Of all the emotions people go through during a divorce, I’d have to say, hands down, the most heart-breaking, difficult one is loneliness. I can say firsthand how painful loneliness during divorce can be. I felt that way a lot. It feels sad and scary and alone and isolating, especially when the spouse finds someone new. Other really lonely times happen when your kids leave and you find yourself sitting in your house. Ugh, thinking about that still makes my heart sink and it’s been 9 years!
So when I read this email, sent by a reader struggling with being alone, my heart went out to him:
It’s been about 3 months since I got separated and moved out. I was so used to seeing my daughter everyday, taking her to school etc and now I get to see her every other weekend and maybe during the week if I’m off. I was the one who ended the relationship and regretted it after, but have been told numerous times that she doesn’t want to get back together. What I’m asking is, approximately long does it take for this feeling of loneliness and being alone to go away. For 8 years she’s all I’ve known. I’m not sure how to cope or how to get back into the singles scene.
I feel like when people are feeling lonely, they sort of panic, like loneliness is this really horrible, incurable disease. They want to take a pill to make the feeling go away, or in this guy’s case, want to know (much like someone asks a doctor) “How long will this last?”
Unfortunately, unlike a doctor, I cannot answer how long it takes for the feeling of loneliness and being alone to go away. Why? Because it’s different for everyone, and there are countless factors that come into play in the healing process. The factors include everything from the time you were together to why you broke up to what’s going on in your life now, and many many many other things that contribute to both moving forward and not moving forward after a split.
Healing from loneliness can also go in stages. It’s not like you wake up one day and you never feel lonely again. But what can happen is, you wake up one day and you surprisingly feel pretty good. Hopeful. But then the next day you feel lonely again. Or, you feel good for a few days until the loneliness returns. I’d have to guess that people feel lonely on and off again their entire lives. And, remember that you can still feel lonely if you are in a relationship. In fact, the worst loneliness is when you feel trapped in an unhappy relationship.
The point I’m making is, instead of waiting for the loneliness and feelings of being alone to go away, focus on living in the present, and let yourself heal without trying. What I mean by living in the present is, wake up every morning with the attitude of, “I can do anything I want today. How am I going to make this day good?”
Now, I get it that we all have responsibilities like work, errands, family, chores, cleaning, etc. Those are things we have to do. When I say you can do anything you want today, I’m talking about after work, after everything gets done. I’m talking about planning things during weekend and holidays or planning vacations.
Please don’t say, “I have to work an 11 hour shift 6 days a week so screw you, Jackie!” I’m saying, make sure you carve out a little piece of every single day to do something you enjoy, something that makes you happy, that gives you serenity and gratitude. That might mean a walk in a beautiful park, going to see an old friend, playing tennis, watching a funny movie, or ordering your favorite deep dish pizza.
As someone who has been alone for most of my adult life, I can strongly say that doing things you enjoy makes loneliness seem more manageable. Not so bad. No one ever said you can’t enjoy life, smile, laugh and have a good time by yourself.
I’m not saying people should learn to live alone and be alone and be OK with it forever. I’m not saying that at all. But, people should learn to live alone and be alone and be OK with it for a little while–knowing it’s temporary if they eventually want to be in a relationship. In other words, if you have the desire to date and get into a relationship and even be married again, that’s great! But you have to get through the lonely time first, to get to your future love. And, I think a lot of people settle into bad relationships for the number one reason that they fear being alone and lonely.
What I want to say to this sweet man is a couple things. First, is it possible to see your daughter more? Think of ways to make that happen. Secondly, 8 years is a long time to be with someone so I’m sure you are hurting. It must be a very hard adjustment. Give yourself some time to heal, but while you’re doing that, don’t forget to enjoy things. Basic, simple things in life. As for getting back into the singles scene, you’ll figure that one out. Live day to day until you figure out what (and who) you want next in your life. It sounds really trite to say, “Learn how to be alone” but there is some truth to it. Because if you can learn to enjoy time by yourself, you will never feel desperate to be in a relationship for fear of being alone. Meaning, you will get into the relationship for the right reason—because you fell in love, not because you found refuge from loneliness. And, if the relationship turns out to feel wrong, you will end it instead of staying in it, because you won’t fear being alone again.
Jackie Pilossoph is the creator of her website, Divorced Girl Smiling. The author of her novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationship column, Love Essentially, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press. Pilossoph lives with her family in Chicago. Oh, and she’s divorced.