construct. I’ve always had pets, but there’s a hole in my heart in the shape of my beloved dog who passed away last year. I have found some solace in the natural world around me (many animals live in my neighborhood – birds, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, etc) and in befriending pets with their human companions on walks ;). But my heart still aches.
In regards to human companionship, I too am fortunate to have an awesome hubby, but know (have learned, ha) it’s not healthy to ask that relationship to fulfill all your needs. We have moved so often in the last 5 years that it has nipped most efforts at developing new friendships in the bud. However, I have had a reversal as of late – my sister has come to live with us during a transition in her life and to help me continue recovering from a health crisis over the winter. And we have managed to befriend our neighbors (a young couple w/out kids yet) in the last month or so as i’ve improved and the weather’s gotten nicer. But i remember i made the first invitation overture and it was surprisingly challenging/intimidating!
Good luck on your endeavors in this area, as always i will be reading an rooting for you. And can i just say, you don’t seem “broken inside” to me, just human. 🙂 xo
Your comments really resonated with me, Claire. We have a lot in common in terms of health challenges and friendships ending badly. I totally agree with you about animal companionship. My cats add a lot to my life and I can’t imagine not having pets. I can see how losing your beloved dog would leave a hole in your heart and in your life. I’m glad that you have been able to develop a friendship with your neighbors and that you have your sister there with you. Good for you for making an overture with your neighbors. Our bravery often pays off… Thank you for rooting for me and for telling me I’m not broken inside. I appreciate that…
Hello Debbie, this is my first time writing a comment! I deeply understood your post. I’m in a very similar situation minus the husband. I’m in my forties and decided a long time ago I didn’t want children. This decision change my life and my friends. Some of them were driven away, some i have to let go. I found my self craving for a girlfriend to share a coffee with, or a walk. I have a BFF but we don’t share enough interests to meet very often. I have tried to meet people through some courses of my interest but didn’t work. I’ll keep trying and i’ll keep reading your suggestions and experiences. Thank you for sharing!
Welcome, Denise, and thank you for your comment. I can identify with what you wrote about not having children and how that has affected friendships. It has been an issue for me, too, because a lot of women with children find it really hard to understand why someone would choose a different path. The suggestion for meeting people through interests doesn’t always work for me, too, but I think that if I’m doing something I enjoy, it’s okay if the added bonus of making friends doesn’t come to fruition. I will definitely write more about the topic of friendships in the future. If I gain any valuable insights, I will be sure to share them.
I completely agree with both of you about how difficult it is to be child-free by choice and also make new friends. I’ve found that most women with children just don’t understand our choice. And to be perfectly honest here, I just don’t have much in common with women with children. At least, with children still at home. I’m 51 so a lot of women my age are also now grandmothers which I’ll never be and so I still don’t have much in common with them. It’s a conundrum, isn’t it?
I also completely understand. My daughter is an adult, and while back when she was growing up I had a lot in common with other mothers with kids, now at age 61 I have nothing in common with women who are totally wrapped up in their kids and grandkids. Ugh, I get bored with their conversation so fast, and now my women-friends of choice are those who made the decision to be child-free.
Terra, I’m with you sister!! Actually, this is mainly the problem with my long time friends. I feel at age 58 and the mother of 2 adult sons I have the time to expand and enrich my interests and horizons. I enjoy meeting people that don’t know I have kids. The conversation can then lead into more interesting and creative discussion, which I believe forces me to flex my socialization skills, rather than the “default” talk about “Joe” and “James.”
I love that both women with and without children chimed in here and all experience similar issues. It’s understandable that even women who do have children wouldn’t necessarily want to talk about them all the time. Some people with kids (and grandkids) DO seem completely wrapped up in them, while others seem to want to talk more about other things. I can easily be friends with the latter group (and am), but the former group often looks at me as if I have two heads when they learn that I didn’t have children by choice.
I love that there are so many child free women here. I am at the age where my peers are all getting married and quickly having babies, and I am over here just having been through a divorce and having a hysterectomy soon. I often feel like there is no where for me to fit in so just finding some people who are somewhat like me here is so helpful. I hope you know what a great community you’ve created here, Debbie.
