Loneliness & Solitude

You know what’s terrible when you’re lonely? Facebook. It’s like watching a parade through the three-inch window of your prison cell.

I used to be great at being alone. I was proud of my independence, my lack of neediness.

Something shifted, though. For whatever reason, I’ve been struggling with loneliness in a way that I never have before. This is a brutal sort of loneliness that ambushes me at all hours. It’s accompanied by a vicious cataloging of all my flaws, all of the “reasons” why I’m alone. And it’s bleak, casting long shadows over my future, a doomsday prophet telling me to get used to it; this is how it will always be.

I’ve done my best to fight it. I packed my schedule with activity. I made to-do lists and set goals and started projects and joined groups. I drank too much. And the internet dates…ugh, the internet dates.

I’ve heard many times that if you want to get over something, you have to first let yourself really feel it. I thought maybe I would try that. Lean into the loneliness. Own it. Thoroughly experience it so that I could then let it go.

I don’t recommend it, leaning into loneliness. If you go looking for evidence that you are alone, you will find it, and it will hurt.

I decided that if I was going to be alone, I would be alone. I stopped trying to convince people to spend time with me. I stopped reaching out, and I stopped expecting them to reach out to me. I stopped scheduling every minute. And, probably most helpful, I turned off social media. I forced myself to stop the endless casting about on Facebook and Twitter for I don’t know what…Company? Attention? Distraction?

Once I did that, the clamoring inside me subsided a bit. I was left with something quieter and more peaceful: solitude.

Solitude is the graceful cousin of loneliness.

Loneliness stems from comparison and envy. I see a happy couple and immediately compare my state with theirs: loneliness. I see friends checking in on Facebook and feel another stabbing comparison: they are out having fun together and I am here, alone. Loneliness is a lack, a feeling of less-than, a focus on what you’re missing.

Solitude, on the other hand, is just the state of being alone. It’s being present with yourself, only yourself. Solitude focuses on what is, not what is lacking.

In solitude, there’s freedom. Do what you like. Listen to what you like. Sleep if you’re sleepy; eat if you’re hungry.

I spent a gorgeous weekend in solitude, puttering in the garage like I used to, in those days when I was great at being alone. I left my phone in the bedroom and forgot about it. I finished a painting. I worked in the yard. When the daylight faded, I curled up with a glass of wine and a book. These are things I love. Solitude gives me time to do them.

I began to recognize both loneliness and solitude as spirals. Solitude gives. Loneliness takes.

When you’re drowning in loneliness, you’re not just reaching for people; you’re clutching. You feel it. They feel it. You approach relationships—both existing and potential relationships—from a place of scarcity. When you show up with that sort of neediness, it’s a negative experience for you and for those with whom you interact, which may cause them (or you) to withdraw. Negativity and withdrawal reinforce your loneliness.

On the other hand, solitude allows you to fill up, recharge, and come to your relationships open-handed. You come from a place of abundance. You’re in a position to give, which feels good to you and to others, making you more likely to seek their company and them more likely to seek yours.

After a little healthy solitude, I can show up and be gracious again. I can feel happy for the happy couples instead of resentful and jealous. I can relax and joke with my friends. They laugh; I hear that they enjoy me, which makes me feel valued—an upward spiral.

I wish I could say that the loneliness is gone, but it isn’t. It’s right there, like a bruise that hurts if I touch it. The sensible thing, then, is to stop touching it.

No more leaning into loneliness. If you’re lonely, lean into solitude.

If you're struggling with loneliness, lean into solitude.

10 thoughts on “Loneliness & Solitude

  1. Hey Meg, I want you to know I think I’m going to use this post in my class later in the year, if that’s ok with you.  I do a type of writing I call a reflective essay, which is personal, and often contains an incident, but is mainly about thinking about a subject – musing, reflecting.  Just what you have done here.  Yours is a type we call a definition essay —  what do loneliness and solitude really mean? What is the difference between them? etc.  Anyway, I think your piece will work well because it is fairly straightforward but uses some nice figurative language.   For the record, there’s no money in this (fair use doctrine), but I copied and pasted your words along with your picture, so you will have maybe a few seconds of fame.   Life on my end is still plugging along.  My mother-in-law passed away (she was 96) so naturally, that was difficult, and in a way is still ongoing, dealing with family issues etc.   My students are writing an essay right now so it’s blissfully quiet and easy — until I have to grade them. Keep on writing and just being generally awesome!  As to your subject matter, I don’t do well with loneliness, or even solitude.  I spend so much time around people that I fantasize about being alone, but when I am I really struggle and am definitely not content.  I’m an extrovert.  I’ll even talk to strangers in a hot tub. Take care, Andy

    • Hi, Andy! You’re welcome to use it. Help yourself.

      I’m sorry for your loss. I never know what to say, but I do wish you comfort and peace. And rest. I remember that grief comes with exhaustion.

      I think that may be part of why it’s harder for me now…when I had younger kids, I longed for solitude too. I was explaining to someone that I’m not ALONE, I have people…I’m just lonely.

      Perhaps I should lurk around hot tubs.

    • Thank you, Karen, how kind of you to comment! I always intend to get back into the habit of blogging but I never quite seem to get the focus back. Thank you for the encouragement. If you subscribe, you’ll get an email notice if I post again. The good news is that you won’t get too much email…unless I really get my groove back!

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