Good loneliness versus bad loneliness

Frontdoors in  Europa - France - Italy - Germany
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I have many moments of loneliness. First there are conscious times of loneliness – created by choice.

Taking trips by myself

The benefit of traveling alone is that I get to decide exactly what I want to do. I am able to make connections with strangers without any restrictions of others impatiently waiting for me. I am the master of my journey and don’t need to make any compromise. I even learned that the language barrier is not that much of a big deal. Besides German and English I speak very little French and Italian. I’ve traveled to countries like Hungary and Czechoslovakia (when it still existed as one country) by myself. time and my choices. I’ve also spend time in France by myself without really mastering the language.

I traveled to Dublin once and already made friends on the airplane. I never even got to leave the airport until midnight because we ended up in a bar.

I’d come home and had a story to share. The trips felt more intense than traveling with a group. I felt that I owned my memories.

Exercising

I played soccer for a long time and loved the interaction. But at the same time I also went on long cycling trips by myself and started jogging in the forests at the age of 10 or 11. I still use jogging as a great temporary self-chosen form of loneliness.

Starting over from scratch

I moved from Germany to Luxembourg in 1990 – without really knowing anyone there. At the beginning I spend much more time alone than I wanted. But due to some connections I made I ended up with a huge amount of friends.

In 1997 I fulfilled a dream of mine and moved to Los Angeles. The first few months were really strange. A ton of events were going on each night and I ended up watching them on TV – alone at home. Going to the movies by myself was the social highlight of my day. Well, one night I ended up sitting next to George Benson in the theatre ;-)

I struck gold once I was invited to a friends party and made some Spaghetti Bolognese that everyone loved. That was my in into that circle since everyone wanted more of my food. Eventually I entered a few other cycles and my social life was in order again.

Building a new social network from scratch requires some trial and error. The first friends I made at a new destination often only served as portals to the friends I eventually connected with.

You can tell by me writing this that I can’t do without people. But I also make sure I always have enough down time. I get overstimulated fairly easily when being surrounded by people all day long. My voice gives away when I talk to much (even some of you might find that hard to believe).  I need time to unwind and cool down my nervous system. Therefore I am checking out and choose loneliness when I need it.

Except for the social droughts when I started somewhere from scratch I am pretty content with the above mentioned forms of loneliness.

Note
I also started from scratch when I moved to Colorado in 2006. But I did so with my wife and my daughter by my side. Therefore I won’t include this in my list.

Burdening loneliness

As part of my growth process I have also encountered other forms of loneliness:

  • I had some stomach infection as a newborn and spent 3 weeks in the hospital. That must have felt lonely even though I don’t remember anything from these days.
  • I felt lonely when my parents had more children and my younger siblings did get more attention than me.
  • I felt lonely when my parents divorced and I was the only child in class in that situation.
  • I felt lonely as a teenager when my friends started dating and I was still single.
  • I felt lonely because I was to shy to reach out.
  • I felt lonely because I didn’t really fit in with many crowds I hung out with for many reasons I’ll eventually cover elsewhere on this blog.

Here is one example of me not fitting in:
I was actually lonely during my early soccer days as a young teen. I played a team sport but the other players all had a blue collar family background and never considered me as one of their peers. Even the coach looked at me as nuisance he somehow had to deal with.

I wasn’t too self conscious at the times I encountered the above forms of loneliness. I didn’t understand my inner self well enough to really deal with my struggles. They still helped me to get to where I am today.

My approach at this time in my life

When I feel lonely I am checking in with my feelings:

  • Am I scared?
  • Do I feel free?
  • Do I feel sad?
  • Do I feel ignored?
  • Do I feel empowered?
  • How high or low is my self esteem?
  • What are my emotional needs?
  • Do I feel like being active or passive?

We could look at loneliness as a feeling or as a state of being. A feeling is something we own and therefore we can tweak it – maybe just be switching a paradigm. A state of being can’t be changed by just changing the perspective on things. It actually requires some actions. I think the combination of both approaches might be the best way to combat loneliness.

Yes I have my moments where I feel lonely, simply because I am lonely and don’t have the power to break out of it. I might feel self pity and look for someone else to come to my rescue. That doesn’t really work all that well.

What I am trying to do at these moments is to reach out to my inner self. It isn’t alway easy and actually has been rather painful for me at times. But I have generated tremendous power from that before. For me this is not just meditating a little. These moments come more in form of a catharsis and last for quite a while.

For the most part I feel empowered enough to end my loneliness at any time I don’t want to have it. Of course I won’t always get what I am longing for. I might want an romantic encounter and have to settle for a dinner party or some other time with friends. I might want to spend time with my siblings or friends from my hometown but they are 6000 miles away and that makes things a little tricky.

Sometimes I have to make a choice: Choosing loneliness or my next best option to end it. I might wait for a better option to end loneliness and rather focus on taking care of my inner self. A candle, a cup of tea and a good book serve well as party companions in that event.

I might sound confusing but I can be one of the most social people in a huge crowd and still long for loneliness that same day. I have learned to accept that this is who I am. All in all I am still a people person and I like to listen and talk to others. I could maybe do a 48 hour silence retreat. Anything beyond that would feel like torture to me at this time in my life.

Bottom line

I know I don’t have to be lonely unless I surrender my power to others that might have let me down. I have plenty of choices and no reason for self pity. Fighting self pity at the times of loneliness is a battle that I am strong enough to win. That’s just the way it is for me and hopefully for you as well.

Note
I didn’t mention social media here on purpose. It is a great tool and makes reaching out much easier. But a lot of my memories mentioned here date to the times before social media. Social media has changed the rules of reaching out but not how I feel or deal with loneliness. It would be too easy to look at the digital world as the cure for some of my deeper struggles in life.

Additional reading:
How to handly self pity
How to deal with loneliness

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