Thank you, Sarah. I’m glad you feel less alone in this community. I feel the same. I wish we could all meet in person one day, but hopefully I’ll at least get to meet some of you either in San Diego or if I visit your cities. Best wishes with your hysterectomy. You may be younger than many of us, but I’m happy that you feel you fit in here.
When I look back at my overshopping days I can clearly see a connection between my miserableness and my shopping. I was a compulsive shopper / returner. Shopping one day, returning the next, shopping the day after and so on. I didn’t know it though. I thought I was doing good work. Hah. I was very focussed on my wardrobe. I know now how I used that to stop myself from focussing on the real issues.
I too was lonely and disconnected but I WAS married. It’s only after it ended that I realised just what a lonely place my marriage was. I guess my point here is that we don’t necessarily have to BE alone to FEEL alone. When I separated, my desire to shop all the time practically stopped overnight!!!! That and the help of a good therapist to help me unravel things. I was determined to change my life and create something better for myself. I’m well on the way to that. The first step is to acknowledge the issues as you have done. All the very best to you as you go onwards and upwards.
I resonated with a lot of what you wrote, Carolyn. I also thought I was doing good work with all of my shopping, returning, and wardrobe focus. Of course, some of it WAS good work because I have blogged about it, but it never made me happy. While I did have issues with my wardrobe, I also had a lot of other issues with my life that I didn’t want to address. You are so right that one can feel lonely even when they’re not alone. I’m glad that you have been able to change your life for the better. Thanks for your well wishes for my future.
I have had the good fortune to have lived in several different countries in my life for which I am very appreciative. But it’s also hard work as each move means starting all over again, meeting new people and making new friends.
People will not find you, you must find them. That means you have to join groups and then persevere. The best groups are where you meet and chat weekly.
I really recommend the international groups (designed for expats) as EVERYONE is there to meet new people and you don’t have to be an expat to join! The Internations Organisation has a group in San Diego. They organize all sorts of activities and get-togethers. Just an idea.
I agree that weekly groups are the best, Carolyn, Monthly just isn’t often enough. Thanks for the suggestion for the Internations Organisation. It looks interesting and may be something I want to check out, especially if you don’t really need to be an expat to join. I would enjoy meeting people from other countries, as I always enjoy learning about other cultures. I would like to live in another country one day…
Twenty years ago I moved to France with my 3 week old baby. My husband went off to work and I was alone coping with a brand new baby in a foreign country with no mum, no family or friends to help. I look back now and wonder how I did it. I literally gave birth one day (in another foreign country), packed up my house the following week and did an international move.
I remember one day 2 months later sitting in my apartment thinking to myself, if I don’t do something, I am going to be sitting in this room by myself for God knows how long. It’s not the way to live. We didn’t even have internet in those days but I set to work and eventually found my way to the International Women’s Club of the Riviera Mother & Baby Group. My first meet was a catastrophe as my baby howled all the way and I was lost in a new city and had to drive into unchartered territory up into the hills behind Nice and was about 2 hours late. That group saved my sanity and from it I made a couple of lovely friends who I am still friends with today. I learned the art of perserverance. It’s a bit like dating – you just have to be out there and then you will meet that one person who clicks and on it goes from there. Not all the women were international – some were French who had also moved to a new city.
Many years and several other international moves later, I now live in French speaking Switzerland. As ever I joined an international group to begin with and now have a lovely group of friends from all over the world.
I appreciate your sharing this story, Carolyn. You’re right that sitting alone in a room is no way to live. Good for you for getting out there (and with an infant no less) and meeting new people. And how wonderful that you still have some of those initial friends today! I’m wondering where in French-speaking Switzerland you live. My dad lived just over the border from Geneva (in Ferney-Voltaire, France) for years and my stepmother is from there. I visited once and loved that part of the world. I would like to go back one day…
I live just outside Geneva on the lake and not far at all from Ferney-Voltaire – a 20 minute drive in fact. I go there regularly to the arabic food store!!! It’s a lovely place to live with lake Geneva in summer and skiing in the Alps in winter.
How cool, Carolyn! I agree that it’s a beautiful place. I only visited in the summer, but I’m sure it’s equally lovely in the winter. My dad and stepmother are in Ferney-Voltaire right now visiting my stepmother’s mother. They go there at least twice a year.
Thank you for this, I’ve signed up!
