Loneliness is a funny thing. It can sneak up on you quite unannounced, a sudden realisation blooming from a nagging voice in the back of your head that perhaps things aren’t as wonderful as you thought they were.
And loneliness can take many forms. We’ve all heard about how lonely it can be to be in the middle of a crowded room and feel like there’s no one you can trust, or to feel like there’s no one you can pick up the phone to when you’re having a tough time. But there’s also the flipside to that. Sometimes, you know there are six people who’d drop everything if you called them in tears, but you don’t have anyone you can just get drunk with on a Friday night. And God, if it’s lonely being in the middle of the dancefloor sometimes, it’s far worse sitting alone in your house with one glass of wine (because more than one is tragic) listening to hundreds of people whooping and shrieking in the crowded bar that’s only over the road, and yet so far away.
I think society often perceives loneliness as something old people experience, or people who live in the country, but it can strike at any time, any age, and is probably affecting a lot of other people at the same time. Maybe you’ve started a new job and haven’t made any friends yet. Maybe you’re working a non 9-5 schedule and you always miss out on weekend hangouts, but find yourself constantly alone during the week. Maybe your best friend moved abroad. Maybe you’ve moved to a new city. Maybe you’ve just split up with your partner. Whatever the reason, it can be easy to get stuck into a rut, where feeling lonely becomes a recurring feature of your life. If you’re an extrovert, this can feel crushing, even like a physical pain as you wither from lack of social contact.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Simple steps can help you feel far less lonely, and even begin to enjoy your alone time. I hereby present the Extrovert’s Guide to Surviving Loneliness, written by a certified extrovert who once scored 95% in an extrovert/introvert study.
Reach out to people you already know
When you first realise that you’re feeling lonely, reach out to all those people who you keep meaning to meet up with but never do. Sure, it won’t give you anyone to hang out with right now, but if you keep feeling down because you always have to book time with friends a month in advance, book time with friends a month in advance! That way you know you have something to look forward to, and that your lonely situation is temporary.
Make the first move with new people
Even for extroverts making the first move with new people can be painful. I’ve just started a new job, and everyone has been really friendly. But I’ve still had to make the first move, introducing myself to people, asking about their projects, and finding out how the social structure of my new office works. Every time I do it I feel nervous and shivery and somehow too small and too big for my bones. But every time they smile and open up. Try and force yourself to introduce yourself to everyone you can, and you’ll be surprised how many people you can meet.
Start doing something that can help you meet people
It’s a cliché but it works. Try a team sport, volunteering opportunity or local campaigning group for a way to join in with something that provides more time for discussion and friendship than something like an exercise class. You don’t have to keep going if you hate it, but give it a real go. Something that locks you in to four sessions is good because it forces you to give it a proper try but doesn’t commit you long term.
Keep on the same timeline as others (as much as you can)
This is one for the freelancers and night shifters among us. It’s easy when you’re on a different schedule to end up sleeping in late in the morning, staying up late at night… and then never seeing anyone, even the people you live with. Forcing yourself to work a schedule as close to standard as you can means that if a socialising opportunity comes up last minute, you won’t have to miss it.
Fit people in to small times
Sometimes you can feel lonely for your friends even though you’re technically busy. Breakfasts before work with fellow early birds, business lunches with others working near by and Sunday night gym sessions can all be ways to fit socialising into your schedule and make sure you don’t end up missing each other.
Do something interesting on your own
It’s not the same as doing something with a friend, but try doing something that you want to do on your own with your alone time – seeing a movie your partner would hate, going to an exhibition at a gallery your friends would say is too far away. It won’t fill the friend shaped hole in your life, but it makes your alone time feel purposeful and gives you something interesting to say when you meet up with people. This was valuable advice for me when I was between jobs this summer – because people get nervous asking you how the job hunt’s going and having something else to talk about bridges the gap for both of you. If you can’t afford to go out, try making yourself a nice meal, downloading a film you’ve been meaning to watch and fixing a homemade cocktail. You’re not home alone under the duvet eating crisps and crying while watching Pitch Perfect for the third time, you’re a cinema connoisseur with a gourmet palate to match. Try watching the classics, then you can feel culturally well-educated next time you’re in company.
Make the effort
I’ve been saying I’m going to go to Leeds for about six months. Changing job and moving house threw me off course, which I know my friends will understand. But if I want them to stay understanding, now that I’m not crazy busy, it’s time to put in the effort. So go to your old colleague’s birthday – even if you won’t know anyone else. If you hate it you can claim a stomach ache or a family obligation tomorrow and leave. But you might love it, and if you don’t go, you won’t know.
Remember that others are probably often lonely too
It’s easy to think you’re the only one stuck at home with nothing to do on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon, but the chances are there are other friends out there who are feeling just the same way and who are nervous about contacting you because they think you’ll be too busy and dazzlingly sociable to want to hang out with them. Burst through that barrier and you’ll be surprised how many people are in the same boat.
It’ll make you feel better and it’s good for you. Seriously, if you have time just do more exercise.