Tell Me About It

I live alone, all my friends are married and the isolation is unbearable

Tell Me About It: Tackle what is important to you now, before a busy life hides it again

PROBLEM: I am 36-year-old man and have watched all my friends meet partners and get married and are now with families – while this didn’t work out for me. I live by myself in my own apartment, in the city, and now feel my previous sense of isolation from the world so acutely that it’s at times it’s quite unbearable … watching everyone move around in the current lockdown in their family units, while I go into my lonely apartment to spend what now feels like so much time by myself.

It’s really affecting me in a way that I find hard to put words on. Like I can’t see a future with all this, all I see and feel is the pain of my own loneliness. I was in a long-term relationship from my early 20s to 27 and I’m wondering if this affected me. She dumped me when she thought I wasn’t successful enough, and she was thinking of babies and I didn’t fit the picture for her. I think she was always waiting for someone better.

She is married now and I’m not even dating.

My friends all joke that I am having the high life as they are struggling with mortgages and night feeds, but they don’t have time to spend with me and I now realise that no one really cares about me.

ADVICE: You have tackled the first aspect of loneliness – that is to reach out and express what is going on. This is really hard to do as it is admitting vulnerability and looking for genuine connection, but this path is a long one and it is difficult to start in the middle of a lockdown.

This restrictive living has highlighted many things for us, and for you the blatant isolation of your life is staring you in the face and is signifying that this is a fundamental issue for you. So, take it on: realise what is important for you and be prepared to be brave enough to tackle it now, before a busy life can hide it from you again.

It seems that your previous partner judged you to be inadequate and you put up with this until she called a halt. The effect of years of this (being measured) can be felt deeply and it may be that you now need to address this fully. You may have put all of your self-esteem into being the kind of person that your partner wanted you to be and your self-worth cannot be built on this. None of us can mould ourselves into what another person wants – ultimately it will become impossible, whether that be a friendship or a relationship. Think of what you practised during those seven years – waiting for the axe to fall, being vigilant so as not to create an ending and being willing to put up with this for as long as possible. Your self-worth took a hammering.

If you choose well in the friend you talk to, it might bode well for your judgement in a future romantic partner

Now is the time to consider what will make your life worth living: who do you enjoy spending time with? What kind of people make you feel good and who are the kind of people you admire? Clearly, your pain of loneliness is telling you that you need and want closeness in your life and the starting point for this is your friendships.

Men often find it very difficult to initiate conversations without there being an event at the end of it, such as going hiking, to a game or stag, etc. The pandemic is challenging this as you will have to make the first connection if you are to tackle your loneliness. This is going to be very hard for you as you are feeling so low but your back is against the wall so you might as well take the risk and be honest with someone you like and admire. Try joining an on-line group or take on a course that you are interested in, do not wait until this is over as the need to do something is now.

Togetherness and care are what gives us the strength to survive

Most of us expect our intimacy needs to be met in a relationship and while this mostly works out, both your history of compromised intimacy and your lack of opportunity make this an unavailable option for you right now, so friendships are the place to begin meeting your need. If you choose well in the friend you talk to, it might bode well for your judgement in a future romantic partner. You deserve to be chosen and loved for who you are, not for who the other would like you to be, and this must remain a mantra for you from now on – in all your close connections.

Be determined that you will not settle for anything other than full acceptance and be brave in requiring this – it should be the bottom line in any future relationship. Loneliness is probably one of the most common human experiences of this pandemic, so do not see yourself as odd but rather trust that those who acknowledge and accept it are those who will connect and survive well.

If anything comes out of this whole experience, it is the realisation that togetherness and care are what gives us the strength to survive and society now recognises the truth of this.