On Being Lonely

Lonely. It’s a forlorn word. It’s not the same as being alone – which is often so delicious – and it doesn’t just happen when you are alone – you can be lonely, as it is said, in a crowd. In a city. At a party.

Lonely. It comes up often in my conversations with clients and friends. There seems to be a lot of it going around – so much change in such a short period of time has unmoored millions of us from the ties that held us to people, to place, to the real. Add the shiny fun of the on-line world where we can fill our needs without the mess or effort of fleshy human relationships – I can see why lonely is on the rise. As one woman wrote to me a few months ago, “I try to connect, I go to events, but people often come with someone and nothing seems to stick. It’s just easier sometimes to stay home with my dog and Netflix.”


I realized in the last year that I am lonely too often. Yes, I have a beloved husband-to-be, my daughter is my favorite woman on the planet, my best friend and I go back 42 years (!), and I need more community. In the flesh.

When I lived in Santa Barbara, I meet with the same women every week for 6 years. I hiked up Cold Springs with my three neighbors at 6 am. Lilly was little so play dates and kid’s classes and all that yummy melee was huge part of life.

Slowly, over the years, too much of this in the flesh community dropped away. My social network is world wide and stuns me (so many amazing people!) yet my day-to-day warp and weave of connection is too thin. My own struggles with being a 4 on the Enneagram (major belief: I don’t belong) + my work-work-work hard-hard-hard pattern contributes to my loneliness. And then there is the strange influence of the computer – I can feel connected all the time and, at the end the day, I can feel dried out and “screen burned” as my friend Chris calls it. I don’t interrupt my pattern of work-work-work – in fact, being on the computer and on social media helps me stay locked in that pattern.

Enter my oft-touted Brain Trust (Soul Posse/Mastermind/Peer group/Wisdom council, call it what you like). These beloveds have patiently helped me see my story of not belonging as the illusion it is (we all belong dammit!) and helped me break my work-work-work hard-hard-hard pattern.

Hence I write this from a friend’s beautiful kitchen in San Francisco. I’m in the Bay Area because I gifted myself a week of visiting friends – friends met on-line, friends from 25 years ago, friends I barely know but want to know more deeply.

It was hard to let myself spend the money and time to come – when I was traveling to the airport, I experienced a strange sensation of floating away and realized that I mostly travel for work or with Bob – I have a purpose or it’s something Bob and I created together. But to travel simply because I want to made me uneasy.

Which made me realize that unraveling lonely involves listening to and acting on my desire for connection. To make that desire a priority is the key to dissolving my loneliness. I know a bit of doh but that is how I learn.

So I have this trip and then another to Florida in March to see family and my best friend. I have three dates on the books for dinner at home. I’m thinking about teaching a regular writing/dance class on Bainbridge and maybe starting a woman’s group. I’m going to ask my neighbors over for dinner. I’m seeing my BrainTrust in my person in March and I’m not going to be focused much on getting work done but on being with them.

So I wonder – are you lonely? Can you tell me about that lonely? I think there is more ways I can serve here to help but I’m still (obviously) in the learning gathering stage. Has being on line made you more lonely or less? I’m so curious.

And if you have any interest in getting your own Soul Posse/Mastermind group going to help you dissolve your patterns and get your great work done, today I release my course at 50% off + you could win coaching. Invite your group and have your first meeting by March 1st and could win an hour of coaching with me – for your group or yourself personally. Plus everyone who convenes a group for by March 1st gets the famed Satisfaction Finder as a gift. So connect, get support, save money, and win more stuff. Cool beans.

Go here.

People who flourish have allies, helpers, masterminds, soul posses.
Get yours started now.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Claire Gillenson - January 16, 2013

This speaks straight to my heart. I too have a loving husband and a daughter I am crazy about, AND at the same time….working for myself, now coming up on 12 years, coaching in person, on the phone, via skype, helping people move through grief, it can be HEAVY. I love my FB community, and I find that I am often in the “missing”. I set the intention of inviting more company this year by creating Sunday dinners as a way to connect and share. Not sure if it is by nature Los Angeles and folks wanting to keep their calendar options open, but the Evite responses were many maybes. I am not attached so this too is ok. I find myself committed to my transparency, and keep my heart open, perhaps 2013 will bring authentic community.

Elinor Predota - January 16, 2013

Ooh, awesome! I’m just starting what I think we’re going to call a “Goddessmind” group. My plan is to hold it as an action learning set, within the gorgeous soft nest of getting to know one another as women, and supporting one another as women. What an incentive to get my arse in gear and get going!

Kathryn Antyr Costa - January 16, 2013

Here is a beautiful video on being lonely: http://youtu.be/k7X7sZzSXYs

I love my solo time, but if I have too much of it I feel itchy for connection. When I was a single mom, I felt terribly lonely going to school events and being surrounded by couples. I would remind myself that many of them may have had an argument just before attending or feeling alone in their relationship. These words never really helped much but I would think them again and again.

