On loneliness & filling the void

 

Dear Susannah

I turned 30 this year. I welcomed it, I embraced it so much. I’m excited with this new decade. I have accomplished so much within my career but sometimes I feel like I am convincing myself that with all this goodness I should be the happiest person alive. I am most days. But then there’s days where I feel absolutely empty. Lately it’s been feeling more frequent.

I ended a 14 year relationship a year and a half ago. We were high school sweethearts. We went through ups and downs and I ended it because we both were on different paths in life. He was very much go with the flow, and I am very much driven and ambitious. Finances and moving forward in our relationship were the end of it. It didn’t seem like we were moving towards marriage and I didn’t want to become the bread winner of a “future” family at that point. He was very stagnant, no motivation for anything. I was open about what I wanted but not sure why he just wouldn’t try to move out together, take the next step.

I don’t know if I have accepted that decision. Sometimes I feel like I have accepted it and other times I feel like maybe this fear of loneliness makes me miss him. I have chosen to step out of comfort and have dated. Two bad experiences with the first two dates set me back. It really created an insecurity in me.

I travel to fill the void and it does make me happy. I moved to another state. After a year of living in a new place, I learned to love it. But again, it’s lonely. I can get go back home and live with the parents but that is not want I want in my heart. I can try to make a life here but I guess I don’t know how to do that.

I have joined a rock climbing gym and know a few people. Being 30 and living in a new place, being single, a bit insecure, and realizing that I have no friends here scares the shit out of me. I have made friends through a local church but again it doesn’t seem like it’s filling this void. I sought out a therapist and she made it seem like I was perfectly fine. I honestly feel like I was her therapist for a second.

I don’t even freaking know what this void is. Is it a void within myself? I journal almost daily and lately the word lonely has been in almost every entry. So I ask myself how I can fill it and I try my best to be out and social.

It’s so fucking conflicting.

At one point in my life I knew what I wanted and here I am at 30 and have no fucking clue what that is anymore. I question if I even want to have kids and get married. I question if my career is even important anymore. I’ve found a love in writing and have loved it since I was younger but I don’t think I could ever write a book as I didn’t even go to school for that. My grammar is awful, but if I could write stories all day, I would.

Anyways I thought to reach out because I took your journaling class back in 2011 or maybe 2012. I have stayed connected to you, not actively, but have always read your emails and they are uplifting. I can keep blabbing but any tips you have are greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Lonely Soul

* * *

Dear Lonely Soul

There is a loneliness that surfaces when we are disconnected from other humans — we’re social creatures and we need to feel connected to others — but I believe there is an even greater loneliness that makes itself known when we are disconnected from ourselves.

It sounds like you’re quite accomplished at the outward search — joining clubs and church, seeking out new people, succeeding at work, being driven and ambitious outwardly. That’s all really good stuff and I can see why your therapist thought you’re doing “fine” (though real talk? Your therapist didn’t go deeper than the surface so might be worth finding a different one) but while all of this outreach will help you fill time, the truth is you could be in a room full of friends and still feel lonely because as you correctly intuited, the “void” is inside you. You’re not long out of a 14-year relationship, one that I imagine has been at the centre of your life since you were in your teens. This is the first time you’ve been truly independent as an adult and I know that probably makes you feel unanchored because I was in the same place at your age.

I ended a ten-year relationship the year I turned 30 but unlike you I fell straight into another relationship. If I had my time over again I would not have done this but I was scared and didn’t want to be on my own and he was there with such loving arms, it seemed the easier choice to make. Two years later he died and as I worked with a therapist to unravel my pain it became clear there was much deeper stuff to excavate. Alongside that I had no idea who I was and no idea how to be in the world as an independent human being. I only knew who I was in relation to someone else.

You miss your ex because you miss what feels familiar and safe — that’s understandable. You know how to be someone’s girlfriend, someone’s daughter and someone’s friend. You know how to be a colleague and employee. But do you know how to be YOU without any other accompanying label?

This is your invitation to explore that.

It’s time to go inwards and (re)connect to yourself. It’s time to befriend yourself. Imagine what it would be like to spend the day with your bestest friend on earth, the one person who really knows you, likes exactly the same things as you, loves doing the stuff you love to do and never gets bored of listening to your random thoughts. This is the energy you’re aiming for in your relationship with yourself. It doesn’t mean it has to be perfect, it just has to be as loving and accepting as you can possibly muster. And it will take time and forever be a work-in-progress — any relationship takes time to evolve and deepen, but it also starts with the dating stage, so start dating yourself.