I signed up, too! Carolyn, thanks for the suggestion and I’m looking forward to it!
It might be a good starting point to discover why you are so reluctant to put yourself “out there.”
My parents had a negative influence on me and my brothers (very domineering/hypercritical) that remains today. I have a bad procrastination habit that seems to have originated in formative years of being told what to do and think. My reaction (still!) is a deep rooted resentment at anything that is not self selected (or fun!)
So while I don’t have the same problem as you, I do have a lingering unsolved problem that has taken me decades to identify its cause. I still don’t have a solution for that other that just pushing through the things I don’t want to do.
My final thought, as a divorced, semi-disabled senior is that a small dog that requires little exercise is company and gets you out, oh you lucky one with such a beautiful climate. (I know, I went to school there).
I smile and talk to everyone as I wander around with and without my dogs (I have 2, but not really by choice).
If I wanted to do something with someone else, I would call around until I found someone who was available–not good friends, but good company.
I’m not sure how to replace my best friend who is 90 miles away. No one strikes me in the same way–we laugh and understand when we are together. That friendship started 2 decades ago when both of us had young developmentally disabled boys and we met at the few activities available to such youngsters.
It’s work, and I wish you luck.
I appreciate your insights, Hope. I share your procrastination habit. It’s a hard one to overcome! I do understand why I’m reluctant to put myself “out there,” but I could probably do with exploring it some more to really flush it out. I agree that having a dog would help to get me out and about and interacting with people, but that’s not in the cards for me right now because I live in an apartment that is really only big enough for my husband and me and our two cats (who probably wouldn’t appreciate the addition of a dog…). You are lucky to have your best friend, but 90 miles is really too far to see each other just for the day. Yes, it’s work to make new friends. Thanks for wishing me luck!
Like Sherri, I find that after the kids have gone, after the career is over, and after we have relocated to be near the grandkids, it is harder to meet people. I am trying to find volunteer work that may lead to some friendships, but so far no luck. I think the loneliness you speak of is natural–the natural state of humans, and I also think that it is good to try to surround yourself with people you like, who are probably also lonely, and meet up with them perhaps one on one, when you feel like it. My husband and I are very happy, and the grandkids and kids are now close, so that helps, but I miss my old friends We often say our social life is going out to eat–waitpersons serve us the same purpose as your store clerks, I think. We should all probably join something, but I suspect like you, I have inertia and dislike being the new kid.
I am thinking of other possible volunteer areas than the first that came to mind and that didn’t need me. I have been here3 months and do not have any friends either. It will happen. Neighbors are sort of friendly, but I can’t push–just not in me. I wish you were here! Do not give up. I applaud your courage to state the lack; you certainly brought me out on that subject. Thanks, Debbie.
I’m glad my post was thought-provoking for you, Helen. I agree that loneliness is the natural state of humans. It’s easier for some people to meet friends than others, but even my mom (who is a total extrovert) struggles to find deep and meaningful connections. It’s one thing to meet people but quite another to form last friendships. I think that if we keep trying different avenues, it will work out. My problem was that I just haven’t been trying for quite some time. I hope you will meet some friends soon. Three months isn’t a very long time, so hopefully it won’t be long before you feel more connected and less lonely.
This collection of photos calls to me in a deep way, yet I do not see a loneliness theme in these photographs. I also do not see lonely looking scenes within the empty benches, quiet pathways, and desolate beaches.
To me the theme within your photos is solitude and serenity, peaceful. There is a theme within the skies; stormy, which might also play into how you are feeling. I hear your sadness of not having a sense of connection. I am not introverted, and I enjoy being alone, so I have not personally felt this way, and I have compassion for you, a sincere willingness to understand how deeply lonely this feels for you. As you know in past years I had begun to feel that I was spending too much time alone, so I joined two groups that meet twice a month. I also have volunteer activities where I interact with lots of people. BUT there are plenty of times when I feel extremely alone with people I see often and know well. In fact I sometimes feel even more alone with some people than when I actually am alone. Other times within small snatches of conversation that take place with strangers when I am out in public can feel very connecting to me. I believe most of us have the same desire…to find a circle where we feel connected, accepted, engaged, and fit in. Some people need frequent contact and connection, and others like me are content with less, but for all of us it must be genuine– otherwise there is no point. Your post is sincere, honest, brave, with a universal theme of “friendship” that we can all identify with. You are reaching out, and it’s the first step toward finding connection. Hold on to faith, stretch, step out of your comfort zone (trust me, if you step out of your comfort zone often enough it begins to feel less scary) and reach back when others reach toward you. Heck, you are not nearly as shy in person as you believe yourself to be, inside there is this out-going girl, wanting to break out! I know, I had lunch with her!
