“Use this time alone to get more comfortable with yourself!”
“You have to be ok being alone before you look to other people.”
Have you heard this stuff inside your grief? Whether you’re hearing it from people when you say you miss your person, or you’re struggling with the enforced alone-ness of the pandemic, bizarre shaming like this is common everywhere: in grief, inside this pandemic, in self-help books everywhere, in pop psychology, in dating advice (especially in dating advice!):
You shouldn’t need other people to feel whole. You need to get comfortable with yourself first.
Friends, I have been comfortable with myself for DECADES. I did not need grief OR this pandemic to get better at being alone. Extra credit study was not needed.
This stuff is so pervasive, it’s time to break it down and tell the truth: Humans need other humans. Loneliness is real. There’s nothing wrong with you for wanting connection.
There is nothing wrong with longing for a populated life.
But that’s not how we talk about loneliness, is it. Much like with grief, expressions of loneliness are typically met with platitudes and dismissal. It’s like you’re failing some secret test by not being 100% self-contained.
Think about the things we say to somebody when they say they’re feeling lonely:
“You shouldn’t need other people to feel whole.”
“Use this time to be more comfortable in your own skin.”
“Think of it as time to get to know yourself better.”
“You’re your own best friend.”
“Don’t be so needy. People won’t like you.”
“If you aren’t ok in yourself, you’re just going to attract the wrong person.”
All of these mean exactly the same thing: Your feelings are not valid. You shouldn’t BE lonely. You aren’t good enough as you are; you clearly need improvement. You must attain perfect levels of self-love, self-comfort and self-entertainment. Only when you have basically ERASED ALL NEEDS FOR HUMAN CONNECTION will you be considered good enough to have said connection.
It might be true that most people “mean well” when they say this stuff, but there is an unspoken second half of the sentence in those attempts to “make you feel better,” and that 2nd half of the sentence is mean, dismissive, and wrong. Try sticking, “so stop feeling so bad” or “you’re not good enough as you are” at the end of those quoted statements up there. See what I mean?
It’s as if: you are unloveable in your current form.
As if: it is “not evolved” to need touch, companionship, shared joy.
As if: having needs means there’s something wrong with you. (“being needy” is an insult, right?)
As if: those who are partnered have achieved perfect self-reliance (because by this “logic” – you won’t be loved until you don’t need to be loved, therefore anyone who’s partnered became perfect first).
So what’s a better response when someone says it’s hard being alone inside this pandemic? Or when they say they’re sad and lonely after a death or a break up?
How about: “That sounds really hard. Want to tell me about it?”
Or maybe: “People need people; you’re no different. Is there anything I can do that would make you feel less lonely today?”
Or – handy in lots of circumstances – “It entirely sucks. Being alone is hard. Would a zoom brunch date feel good this weekend? I can drop off cinnamon rolls on your porch first.”
Normalize feeling lonely. Loneliness is its own special region of hell, and being single – by choice or by circumstance – is tough in a coupled-up, locked-down world. Having a rough time doesn’t have to be a competition, and it doesn’t give anyone the “opportunity” to tell you you aren’t good enough exactly as you are.
Loneliness isn’t a test. You don’t have to come out of this “better” than you are. True now, true yesterday, true whenever this public health crisis resolves into whatever, true as your grief shifts and changes: your needs are valid. Humans need humans. Isolation is hard AF.
You don’t need to be improved. You deserve to be loved as the awesome, imperfect, not-needing-to-be-perfect person you are.
Wishing for some company inside your grief? The Writing Your Grief course and community isn’t like most places on the internet: no one’s going to shame you for being sad. No advice, no judgement, no cheerleading – just acknowledgment and support. Come on in – we saved a spot for you. All the info you need is right here.