As for putting myself out in the world, I think the only thing we can do is embrace being vulnerable and hopelessly flawed. I’ve learned to say, “Sure, I’m a total screw-up, but I accept it. If you want to read about it, fine by me.” I’m now fifty-one years old so it’s time for me to be liberated from worrying about what others think of me.”
ArLynn, a wordpress blogger who learned to get over her agoraphobia in a spectacular way last year – sums up the big bonus of hitting 50. And hits on one of the keys to overcoming loneliness. We’re all big sloppy squishy failures, even the shiny glossy successes, who are just lots better at disguising their flawed humanity than most of us. Stop waiting to be perfect and launch yourself at the world, warts and all. Do it with a broad smile, and that’s what people will see before they notice anything else.
During my two weeks’ travelling back in the UK, I kept an eye on myself for any stray feelings of loneliness. I clocked them a couple of times – both when in a busy public space, one when I was at Heathrow walking for mile upon barren mile from aeroplane to bus station and wishing I had someone to make me laugh at the unnecessariness (nb made-up word) of it all; the other at Lime Street station feeling a bit like a Triffid, without the stabilising grip of my roots.
It’s surrounded by people that I find the lurking danger of loneliness, not in the warm solitary bubble of my mountain existence; for me it’s the feeling of being disconnected, an invisible stranger in my old home. It’s the conjunction of familiarity and lack of connection that does it – a reminder that we all need to belong.
Where do you belong – do you have deep roots anywhere?
People who find it hard to trust others are likely to be lonelier than those who don’t. If you suspect that people are out to get you, you’ll probably get got at. At least you have the satisfaction of saying ‘I told you so’, but it’s a pretty hollow victory. It’s difficult to become close to someone if you have to overcome a belief that everyone’s a potential villain. Your new contact isn’t going to respond well to your initial paranoia, and will probably move on to a friendlier face.
I’m away from home for two weeks, and I needed to find a housesitter to keep the place warm and look after the critters. I found someone on HelpX.com (great site), and after swapping emails and a couple of phone conversations, Mihai turned up. It was a matter of trust on both sides – he trusted me not to be a mad old bat who was going to lock him up and eat him, and I had to have faith that he wasn’t a thieving conman who’d sell my secrets to the Sun on Sunday. Turns out he’s a lovely man and is having fun at the house, has been adopted by cats and neighbours, and is a treasure.
You might be thinking I was naïve and credulous to let a stranger into my house at all, let alone leave him to his own devices. You might be right, but I’ve found that most people are okay, if not utterly fab, given half a chance. Maybe I’ll get done over one day and I’ll feel stupid and bitter, but so far so groovy.
I know very few people who are miserable gits and have an address book full of wonderful people. It could be sheer luck, but it could be that my (arguably naïve) trusting attitude is a subtle filter that stops me finding the gits and the villains and sends me warm, open and generous strangers to befriend.
What’s your experience? Has trust rewarded you or has naivety punished you?
It’s a truism that people can feel desperately lonely in a big city, surrounded by people but feeling disconnected, invisible, anonymous. In the Evening Standard, Ben Rogers claims that London isn’t such a lonely place, unless you’re in a vulnerable or disadvantaged group. It’s a frothy place, he says, where people meet and play and talk and loneliness doesn’t impinge even on the singletons.
What he doesn’t take into account is that if the frothy social life stops for some reason – bereavement, death, unemployment, moving away, illness, whatever – the reliance on others for your wellbeing can mean overwhelming loneliness surging in like a neap tide.
Nor, for that matter, does a busy social life mean that you’re not lonely. Being surrounded by friends and busy with social activity is no insurance against lying in bed at night, alone or otherwise, loneliness chewing at your innards. Look at all the celebs who confess to loneliness despite their high-profile lifestyle, in demand and apparently adored. Surrounded, and lonely.
There have been lots of stories on lonely chief execs in the media recently, sparked by a survey in the Harvard Business Review. Anyone who has been in business as an entrepreneur, manager, boss, adviser or observer already know about this, but the HBR story underlines the extent of the problem, and attaches statistics.
There are cries throughout the media of ‘something must be done!’ but the solutions offered are mainly to rely on other people for the answer. Other people in the form of mentors, counsellors, peer groups and buddies all help, of course, but unless the lonely individual can fill the aching void in his or her psyche, the problem will continue.
This is a lot easier to say than to do, if you’re not particularly confident. But it’s a great inspiration. Being a connector is very different to being a networker: the latter collects names and numbers but a connector puts people in touch with each other.
What’s the difference? Networking can be a selfish pastime, meeting people for the sake of building your database, focusing on business and always with an agenda. Connecting people is fun, but it doesn’t necessarily benefit you in the short term. But if you’re in the habit of connecting others you do build a network of fans who have you to thank for the favour.
Doesn’t it sound like a remedy for loneliness? Introducing people and letting them walk off leaving you behind… maybe it sounds a bit counter-productive. But believe me, people who know you’re a great connector will always be delighted to see you. It’s a win-win habit, and a lovely way to met new people – because your connections will return the favour and introduce you to new connections in return.
There’s more to love than marketing. Poor old St Valentine, who got into trouble for marrying Roman soldiers to their sweethearts against imperial orders, has unwittingly spawned another money-fest in the name of love. It’s great to have a day to celebrate successful relationships and to be a catalyst for new ones – the thought warms one’s heart.
These days, shop window urge us to celebrate a whole week of romance. The day itself isn’t enough for retailers any more. Marketeers have long seized on the martyr’s day to extract cash from guilt-ridden, love-lorn or emotionally-blackmailed swains and spouses, and like the fools we are, we get sucked into it. Marking the occasion for those who feel a genuine wish to tell their love one how important they are, how valued and cherished, is one thing.
The trouble is that anyone who isn’t – for whatever reason – tends to label themselves sad and lonely. If that’s you, try Singles Appreciation Day. celebrated on February 15 as an alternative to Valentine’s Day; single people celebrate or to commiserate, and to make the point that they don’t need to be in a relationship to enjoy life.
But it’s hard to look at loving couples if you’re longing for a lover and wonder when you’re going to meet the perfect partner. No good telling yourself that single is super if your biological clock is ticking, or you’re grieving for a past love. Valentine’s Day and Christmas Day are probably the hardest days in the year for those feeling the lack of someone to love.
They’re both over now for another year. Make yourself a promise that by next February you’ll be feeling good, enjoying yourself one way or another, no matter what the marketing people want. What are you waiting for? Get started today.