Right now I’m feeling lonely. I was scheduled to go out to dinner with a friend tonight that I haven’t seen in a long time. Something I’ve been looking forward to for a while. I had spent time today feeling into what kind of food I wanted to eat and was enjoying going back and forth about logistics (when you live in LA, getting together with a friend who lives on the other side of town on a Thursday night is an art form). Then, last minute, he canceled.
I felt sad when I got his text. I immediately confirmed this by watching myself go to my fridge, and start looking for something to munch on. I tried chips and progressed to chocolate ice cream in a matter of minutes. For me, eating when I’m not actually hungry is a sure sign I’m having a feeling I’d rather not be having.
I shot him back a quick text, “Alright. Bummer!”
I thought about calling my girlfriend who lives down the street to see if she wanted to come over. But generally when I find people just to ‘fill-in’ (even if they’re people I love), I create mediocre interactions at best.
Other options crossed my mind – going out to dinner by myself, cuddling up and watching a movie, going out to a movie, calling another friend – none of which seemed particularly appealing.
Now here’s what stuck me as interesting.
I spend a lot of time alone. That’s just the way my life is set up right now. But I don’t feel lonely most of the time. Even when people cancel on me last minute, I often feel like a space has opened up for something else just as cool to happen.
So why didn’t I feel that way tonight? And why, at other random times, do I feel this overwhelming sense of needy-wanting-emptiness that nothing I can think of (or eat) can fill?
I remembered, that a couple weeks ago I was feeling this same way when I caught myself mid-action and had a realization.
I had wanted to reach out to a mentor of mine, but felt scared. I thought about calling a girlfriend just to chat – i.e. to tell her how much I wanted to call this person but was too scared to do so. Luckily, I’ve had enough of those conversations, to know they’re pretty much always kind of lame. So I just made the call, and even though I was nervous, I immediately felt better.
Back to tonight, so I asked myself what I was not doing out of fear. The answer came instantly, and it was simple. I had had the impulse to tell my friend that I was sad to not be seeing him – but didn’t. I judged that to be too emotional, and burdensome to share, so instead I had written back “Alright. Bummer!” – of all things!
I took the leap and sent him a text – “I feel sad about not seeing you tonight.”
And, even though I felt a little better, I still didn’t know what to do with myself. Then I had the thought to write – and felt scared. But this time I knew…aligning my actions with my impulses, allows me to connect to me. So, I started writing this – and am feeling even better – actually kind of excited now.
In my experience, feeling ‘lonely’ has less to do with how much I’m interacting with other people, and more to do with whether or not I choose to connect to myself. I feel ‘lonely’ when I feel disconnected from me. How I disconnect is often subtle, but obvious. And once I see this, I have the choice to reconnect, no matter what other people are up to.
The action needed is usually something I feel at least a little scared of – otherwise I probably would have done it to begin with – but I reliably feel more connected to others and the world when I take it, even if I’m still sitting by myself in my apartment.
So the next time you notice you’re feeling lonely, or realize that you’re eating garlic pita chips and chocolate ice cream at the same time, ask yourself what you’re not doing that you’re scared of (even just a little bit) and see if you’re willing to do it.
If not, don’t worry. Just try to enjoy whatever your version of chocolate ice cream is. You’ll get another opportunity to face whatever you’re hiding from again. I promise.