Both singleness and marriage are shrouded in misconceptions. As I’ve talked with people since my separation and divorce, some of the biggest misleading thoughts seem to be centered around the simple concept of being by yourself.
Years ago I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. I am also an extrovert. On the surface this might seem contridictory, but it really makes a lot of sense. As an extrovert I am energized by being around people. The more I am around people, the more energized and I get and eventually – depending on other variables in life, the extra energy causes anxiety that breaches its point of managibility (yup – that’s where the “disorder” part comes in!)
As a result I have found that I thrive off relationships and quality time with people, but highly value and am guarded of my time alone. This apparent paradox and being newly single has had me thinking about the differences between being alone and being lonely.
1) One can kill you – the other can save you.
We were not designed to be lonely. Regardless of how you believe mankind orgionated, there is significant evidence that we are wired to be in relationships. The lack of relationship in a personal, mentally and emotionally intimate, physical fashion will deteriorate our health and hasten our demise.
Being deliberate to be alone, however, will give our minds the quiet, peaceful moments we need to properly invest in and value the time we have with people.
2) One requires intentional solitude, the other can be found in the middle of a crowd.
Aloneness requires intentionality. Not all time spent away from people will accomplish the benefits of “aloneness”. Sometimes it can just feed the feelings of lonliness. On the other hand, jumping into a group of people is not a sure-fire cure for lonliness. If we don’t feel any connection to those people, then we are just surrounding ourselves with noise. This may be a good place to start, but not being lonely will require more effort than just “getting out”.
3) Marriage offers no guarantee of a solution either direction.
I have met way too many lonely, married people. Being in a marriage relationship does not mean having the depth and security that is needed to combat lonliness. Sex does not necessarily satisfy the need for a healthy physical relationship. Knowing everything about someone doesn’t always satisfy the need for mentally connecting with them. Isolated emotions can sometimes increase the sense of loneliness even more than ease it.
On the other hand, there are few things that compete with healthy, productive alone time more than marriage and family. Busy schedules, jealous and insecure partners, and our own fears in the relationship can rob us of the quiet space we need in our lives.
4) Singleness does not guarantee a solution either direction either.
Having excessive time by yourself does not mean that you will be getting effective alone time. As I mentioned earlier, it can just drive you further into depression associated with lonliness. Likewise, not having a “til-death-do-you-part” partner does not condemn you to a life of being lonely. The art of friendship in satisfying our needs for relationship is largely under-practiced in our culture. (Never underestimate the power of a hug!)
The solution (in my experience and observation): do stuff on purpose.
When you have time alone, be purposeful with it. Meditate, exercise, read, write (start a blog!) – use the time to invest in yourself. If you don’t have alone time for these things, make some. Put it on the calendar if you need to. If you are unsure of how to make this work, you might want to get counsel from a therapist, a life coach, pastor or someone else in your life you respect. (I’ve blogged quite a bit about getting better at this myself. If you really need someone to walk that road with you, shoot me an email – we’ll muddle through together!)
Instead of longing for the relationship you don’t have, be intentional with the ones you do have. It really doesn’t matter if they are with the same or opposite gender, new or long time aquantiences, if you met them at church, work, the lake or in the dog park – take the time to value them. If you don’t have the seeds of that relationship planted anywhere, be deliberate to stop some of your alone time and get out (to church, work, the lake or the dog-park, etc.). Engaging new people may have surprising results for both of you!