I think I was trying to capture peace and serenity when I took the photos, Terra, so I can see how you would see those themes. It was only after I looked at them later that I saw loneliness in there, too. Perhaps it’s not just one thing… I am like you in that I don’t need a lot of contact. I just haven’t been getting ANY face-to-face contact other than with my husband. You are right that I can be outgoing, but I am much better one on one or in a small group. Larger gatherings intimidate me. I know I need to step out of my comfort zone if I’m going to be able to connect with others. It’s not easy to do that, but I don’t want to keep the status quo, so I will have to take risks. I really want the kind of genuine connection you mentioned. It doesn’t have to be often. I just want to have it. I definitely have it online, but need at least SOME of it in my face-to-face life, too.
Debbie, large social gatherings can intimidate me too!
So many heart warming, kind, sincere comments. What a treasure of readers you have called together which is clearly a testament to your ability attract and make genuine friendships. Debbie, I’m feeling bad, wanting to better word my response to you. Although I’m not introverted, I don’t want to lend the idea that I think it’s easy to begin and maintain friendships. It’s just that those of us who are extroverted tend to put ourselves out there more often, which means we increase our opportunity to make a friendship, but we also double or triple the amount of times that we are rejected and snubbed, and that’s terrible. So I clearly understand why someone would be hesitant to do it. But the one or two or three good people we find in the process makes it so worth it. So please know that I sincerely do understand how hard it is to reach out. Also, sometimes the life of a new friendship will be short, often it hurts when it ends, but as long as we can find a way to allow it to not end badly for us, we can carry the good memories we have gained forward. Please know I’m not wanting to be critical at all. And now I’m off to write a rough draft essay on the topic of friendship because this great conversation has tossed up all sorts of deep thoughts and emotions for me to further explore.
I didn’t think you were being critical at all, Terra, but I appreciate your wanting to clarify what you meant. I would love to read your essay on friendship, as I’m sure it will be well thought out and very insightful, as your writing always is. I don’t know if it’s easy for anyone to begin and maintain friendships. Sure, the extroverts may connect more easily, but it takes some effort to move from connection to genuine friendship. My mom is a major extrovert, but she struggles quite a bit with keeping the friendships going and having deeper connections. She can do the initial reaching out, but still has a hard time getting things past the acquaintance or casual friend level. It’s hard for all of us… and often in different ways. It always hurts to be snubbed or if a friendship ends. I have many more thoughts on friendship, so I’m sure this topic will be revisited from time to time here. Thanks for your kind words on my blog and this community.
Debbie, what would happen if you took a week away from the Internet? I’m planning to do this as my life online is very shallow for me. I too am an introvert so I understand lonely. My trouble is that I use the Internet to feed me instead of getting out there.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot this evening. As a result I’ve deleted my stylebook app that contained all the facts and figures of my wardrobe. All the items, pictures and frequency of wearing. I feel strangely liberated – I didn’t expect that.
Now I feel I can go about my everyday life without documenting it.
Good for you, Saltbox! I have contemplated using such an app for a long time, but I hesitated because I knew I would just be spending even MORE time on my wardrobe than I have been already. I think these types of apps can be helpful and the tracking I’ve done has helped me a lot, but sometimes the best approach is to ruminate less instead of more. I wish you peace and joy in your everyday life!
I have a hard time imagining a week away from the internet, Saltbox. I think that maybe I would be even MORE lonely in that instance. But I do think it might be a good idea to limit my online activities and get out more. I have been getting out more since I’ve been taking photos, but I need to do things that get me interacting with others more. I can identify with what you wrote about using the Internet to feed you. We really need more than just online interactions…
I wanted to respond immediately last night when I read this, but I was on a Kindle, and it was bedtime.
My most recent blog post is very much in the same vein as your thoughts. Stepping back from the online cocoon we create for ourselves can really illuminate how much we’ve used that as a crutch to fill our time. I think some time online is helpful and even creative, but it can turn so quickly into just a time suck that fills the void.
