Feeling lonely sucks, but sitting in your pyjamas with the curtains drawn watching When Harry Met Sally for the umpteenth time on Netflix and dreaming wistfully for a Chris Hempsworth look-alike to come knocking isn’t going to help.
Trust me, I’ve done the teary-eyed, family-sized popcorn nights in and felt the longing to be with someone while curled in the foetal position clutching a hot water bottle for company in bed.
People say that living by yourself is powerful and liberating, but it can also be incredibly lonely, especially if you’ve been through a break-up, lost someone or had difficulties in your life.
When I first started coming home to an empty flat, the biggest thing I missed was just that feeling of support – I yearned for someone to talk to, to tell about my mundane day at the office, to sit next to on the sofa and chop peppers with in the kitchen – but you soon learn to find strength in yourself and to reach out to the right people (namely not your ex!).
So, it’s taken some months and I still get off days, but here’s what I found most helpful on living alone, but not feeling lonely:
Fill your life with people who genuinely care about you, even if it means being selective. I’ve found the older I get, the less I worry about losing people who never make an effort or only want to go drinking or talk at me, but never listen in return. We also live in the online age of social media, which encourages quantity over quality when it comes to friendships, but a handful of good friends who know everything about you and still think you’re amazing is far better than having a bunch of ‘friends’ you barely know.
Also don’t be afraid to reach out. It’s OK to call someone if you’re in tears, in fact they’ll thank you for it – no person who cares about you would want you suffering in silence. Spill your woes, share the load and seek advice.
It can be tempting to dive into dating apps and websites. If you’re ready to get out there again, great, but if you’re doing it as a way to abate your isolation then it’s probably not going to help. Until you get comfortable being in your own company, you’ll never know if you’re choosing someone out of love or loneliness.
Remember living by yourself can actually be fun, plus there’s no-one to clean up after, only yourself. This is your space – nobody is watching or judging. Feel like dancing to Beyonce’s single ladies in your underwear? Do it! Go indulge in a new face mask and walk around like something out a horror film for the morning. Put whatever you want on the telly, put the heating on full blast without someone else complaining it’s too hot, pick whatever you want to decorate your home with – you’ll soon find no compromising can be remarkably satisfying.
You’re not a bear, hibernation is not a natural state, so open up the curtains, let the light in and get inspired. Whether it’s writing, music, cooking, or whatever takes your fancy – use your spare time alone to be creative.
Sometimes lack of connection can make us feel lonely, so finding a hobby or other outlet that’s also social – like a local craft or book club – kills two birds with one stone. Being active can also boost your mood, so why not try a dance class or join a local sports team, running club or gym?
Too much time to think can tear you apart. On many an occasion I’ve been sat sipping a tea in the silence of my flat letting my thoughts run rampant – oh god I’m 30 with no kids and no man, sitting in my slippers on a Saturday night – this, quite obviously, is not helpful.
In moments like this, you must step back and remember to stay in the present. Fretting about the future does no good – it won’t change whatever is going to happen anyway. The basic formula for happiness is to live in the moment.
A friend gave me a journal which encourages me to write down what I can see, hear, smell, taste and feel at that precise point in time.
It also has a section to ‘empty your head’ and ‘organise your thoughts’ including noting down what you can’t control and what to let go of. Give it a go the next time you find yourself getting lost in ‘what ifs’.
Ultimately loneliness is a feeling, and like other feelings – fear, anger, sadness – it will pass.