After 7-1/2 years of flying solo I’m now married to a fabulous, supportive, and inspiring man. I’m adjusting to having so much couple time and yearn for more solitude. We’ll figure it out.

I think it is great that you scheduled some ways to connect. It is a great response to what you are feeling.

ruth - January 16, 2013

I have been having this conversation with myself for years, and lately, with friends online. Sure, virtual connection is wonderful but we’re humans. We need touch. We need to feel the physical vibration of another person for true connection.

So how do you meet people? How do show up a second time when the first try was awkward? For me, I have solved the problem by leading groups, but then, I am missing a piece of the intimacy because I am in the role of leader, coach, mentor.

So this is my work too, now…finding new ways to connect in the flesh with people who reverberate with me, who are willing to show up, deeply and authentically and risk intimacy. We need it. We all need. it. Now, more than ever.

Thank you for opening up this conversation. Hugs around you!

curious if its true - January 16, 2013

I am a 7. I don’t much mind being lonely, it gives me a chance to go a little deeper with my writing and painting.

Linda Mendenhall - January 16, 2013

Having been divorced for almost 11 years now, I find myself leaning into my “lonely” moments verses falling down the rabbit hole of despair like I have done in the past. Perhaps age helps with this, as I approach 50…or perhaps it’s the understanding that human nature makes us long for connection on a regular basis. I coach women who are struggling with addiction, and I find that addiction comes in so many forms – not only substances, but digital addictions, too. Social media and other digital addictions make us feel more isolated. Being in community, healing together, sharing, exchanging hugs…it’s the best prescription for moving us through life and loneliness. The key is finding a healthy balance between isolation and connecting with others.

Thank you for a wonderfully written email – I love how you process life. 🙂

Christine Stewart - January 16, 2013

I experience the same thing as the woman in your post – I go to events, I sign up for those ‘find a friend’ meetings, and people do either bring the safety net of someone else, or don’t show up at all and the meeting is canceled. I rarely meet women who go somewhere alone, thereby leaving a space for a new person to step in, even if it’s just for five minutes, like the five minute conversation I had this past weekend with a lovely woman in a pagan bookstore in my city while we were both waiting for tarot card readings. I keep reminding myself to be open, to be vulnerable and be the first person to sign up or say hi. It’s hard! Sometimes I’m good at it, sometimes I sneak away to my books and my Netflix too. I do have several great girlfriends, and a wide community I’m part of (notice I didn’t say ‘belong’ – I feel the same way), but my best friend lives in LA (I’m in Maryland), and a really close friend I hung out with a lot (we ‘got’ each other, which was great), married and moved to London over a year ago, so now we have twice-a-year-friend-adventures. I’m leaving that space open for the new close friend. She’s just running late!

    jenniferlouden - January 21, 2013

    your comment contains so many great ideas for how we can all connect. maybe one reason who don’t leave space is we are too busy and fear having another person to take care of? I love what you wrote! thank you for commenting.

Karen Taylor - January 16, 2013

I have been lonely since my husband died in 1998. He was forty three. I went to grad school and became a Licensed Professional Counsleor, but the void in my life continued to expand. Arthritis grew worse and Fibromyalgia started biting me. I had to give up my practice. Fast forward. My 32 year old son is living with me to save money. He has applied to grad school. I am selling my home and moving to Savannah to follow my dream. I have always wanted to facilitate small creative/empowerment groups for women. At the very least, I would to host getaways for tired souls like myself. I know that I am missing a sense of community. I am affirming that this move to the sea will be healing and that I will find fulfillment, once again, in helping others. As a post script, I wonder if being married again would help fill the void?

    jenniferlouden - January 21, 2013

    You will host these getaways and they will fill you and the women who attend. May it be so!

Melanie Nisbet- Riley - January 17, 2013

Am I the only one who rarely feels lonely? I have an attentive husband, a few very close friends, and a wide circle of acquaintances, but I don’t think that’s it – though it helps. I think it’s because I’m introverted. I actually love and crave my alone time.

    jenniferlouden - January 21, 2013

    You are not! Thanks for chiming in with another view, I love that and value it.

