I have learned that doing things by myself, even social activities without the safety net of a friend or a group of friends has helped me be more open to others and create more opportunities for personal growth.
Five years ago I got divorced. My sixteen year marriage lasted longer than it should have due to a number of reasons, but I’d say it was mostly because I was afraid to be alone. My younger self thought that once I found a partner, my life would be complete, and I didn’t think it was possible to be happy without a partner. I was so wrong.
My marriage, even during the early happy times, left me feeling more alone than when I was on my own. Looking back now, I realize that I had a lot of inner work to do, and unfortunately I needed to go through the pain of my divorce to realize this. I’m grateful now for where I’ve landed in my life, and I no longer have intense pangs of loneliness. I’ve found a new focus, which is my career, my health/wellness, my friendships/family, and creating a nurturing home environment for my son. I also now have more time to spend on exploring outside interests like writing, food, and art. Friends who are moms have told me that they are envious of my regular alone time. I’ve learned to embrace that time now.
I spent most of the holidays this year alone, by choice. Previously, I couldn’t have imagined being by myself during the festive holiday season, but due to Omicron, it felt okay to be isolated. I’ve entered a new phase in my life which feels similar to when I started to travel alone after my divorce. I had traveled to London for a week by myself which included a day trip to Paris for my birthday and spent the entire day alone getting lost in the beautiful Parisian streets. Traveling solo helped me heal and realize that there is so much to look forward to in life even after a marriage ends.
A study on social isolation in the U.S. from the American Sociological Association showed that 1 out of 4 people feel like they have no one to talk to about their personal struggles. Similarly, a report by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation shared that 22% of U.S. adults “say they often or always feel lonely, feel that they lack companionship, feel left out, or feel isolated from others.” This impacts many areas of life but especially mental and physical health.
Loneliness is one of the main reasons people seek therapy. A study from a medical journal showed that loneliness is linked with mortality rate. Being alone and feeling lonely are two very different things. Being alone is a physical state while feeling lonely is a psychological state. Many people experienced being alone during the pandemic. Some people embraced this time to pursue interests or work on themselves while others struggled mentally with the social isolation and found themselves feeling depressed.
Adam Grant recently wrote about people experiencing a sense of stagnation and emptiness during most of 2021 in a NY Times article, There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing. He describes this feeling as the “void between depression and flourishing.” I can relate to being in this state of mind over the past few months which had led me to slowly isolate myself more than I ever have in my entire adult life. The only thing that has kept me from being too lonely has been my work relationships at a fully remote company. I can’t imagine what this past year would have been without having work as an anchor to others.
In the dictionary, loneliness is defined as “sad from being alone” and “producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation”. Loneliness is an uncomfortable feeling that many of us want to avoid. It feels like being off balance and without any direction. It seems like everyone else is having fun and being connected to others while we are missing out. It makes us feel like we are not whole and that something is wrong with us.
I mentioned earlier that I felt alone in my marriage often. It’s hard to describe the loneliness I felt in my marriage and to pinpoint what was the exact cause of it. I questioned if it was coming from being in a codependent relationship or if it was due to a common situation of what happens to some couples over time or after having children. I now realize that my partner and I were not great communicators with each other but there were many other factors that I didn’t realize until going through therapy. Through the past few years of self work and adjusting to a new life in the pandemic, I have learned to be alone but not lonely.
A Psychology Today article, Why You Want to Be Alone and Why That Matters, shares why it’s important to spend some time being alone. Here are four benefits to being alone:
I have learned that doing things by myself, even social activities without the safety net of a friend or a group of friends has helped me be more open to others and create more opportunities for personal growth. Sometimes being alone can lead to boredom which then can lead to creativity. Once I’ve allowed myself to feel bored and not distract myself with social media or television, I’ve found myself to step into my “creator” mode. When my son was younger and complained about being bored, I ignored him and within a few minutes he would start building something using his imagination with legos or start drawing in his sketchbook.
There are times when I’ve felt at a loss on what to do when I find myself alone all of a sudden with no plans. Here are six solo activities that can bring some sense of joy or satisfaction:
I’ve gained some perspective going from being completely single to having a partner to being married with a family to being single again but with a kid. Each of these life experiences had their own unique benefits and struggles. The hardest part was adjusting to being on my own again after 16 years. I can still vividly remember taking my son on a planned vacation by myself during his spring break just two weeks after my husband and I had decided to split. I made the mistake of going to a family resort full of happy couples with their children, which was quite painful since I had not even fully processed that my marriage was ending.
I am lucky to have friends who have included me in travel plans and holiday dinners, or who have just checked in on me when they knew my son was away for an extended amount of time. I’ve also created a new community and support system of people in a similar life situation as myself. We all understand what it feels like to experience loss and grief as a result of a marriage ending or losing a partner. In the beginning of the new single life, many of us rushed to find someone to fill the void. I’ve somehow filled it with other things but it definitely took some time to adopt this new mindset.
I was talking to a divorced friend recently who is deciding whether or not she wants to get into a relationship with someone that she’s been dating off and on for the past year. She admitted to me that she is afraid that she won’t find anyone better out there. My question to her was, “isn’t it better to be alone instead of being with someone you are not 100% excited about?” I’m at the point in my life where my time feels precious and every day needs to count as I get older. I do feel pangs of loneliness every once in awhile but it’s nothing like I felt when my marriage first ended. I do think going for therapy as my marriage fell apart, pushing myself to do things by myself, and living through this pandemic has helped me re-learn how to be happy with myself and in my own company.
Here are some additional reading and listening resources if you want to go deeper into this topic:
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