Now that I am single and sixty, I spend more time alone than I used to when I was married. However, I spend less time being lonely. I was always lonely in my marriage, not as a mother but as a wife. I was almost never alone but was always lonely.
Here are 10 subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the two and a few suggestions on how to turn loneliness around.
1. You can be happy while you are alone. The same can’t be said for being lonely.
2. Sitting in a football stadium full of people, you can be lonely. It is not a question of numbers, but of emotions. If you are watching the football game at home by yourself, well you get it, you are just alone.
3. Some things are preferable when you are alone like reading. You might prefer to read when alone. It is great to nap while you are alone. On the other hand, if you are feeling lonely, a Saturday date-night movie by yourself might not be the best time to venture out.
4. Sometimes being lonely might make you try something new to get over the loneliness. You might join a group or class that will allow you to learn a new skill or improve on an old hobby. The sheer making the arrangements can go a long way in helping with loneliness. And, you will meet new people and maybe form some new friendships. It feels great to take control in improving your situation, and the worst thing that can happen is that you still feel lonely. What have you got to lose? You can still be alone anytime.
5. Laughter is great for loneliness and also for when you are alone. It is hard to feel lonely when you are laughing, try it. And, it is wonderful to be alone when you want to laugh out loud.
6. On special occasions, to avoid loneliness, nothing replaces planning. If you know you are going to be lonely for Christmas, plan ahead. Do everything you can to make it better before it comes up. Let’s face it, nothing makes up for not being with loved ones, or not having loved ones around on family holidays but you can work on it. Last year I planned a movie with a friend for Christmas morning because neither of us had any plans until later in the day and it kept me from feeling so blue on the first Christmas morning in my life when I wouldn’t be with my children. I was alone when I woke up but had plans that kept me from being lonely.
7. If you want to watch a big game but it feels so lonely to do it by yourself at home, go to a nearby restaurant or bar and watch for a while. Much of the fun is just being around other people to cheer on your team. It might take care of your loneliness. But, if you want to watch alone, no shame in that either.
8. Speaking of bars and restaurants, if you want to have a drink when you are alone, well that’s up to you. If you want to have a drink when you are lonely...don’t do it. It is nothing but a slippery slope that will just make you feel worse.
9. I hate to put this in, but cleaning makes me feel less lonely. I think because I start thinking about how great my place will look when someone comes to see it. How much all of this organization will make me happy when I finish. And, of course, I must do it while I am alone.
10. Being lonely makes me tired, in a sad sort of way. Draggy. I find that exercise helps, as much as I hate to admit it. If I exercise and I am tired, I deserve to be. Being alone does not make me tired.
Of course, much of this is tongue-in-cheek, but it’s rooted in my experiences over my 60 years. I have to trick myself a lot in order not to feel lonely. I hope I won’t always have to do that. I don’t treat loneliness lightly, though. If you feel lonely, but you feel that it will pass or diminish over time, then that seems like a healthy attitude to me. However, if you are living under a dark cloud that never seems to go away, that probably needs help from the outside, whatever that looks like to you.