Lydia Puhak - January 17, 2013

Lonely is one of my greatest teachers and I’m SO glad to hear you’re a companion with me in this, Jen! To answer your inquiries: Am I Lonely? Well, no… I wouldn’t say I AM lonely, but I often feel lonely, deeply and painfully lonely. I’ve learned not to identify myself with BEING lonely, as I learned that, for me, this leads to isolation, being the odd-person-out, an outcast, a belief that being me = being ostracized. blech. Lots of learning has happened in this area and I’m now quite grateful for my ability to FEEL lonely in all its glory. Have I become more or less lonely with the internet? Feeling into this quickly, I’d say more. I now yearn WAY more for the in-the-flesh connection that I hear about, read about and get glimmers of on-line. …and I’m strongly introverted and highly sensitive, so too many in-the-flesh connections is overstimulating and depleting for me… I’d say, in a nutshell, that my activity on the internet has made me more aware of what’s out there and expanded my reach giving me more experience with what’s possible than the pre-internet days, so the longing is greater and the lack of actual human contact more evident.
Lovely to be with Lonely this way, this morning, Jen. Thank you. deep bows.

    jenniferlouden - January 21, 2013

    so wise, thank you Lydia!

Hannah - January 18, 2013

Great question Jen, and eloquently described. I often struggle with the balance between simultaneously craving connection and needing alone time, which can leave me feeling lonely at times (This made no sense to me until I discovered Myers-Briggs and identified as an INFJ). Being online has made me less lonely for two reasons: 1) I can actively seek out, and have a greater chance of connecting with, people who are more likely to share my interests and values, and 2) I feel like I have more control over how much of myself I give. As you say above, I’ve become a lot better at listening to the need for connection, and being online enables me to connect with people who are meaningful to me, even if we’re on two different sides of the world. I feel grateful for that.

    jenniferlouden - January 21, 2013

    so well said Hannah!

Angela Shogren - January 18, 2013

A couple of years ago, disaster hit our family and we lost our farm, and along with it my sense of purpose, the sense of community we had with our neighbors, customers, other market members…my sense of wonder, inspiration, pride and confidence soon followed.
I’m definitely not the woman now that I was before all of that, and I’m alright with that…but this woman I am, I don’t know her that well yet either and I can’t say I’m totally comfortable walking around in her skin…and, to the point, interacting with the friends she had and seeing the confusion, maybe disappointment, on their faces when they realize I’m not her…that leaves me pretty lonely. Lonelier than I feel when I’m actually alone.
I think I’m mostly ok with it for now. I think it’s useful to get to spend time without distraction to get to know myself better, and keep my social interactions to either dear old friends who’ve loved me in every season, or people brand new to my life who approach getting to know me without expectation.
I’m not sure that that’s the right thing to do, but it’s for sure the most comfortable so that’s what I’m going with for now.

    jenniferlouden - January 21, 2013

    This was so beautiful to read and so brave. It sounds like you are doing exactly what needs to be done. With a beautiful open strong heart.

kiki - January 21, 2013

I’ve been struggling with loneliness for some time now. Having moved repeatedly throughout my adult life for my ex’s career (and how the hell did that happen? I’m an unapologetic feminist!) I now have some very close friends… but they are scattered across the continent and not nearby. Attempts to find friends in my current location have fallen flat and shriveled my self-esteem.

So after a lot of thought and a new job offer that allows me to work virtually from anywhere I choose, I’ve made a decision to take a difficult first step in the right direction–I agreed to take my best friend up on her offer to help me (Yes me, the one everyone else always leans on).

Movers will arrive this Saturday to put most of my belongings in storage and for the next 6-8 months I will be living with my bestie, my 16-year-old “niece,” and my “back-up mom.” Four women from three generations sharing one bathroom.

I like my own company and I need alone time. If there’s one thing I KNOW, it’s how to be alone. Now it’s time to learn how to be around and live in community with other people again. I’m choosing to be surrounded, literally, by people who love me rather than continue this accidental solitude. I’m hoping this interlude will provide me with the confidence and courage to make additional changes, to figure out where I want to be and how to have the life I want.

During one of many conversations that preceded this decision, I mentioned to my new roommate that this feels like stepping off of a BIG cliff into thin air. Her answer?

“Yeah, but there are people who love you standing at the bottom waiting to catch you. Besides, I know you’re going to learn to fly before you ever hit the net.”

Can’t wait to see what color my feathers turn out to be 🙂

    jenniferlouden - January 22, 2013

    this made me tear up with happiness – what a brave woman you are! Please please keep me posted how the move goes. Thank you so much for inspiring me! Love!!!

      kiki - January 22, 2013

      I will definitely keep you posted. I’m optimistic and scared at the same time. But continuing to put one foot in front of the other.

