I experienced a dating drought at the beginning of this year. My phone stopped ringing, my Match.com inbox dried up and I felt untethered. I felt real loneliness for the first time since my ex-husband moved out two years ago. It was strange. My whole being seemed to wither. I contributed meagerly to conversations. Writing ideas were few and small. I couldn’t even find good songs on the radio. I remember thinking, I wouldn’t make a good partner right now. I’m all deficit and no offerings. I was immersed in uncertainty. My housing was up in the air. My career path was amorphous. My kids were bickering and it WOULD NOT STOP SNOWING. I wanted a partner to help me. I wanted a co-decisionmaker, someone to make me laugh, rub my shoulders and tell me it was going to be OK. I wanted to fill a void. I wanted to meet someone. All the while fearing I reeked of desperation. I forgot I could make my own happiness. I forgot about the difference between loneliness and aloneness.
Loneliness vs. Aloneness
You misunderstand aloneness as loneliness; it is simply a misunderstanding. You are sufficient unto yourself. — Osho via The Good Men Project
Loneliness is a longing for attention, understanding and comfort from another. It’s searching or waiting for companionship. It’s feeling incomplete on your own. It’s a deep desire to share your life. It’s a weariness from doing everything by yourself. It’s thinking your prayers will be answered if you could just find someone.
Aloneness is summoning strength from within and letting it flow outward. It’s enjoying your own company and finding pleasure in self-created activities. It’s self-actualization — living to your full potential and not being swayed by other’s opinions. It’s a wholeness unto yourself that fosters healthy emotional connecting.*
My personal opinion is that loneliness is the more common state. It’s effortless to slip into the anxiety and sadness of loneliness. Our extroverted culture perpetuates the image of happiness through family and coupling. Loners are losers. If you are single, don’t worry you’ll find someone soon. Although the stigma of single-hood is lessening there often remains a natural pressure or desire to belong to a group or pair. Lives increasingly filled with busy-ness (technology use, invasive work demands, longer commutes, overloaded schedules), limit time for face to face socializing and deep connecting. Even when you want to share good news it can be difficult to find loving listening ears. Long term loneliness is unbearable. It drives people to fill the void with the first acceptable person that shows up.
You may be filling a void if:
1. You hop from relationship to relationship. Searching and searching. You are ‘bored’ or ‘at loose ends’ by yourself and can’t spend an afternoon alone. Potential loneliness scares you.
2. You settle for a relationship that stops at knowing your partner. Understanding and relating are extras you are willing to do without in order to have someone now.
3. You are in love with how your partner looks to the world rather than how he/she looks at the world. You fall in love with being a couple.
4. You change your values in order to make a relationship work. Selling out. Ex. Giving up religious or disciplinary practices.
5. Relationships end and you don’t take the time to go internal and process. You move on to the next one without considering the growth and development experienced in the last one. You are afraid to linger in pain so you cover it up with new excitement.
6. You use someone else’s belief in you rather than believing in yourself.
How do you get out of the loneliness/void-filling pattern?
Be good on your own first.
Ironically, in order to return to my natural happy and un-lonely set point, I needed time to myself.
I finally had a few days when the kids were in school and the house didn’t need cleaning for a showing. The space allowed fostered pro-activity instead of reactivity. My brain started churning out possibilities for housing and career paths. I read inspiring biographies and innovative books about relationships. I had dinner with old friends. I networked within my social circles. I looked into trips with friends and family.
I traveled to DC with the kids and it was incredible. We worked as a team and explored the city with gusto and curiosity. I’m in my element when it comes to exploring new places, finding great food and talking to strangers (I know, weird for an introvert). I love chatting up the locals and finding hidden treasures within the city. Sure, it would have been nice to have a partner to share the experience with but it was wonderful the way it played out. I ran into a friend from Minneapolis at Ford’s Theater. Our lodging and flights went smoothly. My energy was high and the kids were troopers. I did it on my own and it was awesome.
Back at home, I started going to a new yoga class. I went there for me, not to meet anyone. I wanted the sensual and fitness experience of yoga. I wanted to be present and distracted from my brain chatter. It worked. The instructor kicks my butt. It’s the most difficult yoga class I’ve ever taken. It challenges me and I survive. As an added bonus, the instructor takes his shirt off mid-class, but I digress.;)
I took myself on what Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way calls an artist date. It’s a solo expedition meant to spark whimsy and feed your creative well. My date may have looked like retail therapy but it was more than that. I’m not a big shopper. I tend to consolidate shopping into three or four outings per year. I spent four hours in the mall on this night. I immersed myself in feminine purchases —jewelry, undergarments, makeup. I felt so girlie with my pink shopping bags and fragrance samples. It was the perfect boost for my feminine essence. My masculine essence had been working hard all winter making decisions, snow blowing the driveway and running the show. It was time to soften and play up my inner goddess. I left feeling whole and balanced.
One of the best self-elixirs is helping others. I have friends to support, readers to cherish, family to love and oodles of other opportunities to brighten others’ lives. Most of the time just being heard thrills people. I can listen deeply. It’s actually a great pleasure of mine. I feel useful and purposeful when I get to help others heal and shine.
I filled up my social calendar and the winds began to change. Independence and wholeness are the sexiest most attractive pheromones. The scent of self-satisfaction plays in the air and draws seekers of light. Everyone wants to witness your glow, your radiance. Everyone wants to feel the love that flows from you.
At this point, loneliness has dissolved. Aloneness is in place and poised for an emotionally mature and carefully selected relationship.
How do you dissolve loneliness? Is your relationship a space holder or is it deeply real and rewarding?
* Based on the words of Indian spiritual guru, Osho
If you’d like help working through loneliness, embracing wholeness or fostering fulfilling relationships, please contact me for supportive coaching sessions.
If you enjoyed Is It Love or Are You Just Filling a Void… then you may also love:
How My 91 Year Old Relative Showed Me the Secret to A Powerful Relationship (The Good Men Project)