I’m at a point where I’m trying to step back from a lot of my online groups. I do have friends here in town, but I live out in the boonies, so I don’t see them all that often. I have to make a point to get together and with our work schedules all different it can be weeks in between. But making the effort is so worth it.
Just a little example, a friend was having a yard sale last Sunday morning. I worked at noon. Time was getting away from me to stop by with a handful of clothing items and to visit for a bit. Add to that, the tourist traffic leaving town would tie me up some going back the direction to work. I only had about half an hour to spare. But I went. It was only a 15 min visit maybe. But it was time spent connecting with someone, catching up, sharing. And, hey, she bought my Doc Martens off me! lol
I also made time after a run yesterday to see a friend for a beer and lunch. Quick, but again, connecting face to face matters in this day of texts and IM’s.
I need to make things happen if I want them in my life. I had a yoga class I keep missing due to work schedule. This Monday the banquet job wanted me to come in. I said yes, as long as I’m free by 7. No one was going to offer it if I didn’t ask.
All this to say we are the architects of our own lives. I’m in a funny space where I’m not precisely sure what I want to be doing with a lot of my spare time, but I am getting better at actually doing whatever I have decided on at that time. Instead of wishing and waiting. It’s great to feel you are steering your own course, not just afloat drifting.
I look forward to reading your latest post, Mo. I am behind in my blog reading… I like the examples you gave of how even very short interactions with others can feed our souls. It doesn’t have to be a day-long get together to make a difference in how connected we feel. You are right that we are the architects of our own lives, but sometimes we forget that and just drift along. I need to remember my word for the year – deliberate – and live more in line with that. Good for you for setting limits with the banquet job. We have to speak up for our needs and it was good that you did that.
So many of us struggle with this and yearn for close friendships. I think you are headed in the right direction by acknowledging this gap in your life. I will be very interested in how you address it as I expect the gap in my life will grow huge when we relocate in 2 years. Hugs.
I will definitely write more on this topic, Juhli, but I suspect it will be evolving over months and years. Mette is probably right that I should have a 5-year plan. We can’t really rush getting close to other people. It can take time, but if we don’t try, it won’t happen, and I haven’t been trying…
I am belatedly trying as I always felt that living here was temporary but 18 years in that is a lot of temporary! Of course now I know I am moving in 2 years and so it is hard to get out there although those 2 years are my life too. I’m simply doing little things – deciding to ask someone to have lunch this week. Finally introducing myself to the woman who I say hi to each time she walks by (years of that) and I hope to take it from there. Making sure I ask each person I talk to a question that gets them talking rather than doing most of the talking myself. Practice!
Good for you for taking those steps, Juhli. Sometimes those little things are what really makes a big difference. When you wrote about living where you are as “temporary,” that struck a chord with me. I often feel that way about San Diego, but I’ve lived here for 13 years now. Who knows how long I will be here, but I need to make the most of it while I’m here. You are so right that those two years you have left where you are are still your life. I hope you are able to make some more meaningful connections during that time.
As always, beautifully articulated post Debbie. Kudos to you for your honesty. M
I know how bad loneliness feels. I have the same problem as you – no friends around. I shopped all the time until recently and suddenly find that I have nothing to do with my free time. I’m blessed with a wonderful husband, but I really want to have a social life or Atleast some human contact besides him. I’m thankful for my dog—-she offers unwavering companionship on bad days. I’ve always loved the company of animals. I find human being a lot harder to trust and really open up to. But I really want to be able to talk to other people I can have intellectually stimulating conversations with. We have a few couple friends but we don’t see them more than once a month.
I have decided to goto a Meetup this weekend. Guess we have to make a start somewhere! I wish you all the best as you take the risk to meet new people.
‘Until you spread your wings, you will have no idea how far you can fly’. Good Luck!
I really agree with you about the company of animals, Maneera. In fact, one of my cats is on my lap as I type this response to you… Animals can definitely fulfill some of our companionship needs, but intellectually stimulating conversations are important to me, too. I’m glad you decided to attend a Meetup this weekend. It’s a good start and I hope it will go well for you. Good luck to you, too! I like the quote you included at the bottom of your comment.