Molly - January 22, 2013

This resonates so deeply (as I sit at home with my dog and Netflix! :)- ) and it is comforting to know I am not alone in my loneliness. I’ve struggled with the feeling of disconnect (also a 4) and feeling apart from the world…and it doesn’t seem “fixed” with online connections, though these are my greatest support of like-valued people I have in my life now. Yet, as many others here mentioned, my best and closest friends have lived miles and states away for years, many moves have kept me from settling into any solid local community structure, and even as I now have purchased my first home in a community I love for it’s uniqueness and community values (Ithaca, Ny) I still find this gulf between myself and making real, meaningful connections with people face to face. Perhaps, not working outside my home and not having much social interaction on even a superficial basis within any structural group (I’ve always been a “group” person- athletics/team sports, large family, active in every extracurricular known to man throughout my grade school and college years) has something to do with it, yet I have always been an extroverted person who had no trouble talking to people or meeting new people (though as an ENFP, interestingly enough, I am an extrovert with a strong need for alone time to allow for my own internal balance, which I’ve actively cultivated for the past several years since my breakup with my long time boyfriend…before that I’d literally never lived alone in my life and was not comfortable being alone/with only myself at all…)Now I am, yet I still yearn for that connection, that interaction, that stimulation that comes from connecting, deeply and meaningfully, with others. Yet, as my internal, spiritual work has progressed these past few years, rapidly, and my entire life looks 180% different from what it did 5 years ago, I find I’ve outgrown many older connections, they’ve either fallen away naturally, or I’ve actively ended them, for it’s become clear to me that I’d rather be alone than be around people who are not supportive of me and who do not allow me to freely be and express myself as just who I am. Perhaps that is part of my problem- I’m so new to me, this new me anyway, it’s still a challenge for me to openly be myself freely unless and until I feel comfortable and accepted by others, and I have not met many in person who I’ve connected with in this way- though online, I’ve been able to connect with so many wonderful people. Still, as pointed out, it’s not a good substitute- there is still a real need for face to face interactions, for touch, for spending time with someone, in real life, in real time…not through a screen or words on a page. It’s what we all seek…it’s been made worse with the proliferation of “social” media…there have been studies done now confirming a direct correlation between the amount of time one spends on social media sites and the level of disconnection and isolation they feel…and it’s the opposite of what you think it would be- the more time, the higher sense of social isolation and disconnection. I think the internet is wonderful in many ways, but as a replacement or even strong supplement to human relationship, it is not leading us in the right direction. In a way, I feel many of these increased feelings of loneliness and isolation are a direct result of the internet/screen world taking such a central role in our lives.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I know it cannot be found online.

Monica Downen - January 23, 2013

7 years ago I quit my 15 year career in law enforcement and began my quest for true joy. One of the greatest benefits, scratch that, THE greatest benefit of being in the law enforcement family is exactly that family. Like-minded people who understood what I went through each day and who shared my experiences 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We had moved from King to Kitsap county several years before I left my job, and when I did leave I started a brand new career in the restaurant business. Since then, I am surrounded every day by people who think they really know me and almost always mean well for me, but I have lost most of my deeper connections that I thought I had. My best friend is still in my life but I only see her a few times a year, and that is not the same as almost every day by any means. Other friends have drifted away, and while we still have fun when we do see each other, I know that the connection we had is not the same any more.

I have a loving, supportive husband who quit his 16 year career and became my employee, and my parents are nearby and very supportive also. Yet in spite of all of this, I get intensely lonely at times. I don’t have any ‘real’ friends in my immediate area and the cursory relationships that I do have don’t fill the need to connect with others on that deeper level. I have no one I can call and meet for a quick hug or long talk. I am the boss, I run the company and I make it all up as I go because I have never done any of this before. I work IN the business and ON the business, and I keep plenty busy, so it definitely is not a matter of being alone (I enjoy that immensely), it is loneliness. And it is not all the time, it is once in awhile that it happens, though when it does it feels profound.

By the way, when I was searching for answers within myself I read “The Comfort Queen”, at least 10 years ago. You have been with me along my journey for a long time now, and I thank you for that. I still use those tools! I quote you in my newsletters and refer folks to you frequently, and 2 months ago I had a conversation with a gal I know, who asked me to be on her advisory board. It was for a specific project with an end-date, and she just wanted a group of us to give her feedback and support with what directions to look into… and I flippantly said “I need an advisory board!” .. We laughed about it and then started talking about how that could actually be really valuable for my business. I gnawed on that bone for a few days and then asked my mom, who is an executive coach, if there is such a thing. She happily sent me tons of information about creating an executive advisory board for my business, all very official and structured… and she ended it by letting me know that this regimented style may not be a good fit for me, so take the information and find out how to make it work in my color-outside-the-lines style. Then I read this post. I had read about your brain trust before and it never resonated with me the way it did this time. This is what I was looking for! I am so glad I put it out there and asked the universe to show me how because I am referred back to you, who has always been a lovely guide. I signed up and am excited about it! I hope to be able to come to one of your retreats some day. Thank you.

    jenniferlouden - January 24, 2013

    I so loved reading this! I so hope we can connect one day on Bainbridge or elsewhere. May you find the high level support you need for this stage of your life – it is totally possible!

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