Dear Neil: Could you write an article about dealing with loneliness after the death of a spouse? I found myself missing male companionship—not romance necessarily—just conversation and activity. I have friends experiencing this same issue. Can you offer any advice?
Alone in Vail, Colorado
Dear Alone: There are four main tasks for you to do if you want to be less lonely—whether that loneliness was the result of a death, a divorce, a rejection, a betrayal or a breakup of an important relationship. (There are differences between a death, a divorce or a betrayal, of course, but there are also similarities, so please allow me to lump them together. My advice will still fit.)
The first task is to grieve, so you can come to peace with the death of your previous relationship. Grieving is essential in the healing process if you want to get on with your life and not get stuck in the pain and the loss. So, on a scale from 0 to 10, how hurt are you? How angry? How anxious are you? How fearful? What are you hurt, angry, anxious or fearful about? Specifically, what would reduce your hurt or anger? (Another relationship? Friends? A new outfit or two? A vacation?) What would help your anxiety and fear to lessen?
Ask the same questions if you are feeling abandoned, hopeless or helpless, inadequate, cynical or jaded, chronically sad or guilty. It’s normal to feel all of these emotions, and there’s nothing wrong with any of these feelings.These emotions are acceptable and even necessary for a while, but you do not want to be stuck in these feelings long-term, so you need to look very carefully at what emotions dominate you—and what you can do to lessen their grip on you. They cannot be ignored (they will remain right below the surface and then emerge unexpectedly if you try that), but they can be negotiated with (“Maybe I could get a dog. Would that help me to feel better?”)
The second task is about making sure you are connected with yourself: that you are being friendly to yourself, that you’re on your own side and that you are attempting to take good care of yourself—including your body, your emotions, your health and your spirit. You will also attempt to learn from the mistakes you made in the past so you can make sure you don’t repeat them in the future.
Third, are there any goals you have—traveling, learning a new language, getting back into playing tennis, learning to tango—that you’ve been putting off? If so, this would be the perfect time to challenge yourself to do new things, to break out of your old mold, and to forge new interests, identities and goals for yourself. What new beginnings or changes would you like to create in your life? Now is a great time to do the things you’ve been putting off. Also, are you involved in meaningful work that is using some of your skills and talents?
Finally, you have to act in order to not feel lonely and alone. You have to actively—not passively—attempt to create new friendships, invite new people into your life, join a community of people with similar interests, religious or political beliefs, reconnect with old friends, reconnect with people from your own family, and more frequently put yourself in social situations so you can expand your network of social contacts. Hopefully, that will assist you in feeling less lonely.