Thanks a lot Debbie
I’m sure we will all reach our goals at our own sweet pace. Let’s not forget to enjoy the journey in the meanwhile!
That’s a good point about enjoying the journey. That’s something we all need to remember, as our life is what happens between the big events and reaching our goals. It’s every day and it’s all important.
Speaking of quotes, my personal favourite:
Anaïs Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”
This has always been a favorite quote of mine, too, Saltbox. In fact, I have a refrigerator magnet with that very quote on it!
I love this quote too! And so very apt here 🙂
I loved your post and I loved most of the comments. It is so great when people can give there own experience but avoid the recommendations and most of the comments were people’s experiences.
I am on the same path as you. Illnesses, a lovingly supportive long-time husband, and feeling lonely. I read a book on loneliness recently and discovered we may not really be in the minority with our feelings of loneliness. Surveys are showing quite the opposite. The book was Freedom From Loneliness by Jennifer Page. She had survey results that were very helpful for me as well as 52 ways to stop feeling feeling lonely.
Yes, I really like that people are sharing their experiences, Cheryl. Most of the recommendations are things we all know pretty well, but there is a lot of value in reading about what others have experienced. Thanks for the book recommendation. It sounds very interesting and I’m going to check it out! I think out of 52 ways to stop feeling lonely, at least a few of them should resonate with pretty much anyone. Best wishes to you.
One other thing…your photos…what I loved about them is you found those quiet, peaceful times in beautiful locations without the usual hordes of people and activity. How often does that happen! It really hit home for me because I have been looking hard for some beautiful, quiet, peaceful surroundings and cannot seem to find any.
Thank you for your comment on my photos, Cheryl. Yes, I like to find places that are quiet and peaceful. I think it helps that I usually go to take photos during the less busy times, like in the evenings or during the day on weekdays. As a typical introvert, I don’t like crowds, but I did go to a crowded place on Sunday and that’s when I was really struck by how lonely I am. I don’t know where you live, but in most locations (I’m not sure about places like NYC), you can find a quiet and peaceful oasis. I hope you will be able to soon…
Hi Debbie. I hope that this openness will continue the process in your subconcious which will allow you to choose some actions which meet that need for you in a way that’s suitable for you and not for anyone else.
At a point in my life when I was quite lonely I started to read and work through the exercises in the book ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron, which is all about finding your artistic expression though the effects for me were quite different. I completed the artistic exercises and ended up actually doing lots of things which ended up tackling my lonliness by making my life more fulfilling. I think the main thing those exercises did was help me take some small risks which gave depth and texture to my life.
Wishing you all the best. Ruthie
PS have joined you on facebook.
I used to have “The Artist’s Way,” Ruthie, but passed it on a while back. Maybe it’s time to revisit it, as I never did most of the exercises the first time around. I can see how that book could be helpful in multiple ways. Thank you for your kind wishes and for following me on Facebook. I need to start posting more there…
What a brave person you are to share something so personal.
Loneliness. Hmmm. I have always been lonely, a product of my childhood. But I’m the most lonely in crowds, at church, at events. Some days, it’s overwhelming. Other days, it’s ignored.
I think it’s important to have a clear vision on what you want. Loneliness may never go away, but you can feel better. Do you want a companion? Do you want intermingling? Do you want to coffee and conversation? Do you want simple interactions with people?
Set a simple, clear goal. Then look for opportunities within your reach to move towards that goal.
I have worked from home for over 20 years. My current goal is that I’m trying to make my interactions with everyone an uplifting experience for me and for them. Everyone is treated with kindness, everyone is looked at in their eyes, everyone gets a smile. I know small talk is not going to happen (at least not from me), but I’ll give them what I can and I’ll feel better.
Peace be with you. You are not alone. T
I am really lonely at events and in crowded spaces, too, Tessa. I feel much less lonely when I am in a quiet and serene place. That’s why I was so struck by my loneliness on Sunday. I was surrounded by SO many people, most of whom were not alone. I think you’re right that we need to have a clear vision about what we want. I will have to ponder that, as I’m not entirely sure at this point. Your current goal sounds simple but powerful. I can see how it would make a difference in your life.
