I wish I could offer you a hug. I’m sharing my own story of loneliness instead, because it has a happy ending. And because I did not know that there could be a happy ending, or even what it would look like.
This “happy ending” isn’t an achievement of some sort, or even an ending, for that matter. But there is love now. And hope. And grace. I’m sharing my story in the hopes that you find these things as well.
When I ended my marriage seven years ago, I was plunged into a loneliness I did not know was always a part of me. That realization came later.
At the time, it seemed like the loneliness had been imposed upon me, and seemingly overnight. Gone were the activities that offered a sense of social respectability and a continuity of narrative — birthday parties and baby showers, potlucks and weekend brunches. Gone was any semblance of belonging to a tribe. Not surprising at all, but disorienting all the same.
For too long I sought to “fix” my loneliness. My entire happiness seemed to depend on it. I put myself out there. Parties, festivals, dates, meetups, hobbies. I searched high and low for my kindred spirits. But that feeling of being completely at home with someone always eluded me. I had never felt so raw and vulnerable and needy. I grew distraught but kept trying. I was trying so hard. If only I’d known I needed to stop trying.
For too long I would not “fix” my loneliness. I was an island unto myself and felt separate from nearly everyone I met. I saw the differences more clearly than the similarities. I didn’t know it then, but deep down inside I harbored a belief that I didn’t belong anywhere. Perhaps this was because it was too scary to allow the feeling of belonging anymore. My life’s experiences had taught me that belonging was always followed by loss — it was safer not to belong. So I became a fringe participant in many different kinds of groups without ever committing myself fully to any of them.
What’s more, I did not know who I was anymore and was desperately trying to find myself; my grief demanded an authenticity that I could not seem to locate. Who the hell was I? Commitment was not just scary, it was terrifying.
In my more cynical moments, I conceived of life as a massive game of pool with unknown players. We humans were the pool balls rolling around on the table of life, occasionally bumping into each other. “Why, hello there,” we might blurt momentarily without meaning anything at all, before hurrying on to who knows where.
My personal loneliness stood in harsh contrast to the noise on social media. I felt like a loony spectator who wondered when everyone else would realize that this epidemic of disconnection was unsustainable and would have to come crashing down. I presumed that the problem of my loneliness was out there, not inside of me.
With time I found the companionship of wonderful and kind people, but not the regular connection and resonance I was seeking. Secretly I cried to myself. Was I doomed to feeling this kind of loneliness forever? Maybe this was how friendship played out in one’s 30s. Maybe this was the natural trajectory of an introvert. Maybe I was the problem. Maybe I was terribly unlovable. Maybe I would have to go gentle into that good night after all.
As you can tell, I resisted my loneliness with every fiber of my being. But as they say, whatever you resist, persists. So, ironically, my loneliness became my most faithful friend. It colored my every waking moment. Every slight was an indication of being unlovable, unwanted, or just plain forgotten. It was limbic starvation. A slow descent into feeling like a nobody.
Trying to fix my loneliness was wearing me out. I decided that I was done playing the scheduling games and the follow-up games. I was done saying yes to people who would not include me in their lives except when they needed help or (in the case of men) when they hoped to secure a date. I was done keeping up with people I didn’t actually adore.
Surprising even to myself, I felt the need to withdraw from society as much as possible. A prolonged pre-Corona shelter-in-place, if you will. In parallel, my options for connection kept dwindling as I stepped away from corporate America and focused on finding myself. It was like a divine intervention intended to get me to confront myself.
In that confrontation, the floodgates opened. Grief, anger, and jealousy surged forth. Especially grief. Grief over the loss of who I used to be. Grief over who I thought I was supposed to be. Grief over who I knew I could be but might not get to be, given all the uncertainty. Grief over things I didn’t even know needed grieving. Sometimes I cried myself to sleep. Sometimes I woke up at odd hours with the urge to scream.
