Last week I discussed a situation that arose between my wife and I in order to teach eight lessons I use for communication. Considering the title of the post was “The 4 Types of Loneliness” it didn’t really make a lot of sense – you’re welcome. It’s now time to get more specifically into the loneliness part. The conclusion of the conversation we had was my wife was feeling lonely, which made sense because of how much I’d been working while she watched our daughters. She was lonely because she was often alone – it makes sense. After our conversation this idea of loneliness became a topic my brain tried to better understand. This is what I’ve concluded: There are four types of loneliness:
- I’m single and I have hope of finding someone.
- I’m single and I have no hope of finding someone.
- I’m in a relationship, but I feel lonely, and I have hope this is just for a period of time.
- I’m in a relationship, but I feel lonely, and I have no hope of this changing.
What’s interesting to me is before I had my first girlfriend at 21, I pined for someone to choose to romantically care about me, but I didn’t really know loneliness. I was “alone,” but I wasn’t lonely because I was so busy with friends and flirting with all the single girls around me – it was a lot of fun. These relationships led to many wonderful heart to heart conversations that deepened my relationship with many great people. When almost everyone else your age is single around you, you feel normal and there’s lots of opportunity for connection. Plus, since I hadn’t had a girlfriend yet, I didn’t know what I was missing. If my wife passed away now after 16 years together I’d be messed over hard. All my friends are married and busy with their own lives, there aren’t single girls around me my age to flirt with and fill the female void in my heart, and I’d know what I was missing. Being single now would destroy me largely in part to the loneliness I’d feel.
I would say my first real bout of loneliness came four and a half years into my five year relationship – that’s a strange idea. It’s strange to think, but I didn’t really know loneliness until I was 25 and in a relationship. It was at that time that my girlfriend was regularly too busy to see me because she was out with her new lesbian friends she met through her sport injury placement for college basketball. And for some reason, I was never invited. (I think you have a good idea how that story ended). I remember the one night it was just the two of us in her mom’s living room. I had just spent the evening doing her mom’s landscaping. At that point she could’ve got me to do anything to be near her like help her brother with his homework (that was two weeks before), clean litter boxes that hadn’t been cleaned in weeks (I did that the week before), or try to be sexy when I have no idea how to be sexy (guess what’s coming up). Because my shirt was covered in cedar bit trimmings, while we were talking I took off my sweaty shirt in order to put on a clean one. Maybe it was because we’d been having a good night. Maybe it was because I’d been lonely. Maybe my brain was so clouded by hormones, but for some reason I delayed putting on the new shirt as I ended up doing something I’ve never done before (or since). While we were in this normal conversation, I started trying to subtly flex and pose for her; I made my pecs dance and not in that funny way, but in the “Hey baby, I bet your friends can’t do this.” I was 26 and in great shape (at least compared to present me), but why would I do that? Sweaty man posing (to a girl likely a lesbian)? (girl) “You know when you’re covered in man-stink and really need a shower, all I can think is how bad I want to give you a sponge bath like a 90 year old. Does that sound as sexy as your moves? I think so.” Loneliness and desperation make us do crazy things. I’ll admit, I’d been very familiar with desperation in my teen years, but this was different. It was this “I really want you to care about me like you used to” thing. At this point I had little hope left for our relationship, so what did I have to lose? A few months later all hope was officially gone and replaced by shutting down and a lot of struggling to drive to work because I couldn’t stop crying: “Sorry officer. Was that not the road? I couldn’t see through my soul melting out my eyes.” That state definitely didn’t help get her back: “My lack of hope and self dignity is going to win you back, right?”
One of the problems of breaking up as a grownup is being in a relationship we lose the tight connections we had with our friends because your time and energy starts to shift to the new relationship at the expense of what was your foundation. Finding the balance of friends and partner is hard. Some lose all their friends while others don’t cut the ties off with the friends enough thereby limiting their new relationship. To add to this, dating is one thing, but marriage tends to take that separation from your friends a little further and then kids can almost wipe out what you had as you might see once close friends once or twice a year if you don’t go to church together (this really helps keep connections as you see each other every week) or play on the same team (if you have time for that). This is a major reason why divorced people feel so lonely – their partner was their foundation. This is also a major reason why people who are single while all of their friends get married feel forgotten: “I thought we were each other’s foundations? What happened to bro’s before homes?” (I think that’s the expression.)
Fortunately, I was very blessed. Five days after the official breakup, I met my wife because my ex ended it right before I had my first day as a youth pastor. It’s hard to date a youth pastor when you don’t believe in God anymore… and you have a girlfriend you’ve been cheating with for possibly several months. I had been grieving my relationship for about half a year before it ended and then another couple months after, but meeting my now wife gave me hope. In those eight months of grieving before starting to date my wife, I experienced all four types of loneliness, and it’s amazing how soul crushing not having hope is. I give anyone who is single for long periods great respect because being single as a grownup is brutal.
From my experience, I’d argue being in a relationship and feeling lonely without hope is the worst of all the feelings of loneliness, but not having hope, in general, is pretty soul crushing. From talking to couples in therapy, it’s very common for men to feel lonely after kids are born because the wife has a different priority – the kids. A guy’s priority, however, doesn’t really change. It’s still his wife – happy wife, happy life (aka less nagging, jabs, and criticism). A guy’s kids are important and he’ll do anything for them, but we’re engrained to make our wives happy – happy wife, happy life. Happy kids? It helps make the wife happy, so that’s a bonus. Happy kids is more a backup when a guy gives up trying to make his wife happy. At the same time, a woman can feel lonely when she doesn’t feel like her partner is putting in the same work and heart as she is. It could be her standards are way too high or the guy is clueless (typically both), but the result is the same for the woman – loneliness. And for either gender, loneliness leads to some pretty dumb behaviors that typically lead to more loneliness.
Fortunately for me, my wife spoke to me because she was lonely with hope. The bottom line was I needed to increase my boundaries for work. I had start increased my client load for a few months because I had a week off for a family vacation and I had to fit people in, but when she spoke to me, this overworking had become more routine than necessity. In fact, this new over working lifestyle left my brain telling me to feel guilty for doing what would’ve been a full day three months ago because it wasn’t as busy as what I’d been doing. This is a good reminder that one, feelings can be liars and two, we need loved ones to help keep us accountable and point out when we’re making poor choices.
The sad reality is I’ve worked with couples who should’ve been able to save their marriages, but the loneliness without hope kicked in. The main reason? The person who first felt it didn’t know what they felt and/or how to properly communicate it. The bottom line is we need to start recognizing what we’re actually feeling and communicating it in a way that can’t be brushed aside. Fortunately, I helped my wife see what she was really feeling and she helped me see why she was feeling it, which has put us back on track – that’s what a partnership is supposed to do.
This week may you consider the signs of loneliness and what would cause them in order to prevent them.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people (like me)