Debbie, I struggle with this too. I used to sit at home and fester about how I was lonely and didn’t even have a boyfriend or husband. I finally put myself out there on online dating sites and found somebody. Except he’s as hopeless as me when it comes to friendships. We don’t have “couple friends”, although at least he has a fairly large family so we hang out with them sometimes. But I don’t speak the same language as most of them! I have a couple of friends who are part of couples, and yet, we’ve never done any double dating. I don’t know why – I suppose it is up to me to suggest such things yet it scares me. And he has been resistant about moving in together (we are set in our ways, being older, so we are taking some things slowly) so I find myself at home alone on a Friday night feeling just as lonely as I ever did before when I was single. Being able to go shopping alone is one of the few things that is normal and accepted for women. Well, going to exercise classes is too, but there seems less talking with other people in the class than there are in interactions with store assistants. I don’t know any answers. But there are plenty of us out there.
Thanks for sharing about your situation, Sarah. Yes, “couple friends” can be challenging. So many people have to like each other for it to work. When it does work, it can be a lot of fun, though. You’re right about shopping being one of the only socially acceptable activities for women to do alone. I think that’s part of what can make it so compelling. We don’t REALLY connect when we shop, but it can feel real and thus be something we continue doing. I don’t have the answers, either, but I think that having these types of discussions can be helpful. I appreciate your weighing in and I wish you all the best.
That was a very brave and poignant post. I too am an introvert and don’t find reaching out to new people very easy. My idea of hell was attending a work-related conference/reception by myself… I felt so lonely in a sea of people (all of whom, it seemed to me, knew each other). I’m fine with people I know and I can even fake it pretty well with strangers, but I’m best with one-on-one.
Judging from your beautiful photos, we live pretty close. I would love to meet you for coffee!
I share your idea of hell, Janis! I used to have to attend such events and I hated it… I am also best one-on-one or in small groups. How cool that you live close to me. I will message you about getting together. Thanks for reaching out to me.
We all struggle with loneliness at times. I have found great friends through meetup.com. You will find Bookclubs, Coffee Meetups, Hiking Meetups, Wine Tasting, Theater Meetups… and just about anything else you can imagine. If you don’t find exactly the group you want, you create your own!
Yes, I am a member of Meetup, Cindy, and have attended some events in the past. Some of the groups I like have fizzled, so I need to find some new ones to join. I agree that this can be a great way to meet new people. My husband suggested that I find a photography group, so I’m going to pursue that, as well as some of the other ideas you mentioned.
I only read and rarely comment, but I just want to thank you for your brutal honesty and self awareness. This is my reason for compulsive shopping also. Like you I have few friends except for my husband, who is also a loner. I know it’s a problem and really is something that it would be better for me to change, but at the same time, I don’t enjoy spending time around most people so I’m forever trying to make myself do something I don’t care for.
I have a few old friends I see now and then when the social pressure gets to me. Ironically, once I am with them, I enjoy the feeling of being out with pals. It’s just making myself do it that is so very difficult. It’s sad to me that shopping is so much easier and less stressful and not surprising that I end up in a store instead of with other humans. It’s simply less draining to be alone….but in the long run, I know making human connections is better.
Wow, Kim! Your comment is exactly what I was getting ready to write! So all I need say is “Ditto!”
Debbie, thank you for being so open and honest. I think you’ve helped so many of us with this post. And what you wrote about shopping that “It merely provided a diversion from thinking about and dealing with the things that were broken inside of me and in my life.” This is precisely why I started overshopping and overspending in the first place years ago. Like you I’m an introvert, married, child-free, home 98% of the time, and zero in-person friends here where I currently live. I talk with my sister almost every day but she lives hours away so we don’t get to meet up often. I have online friends including you whom I would dearly love to meet in person yet know realistically that it probably will never happen. I wish us both a lot of luck in making new meaningful friendships. Sending you lots of love and a big hug!
I can say “Ditto” to what both Kims wrote here! It helps me to feel less alone that so many here can relate to how I’m feeling. Sometimes I am a bit scared to post the more emotionally raw posts, but it always pays off for both myself and others. I’m glad I could get this conversation going. I knew that a lot of other people struggled with loneliness and adult friendships. Like the first Kim, I almost always enjoy it when I push myself to get out and be social. I just get set in my ways and make all sorts of excuses not to do it. I wish I could meet you, too, Kim M., and many others here. If we all lived in the same city, none of us would be lonely and we would all have a wonderful group of friends. I still value each and every one of you, though, and am very happy to have you. Sending you love and a big hug, too, Kim!