Oh, it hurt so bad. But it also hurt so good sometimes. The feeling of coming alive and feeling fully human again. The releasing of everything that had hurt me in some way or the other. The satisfaction of scanning the entirety of my life and noting that it all made sense. The gratitude for the freedom that came with forgiving and accepting both myself and others. The glimpses of the deepest contentment possible; it was as if life were saying, “This too is available to you, if you’re open to it.”
The loneliness of so many others also became heartbreakingly apparent. The person who confides in you that they‘re unhappy in their marriage. The date who had decided long ago that closing his heart was preferable to partnership. The man who showed up to Burning Man every year for 10+ years because his own family had rejected him and this was the only place where he experienced some semblance of meaningful connection.
In all of this heart-opening, healing, and self-acceptance, I finally connected with myself in a deeper way. I began to savor my own company and my own unique way of being. Quite a lot in fact. I remember this moment sitting on my bed surrounded by a pile of books to read and by God I was happy.
It is so obvious now that loneliness served a purpose, namely to fuel the emotional healing that I had avoided most of my life. It forced me to collect certain parts of myself I’d lost and to know (and love) more of who I truly am.
Your loneliness, painful as it is, might have a purpose too. Find out what it is. Embracing your loneliness is the first step.
I didn’t know where my healing journey would take me. How does a heart that’s closed even conceive of the joys that lie ahead? It’s like asking a blind person what it’s like to see. I’d assumed I would return to “normal” and carry on with life as usual.
Instead, I found love. And the recognition that it is abundant. And with it came joy, peace, and harmony.
The love of the little things. Flowers in my backyard. Red-tailed hawks flying in the sky. A beautiful song. An awareness of the basic goodness and kindness of existence. The deep knowing that life is perfectly and precisely orchestrated.
The love of true friends. The kind that feels warm, heartfelt, and deeply resonant. The kind that doesn’t allow me to be a lesser version of myself. More and more such friends keep showing up, seemingly out of nowhere, the more I open my heart and the more I align with my own true north. I sense that I’m part of a vast interconnected web of beings, where the strongest links are with these kindred spirits of mine. The web is dynamic — it will keep evolving — but I have absolutely no doubt that it’s always there. I feel suspended but safe, connected with all of life, curious and excited about where it’s all going. With all of this interconnectivity there is no room for loneliness, even though my kindred spirits are all over the world.
The love of myself. Knowing, loving, accepting, and celebrating all parts of myself. Listening to my heart and trusting my intuition. Honoring my deepest truths. Always. Feeling strong, powerful, and beautiful. Embracing my vulnerability without fear. Feeling embedded in the flow and trusting it. Embracing both the ups and downs as part of life. Enjoying moments of inexplicable glee.
How do I capture in words how grateful I am that life gave me the opportunity to learn how to love better, to develop a deeper capacity to both give and receive love? It’s the ultimate privilege as a human. It feels miraculous.
Love is abundant. You have to be open to finding it. It’s why we’re here. If you’re feeling stuck, please please don’t give up.
We all long to love deeply but are held back by our fears and conditioning. Too many of us are walking around with closed hearts and we don’t even know it.
I know I’ve just begun. There’s lots more heart-opening ahead of me and it’s the work of a lifetime. As spiritual teacher Adyashanti explains in his book Falling into Grace:
Ultimately, we’re going to have to open our heart to the whole world, to everything that’s happening in it, and to everything that has ever happened. We’re going to open our heart to everything that could possibly happen. Why? Because we’re not separate from anything or anyone. Anything you consider separate from you can scare and can intimidate you. But when you have the willingness to open your heart, to be intimate even with the things you don’t like, with the people and events that frighten you, with the state of the world that may intimidate you, then you’ll find a way in which the core of you has an avenue through which to express itself. You can express and manifest the very depth of yourself in the outside world, so that there’s no longer a division between inside and outside, and there is no longer a boundary for our love.
My Eyes So Soft, a poem by Hafiz
Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice so tender,
My need of God