Why Do I Feel So Lonely?
Oh yeah, it’s that time of year again…
It’s supposed to be the most joyful, mushiest, lovey-dovey month of the year.For the next two weeks, I am supposed to spend all my hard-earned money on chocolates, concerts, dinners, Hallmark cards, jewelry, and other trinkets that demonstrate how much I love my current partner. I’m then required to document the giving, receiving, and mutual PDA of these interactions on social media, to prove to the world that my relationship is worth celebrating. Assuming that I even have a special someone to spend that particular day with. And if I don’t? It’s a given that I’m going to spend it alone, ordering takeout and watching Pirates of the Caribbean 3, wallowing in my own singleness.
When I search “Valentine’s Day Loneliness” on Google, the articles that surface recommend connecting with friends, treating yourself to what you would usually do on a date, and (I kid you not, Huffpost) find some poor lonely other online and ask if they’ll be your one and only on the 14th. Three weeks ago I noticed myself casually recreating my online dating profiles. You know, just to “see what’s out there.” Convenient timing, little chickadee. Though the thought of spending V Day with someone I just met is, frankly, horrifying. Perhaps my subconscious was feeling the mounting pressure of finding a mate before the big day, and decided to stage a coup.
I don’t associate Valentine’s Day with connection.
Being single on Valentine’s Day is like a cultivated skill for me, thank you very much. Something in me gets increasingly anxious the closer we get to February 14th. It’s like that day is the ultimate commitment milestone, and my brain automatically slams on the breaks right before we reach it. If I’m single, I do everything I can to ensure that I’ll be isolated — and therefore, not reminded of how left out I actually feel. If I am already in a relationship, something always implodes before we get to the chocolates and the dinner reservations and the professions of love and devotion.
2018: I broke up with my boyfriend on February 4th because I found out he’d been lying to me and that our relationship was massively codependent.
2017: I was in an open relationship that was on the rocks, wherein celebrating Valentine’s Day together would’ve been a horrible idea.
2016: I was secretly in love with the director of the non-profit I was volunteering for, who was going through an ugly divorce and leaning on me for emotional support.
2015: I vowed to stay abstinent for one year in order to separate from my need for romantic attachment. (Still working on that one.)
Funnily enough, I just started dating someone last week. Would I dream of asking him to spend Valentine’s Day with me? Hell no. That’s like saying — “Hi. I just met you, but let’s spend 24 hours celebrating the love we don’t have, and perpetuating a false notion of connection that neither of us are able to back up at this point.” No, thank you. I could, theoretically, spend this day with the few close friends I’ve managed to scrounge together here in L.A. That would be the smartest and most beneficial choice for everyone! But something in me says that if I’m not in a romantic dynamic with anyone, it’s mandatory for me to be alone. Why is that, I wonder?
I was not meant to be alone…and neither were you.
According to Psychology Today, loneliness is an epidemic. The experience of it can be similar to suffering from physical pain, which apparently, Tylenol can alleviate (problem solved!). We as a species were not meant to spend our lives alone, and continued isolation can have serious consequences for our physical and emotional wellbeing.
I am an only child who grew up on a literal island. Isolation is written into my DNA. Everyone I’ve ever met has assumed I am an introvert from the moment they met me. But the thing is — I crave company. I crave connection. I crave love and intimacy and the presence of others who get me. I want to belong — which I’m pretty sure is a universal desire. Yet I constantly find myself feeling stuck and alone, where the only way out is oscillating between two damaging extremes.
I am lonely vs. I feel lonely
This morning, my meditation app (I’m trying, O.K.?) told me that there’s a difference between thinking or saying “I am lonely,” and “I feel lonely.” The latter offers a relative distance from my identity and ownership over that state of feeling, rather than being. Changing the way I think is the most powerful tool I have towards changing my behavior. Feeling lonely is a fleeting emotion. It’s easily remedied by phoning a friend, going to a coffee shop, or even striking up a conversation with a kindly stranger. Being lonely is a more permanent state that requires outside help for me to shift.
So how does that relate to Valentine’s Day?
Part of the problem is that I don’t associate Valentine’s Day with connection. The way the holiday is marketed and most commonly expressed reinforces a need for validation. I think it makes me feel lonely because it’s assumed something is wrong with me if I’m not in a relationship — that I’m inherently less worthy, less desirable, and less loved if I can’t prove someone wants to celebrate me on this one particular day. What if V Day was more about disconnecting from the rest of the world, and strengthening connections with the people who really matter to us?
What if it was called something like….?
“Turn-Off Your Phone Day?”
“Mandatory Be With Your Friends Day?”
“Lean-In To Your Relationships Day?”
“Overcome Your Fear Of Connection Day?”
Maybe if I can disconnect from the idea that this holiday is such a momentous milestone, and make it about reconnecting with the people whom I already love, it wouldn’t have to be conditional on me having or not having a romantic partner. Yes, I could choose to spend the day buying myself chocolates, taking myself to a movie, getting a massage, taking a long hot bath with my favorite romance novel, and cooking myself dinner. Or, you know, I could reach out to other singles (and couples!) and see if they’d like to spend the day with me doing one or more of those things.
It’s less about divorcing Valentine’s Day altogether, and more about letting go of my own expectations around it. It’s my choice whether I feel lonely on the 14th or not. What if I chose to spend the day letting everyone in my life know how much I appreciate them, without any condition or expectation of reciprocation?
Sounds like a pretty sweet way to celebrate to me.