I just went to my first meetup in my new city yesterday and even though my stomach was in knots of anxiety, it went very well and everyone was nice. No obvious friend prospects but great to be out of the house and chatting with new people. Hopefully you will find some activity to join in that gets you out and interacting and feeling less isolated! I am meeting up with a couple of friends for a movie tonight. With my big life change of quitting work, I am forcing myself to get out there and be social so I don’t get into a depressed and lonely state, which has happened to me in the past.
Seems like you are really diving in there, Tara. Good for you! I think it’s great that you are pushing yourself to get out and socialize. I need to do the same… We can get caught in ruts sometimes. It’s good that you are starting your new life out on the right foot. I wish you the best and hope you will have a rich social life soon.
Thanks for your honesty! I am also an intovert, so I get how hard it is to put yourself out there. You’ve gotten plenty of advice already, so I won’t add more, but I did want to say that your pictures are gorgeous!
You’re welcome, Murphy. I’m glad that my honesty has helped others to better understand their own issues. Thanks for your kind compliment about my photos. I’m very happy to have found a new hobby besides shopping!
You’re actually a very good photographer!
how about taking a photography class?
Thank you, Chris! A photography class is a good idea. I’m going to look into that, as well as a photography Meetup. Even if I don’t meet new friends in either place, I would be learning new things and doing something I enjoy, which is always a good thing.
There have been interesting articles on the subject of Americans and friends and support systems recently The fact is that very few Americans have much of a support system and most Americans have surprisingly few friends. You are not alone and I suspect that the fact that you are an introvert has little to do with your situation. It has a lot to do with the structure and the values of our society. I am not giving you advice, but I am suggesting that it might be useful to look at the problem from the dynamics of our current community as a starting place. It would engage your analytical nature. Just a thought.
Very good points, Susan. I agree that our society has changed in such ways as to have many people feel much more isolated. This is something I would like to learn more about, even if I still have trouble finding answers. Yes, my analytical nature would enjoy diving into this topic, plus I majored in psychology in college and grad school (and enjoy sociology, too). I think there are more and more ways for people to connect and fewer and fewer people are actually feeling very connected. Sad but true…
How can I reach across or through the Internet and just give you a hug or a firm handhold and tell you what an insightful, sensitive essay this is? I am an extrovert and yet your words resonated with me, too. Just because one makes a lot of noise does not mean that one is not a private person or is, at times, lonely for more face-to-face interaction, too. I would agree with other comments that this is a universal human condition. Thank you for this bold sharing. In your sharing of yourself, you are teaching us. Thank you.
Thank you for your kind words, Charlene. I wish you could give me a hug through the Internet… Good point about extroverts feeling lonely, too. I think that many people hunger for more face-to-face interaction. I’m glad that my sharing can help others. Whenever I am hesitant to open up, I always end up being glad that I did.
I think that your photos are beautiful. When I look at them they really quiet my mind. Like Terra, I find them to be soothing and peaceful.
I don’t have too much of a problem with loneliness. I’m fortunate to have several people in my life both local and long distance. What I could relate to was holding back for fear of judgement or getting hurt. It wasn’t unusual for me to know every detail of someone’s life and to share only superficial things about mine. It was hard for me to open up, but I’m glad that I’ve started doing it. I’ve found that the best defense against getting hurt is to feel good about myself and my choices. If I’m not worried that I’m somehow “less than” someone, their words don’t have nearly as big as an impact as they used to. Best of luck to you Debbie, anyone would be lucky to have you for a friend.
I appreciate what you wrote about my photos, Tonya, and that you said anyone would be lucky to have me as a friend. That means a lot to me… I really resonated with your point about how we need to feel good about ourselves and our choices. Many times, I think my fear of being judged stemmed from being insecure or judging myself. But this fear and my holding back led me to attract a lot of “emotional vampires” who only wanted to talk about themselves and use me as their personal therapist. I am still working on being more open. I used to be very open when I was younger and am now seeking some sort of a happy medium. I am very open on the is blog, but much less so in my “regular life,” but I plan to change that at least to some degree.
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