When we ask women how they feel during their divorce, one of the most common answers is “lonely.” Cate summed it up like this, “I got married and divorced young. There I was separating while all my friends were coupling off. I felt like no one could relate to what I was going through.” Leigh added this: “There were many weekends when my kids were with their father that I wished I could unwind the clock and just go back to being married (unhappily). That would have felt better than being alone.”
Let’s be clear: loneliness isn’t limited to divorce, and not everyone who goes through divorce feels lonely. Contrary to what you might have heard, it doesn’t increase with age (according to one study, 18-22 year old’s reported the highest loneliness score, while boomers were the lowest). It’s not about being physically alone, either. Some folks can feel more lonely in a crowded room than at home by themselves.
Loneliness is about the nature of your relationships and your expectations about them. When you’re separating from your spouse, your expectation about your most intimate relationship was probably very different than how it turned out - and that’s enough to create a feeling of loneliness.
Loneliness can also be increased by circumstances. Say, a pandemic-induced social distancing. Working remotely. The approaching holiday season. All these things can contribute to our sense of loneliness. And all these things can affect each of us.
Why then, do we feel so “alone” being lonely? Let’s bust through that myth and address 4 truths about loneliness:
1. It’s common to feel lonely. Though society tends to stigmatize loneliness, reality is it’s a common emotion. According to Cigna’s 2018 U.S. Loneliness Index, nearly half of us reported sometimes or always feeling alone. And, loneliness is on the rise - up nearly 13% in the past 2 years. Loneliness is felt by both genders, with men experiencing it slightly more than women. So safe to say, if you’re feeling lonely right now, you’re actually far from alone.
2. Loneliness isn’t something you have to “fix.” There’s nothing wrong with you for feeling lonely - it’s perfectly ok. After all, we’d never suggest there was something wrong with you for feeling happiness, sadness, fear, or joy, right? Loneliness is part of the mixed bag of emotions that makes us human. Don’t judge yourself for feeling lonely, and do your best to accept that it’s a part of life.
3. It will get better. Like with other emotions, if you’re feeling lonely, it’s likely to pass. The vast majority of women I’ve known through divorce have told me that it did, both through the passage of time and by deepening their other relationships (with their children, friends, a new relationship). But if you don’t start to feel better after a period of time (you decide how long that should be), it may be smart to talk to someone about it. As much as it’s a natural part of life, unending loneliness can pose health risks to you. Loneliness has been linked to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and decreased immunity, to name a few. So don’t let your loneliness go unchecked if you don’t see a light at the end of that tunnel.
4. You can take steps to alleviate the pain. While there’s no “cure-all,” the symptoms of loneliness can be lessened much in the way we heal other ailments - starting with becoming aware of its root cause, then taking action to ease its symptoms and heal the pain. As the Cigna study shows, engaging in frequent in-person contact does tend to lessen loneliness. As does getting good sleep, physical activity, and your workplace (working the “right amount” - not too much and not too little). And want to know nature’s antidote to loneliness? It’s love. Just remember that self-love works too.