 

 

The clues of where to start are at the end of your letter. I suspect you will reconnect deeply to yourself through your creativity. You don’t have to write a book to be a writer and you certainly don’t have to have perfect grammar to write. All you need is a pen and a piece of paper. That’s it! So maybe it’s time to date your creative muse and create for the the hell of it. Do things that you can write about. Sit in the park and people watch. Write down snippets of conversations in a coffee shop. Turn your home into a creative cave. Spend the entire weekend following your intuition – where do you want to go? What do you want to do? Go on photo walks and visit museums. Fill up your inspiration bank.

If the prospect of a day intentionally alone scares you, start by questioning why that is. What scares you about alone time? What do you think is in the void (or not?) What do you hope to get from others and how can you start to give that to yourself? Don’t be afraid to feel some of that loneliness – see if you can get curious about it. How does it feel to be lonely? Is there a smaller version of you inside that needs looking after, perhaps? You mentioned you’re a journaler and this is all so deliciously ripe for journaling. Start with one page penned with your morning coffee, every day, answering the following: how do I feel in my head? How do I feel in my heart? What do I need today?

Some people fear that Being Alone and Getting To Know Themselves requires them to sit in a silent room far away from other humans but that’s not the case. Being alone isn’t about enduring solitary confinement, it’s simply spending quality time with yourself. Where would you like to spend time with yourself? Where could you take yourself out on a daytime date? Heck, what about an evening date?

And while you’re intentionally dating yourself you can still reach out to others to find some balance. Church, book groups, local meet-ups, volunteering, workshops, evening classes, whatever floats your boat. You don’t have to become a hermit, but equally don’t only focus on outward connection. And if you want my honest opinion I wouldn’t even bother dating right now. Find your SELF. Find your friends and community in your new town. Create the life you want. Enjoy the freedom you have right now to do whatever the hell you want! And then, in due course, romantic connections will find their way to you.

When I was in my 20s I thought I knew how my life should unfold so I set my internal GPS in that direction. Then I hit my 30s and everything changed so I reset how I thought my life should unfold. And then more shit happened. And, surprise surprise, it continues to change. Now I’m in my 40s I no longer hold onto ideas about how my life “should” look and just let it evolve one day, one month, one year at a time. Obviously I make sure I can pay my rent and bills. I know that I will be there for my nephews’ birthday parties. I know I will feed my cat twice a day (the cat that randomly climbed through my bathroom window and decided to stay — that wasn’t on my life plan!). But beyond that I have no idea what the future holds. And that’s really exciting and kind of a relief. If I don’t know what’s coming I can’t be disappointed — it’s all a surprise.

When we’re younger we come out the gates so eager to begin LIVING LIFE but it’s like eating all the popcorn before the film starts — there’s still so much more to go! You try to check all the boxes of how you’ve been told life should look, then get thrown a curveball and lose your job or get divorced or can’t have kids or move country or someone dies. But this isn’t how life’s supposed to be! we want to shout but the shit keeps on happening, because this is EXACTLY how life’s supposed to be.

Life is constant change. It’s cycles of ups and downs, quiet periods and stormy times. They don’t tell us this as kids because they don’t want to scare us — and honestly, we’re all in denial really. No one wants to dwell on how things can change in an instant. We want to believe if we brush our teeth every night and recycle our plastics everything will be okay. And there can and will be long boring stretches of okayness — life isn’t a rollercoaster until it is. Sometimes we choose to take the ride and other times it’s forced upon us. C’est la vie.

You don’t have to get married and have kids if you don’t want to. You can also change your mind on that in five years if you want to. You can change careers if you want to. Or not. You can write words and call yourself a writer. Or not. It’s perfectly okay to not know what you want at 30 just as it’s okay to not know what you want at 40 or 50 or 60, too. Take it one day at a time. Build a really beautiful relationship with yourself.

And start writing your stories.

Love, Susannah xo

6 responses
  1. Mandy

    Such great wise advice

  2. Lynn

    Loved this. I’m feeling the same way at 58. Thankyou x

  3. Leah

    So beautiful, and exactly what I needed to hear. I’m feeling this void at 40.

  4. carla

    Lovely and perfect.

    It made me remember where I was at 30, then I moved to the unknown – new state, new job- at 40 (knew no one and learned to love that), now it’s 54 and recently married (for the first time ever) and that’s good too, most days.

    The thing that hangs me up is “needing goals” – the world wants to hear our “goals”. I used to have them and follow them blindly and then found I needed to be able, and free enough, to follow the path put right in front of me. That’s where I found me and she is wonderful!

  5. Cyndi

    I really loved this.
    It reminded me of how I felt at 30, and then at 40, and again now at almost 50. At almost 50 I think I am finally in a place where I get it, and where I once used to say “life gets in the way of my dreams”, now I smile because life is good, and bad, and messy and beautiful and I’ve grown to love it all. And at almost 50, I’ve learnt to love me too.

  6. Zarina

    Wonderful letter and advice :)

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