Sharon

Why Do I Feel Lonely If I’m Never Alone?

Sharon Community, Friendships 7 Comments

Community can be so elusive, can’t it?

I didn’t fully understand the rareness of true, heart friends until I moved away from North Carolina 2 years ago. Starting over is much harder than I thought it would be, but cross-country re-locations are not the only obstacle to community.

Another barrier to community can be life stage. As a single person, I noticed married couples connecting quite easily and I thought, “Once I finally get married it will be easier to make friends.” Then I got married and I never struggled with friendship again.

NOT! On the contrary, post-marriage I noticed that my friends with kids had a lot in common and I couldn’t relate. So then I thought, “Once I have kids, THEN it will be easier to make friends.” You can probably see where this is going.

I now have a child, but he has not been the magic friend fertilizer that I thought he would be. Instead, I still feel disconnected from friends whose children are older. I feel like I don’t have anything to contribute to conversations with them, and sometimes I don’t even know what they’re talking about.

“Maybe,” I secretly think, “it will get easier when my son is a older. Or maybe when I have more children. That place where deep and meaningful friendships are easy to form is just around the corner,” I tell myself. It’s always just out of reach.

In reality, that place is imaginary. The truth is that it takes a long time to form a real connection with other people. Very often, relational barriers are the result of unfamiliarity, not differing life stages. Sure, life stages can create a relational wedge, but what is universally difficult regardless of life stage is building a friendship from scratch.

I’ve been thinking about that challenge a lot lately. In the last 2 years I have worked hard to build friendships, but having a baby threw a wrench in the process. Since Ike and I moved farther away from our church last year, we don’t live close to our community anymore. Oddly though, the remoteness wasn’t that big of a deal until Isaac was born. Once I became a mom, my loneliness and feelings of isolation gradually began to escalate.

The loneliness caught me by surprise because I am never alone. I mean, never ever ever. The closest I come to alone time is once a week when I tutor M.Div. students on their writing. If I don’t have any appointments, I just sit in that classroom all by myself, and it is nice and quite and peaceful.

But that’s it. That’s the only alone time I ever have all by myself, so what’s with the loneliness?

Some of you moms out there might have a better answer than I do, but I’ve wondered if the root of my loneliness is pinpointed in Genesis 2:18. God has just given Adam dominion over creation, but something isn’t quite right. Adam is alone with no one to help him, and God declares Adam’s aloneness to be “not good.”

Although Adam is never described as “lonely,” I can’t help but wonder if he was. It’s hard to work alone and pour yourself into something without a peer who can relate. You have all these thoughts and experiences and emotions with nowhere to put them. And  as a result, you feel like an island.

That’s why it makes such a huge difference when my husband is home, or when I meet a young mother whose child is the same age as mine. Suddenly, I don’t feel alone anymore. I feel connected and more whole. I am no longer alone on an island of diaper changes and baby food.

This need for community is real, and it is accentuated by our challenging life circumstances. It’s no coincidence, for example, that Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Castaway created an imaginary friend named Wilson. We crave companionship, and we need it to face life’s daily struggles.

Knowing this about myself, and about my human nature, here is how I’ve responded to the loneliness of new motherhood:

Prayer. The Bible tells us we can bring ANYTHING to God in prayer (1 John 5:14), and I have lived by this promise. Every time I’ve faced any hardship in motherhood, I’ve thought, “Hey, I can ask God to help me with this!”

I know, it’s so simple. You’d think I’d have it down by now, but I don’t. For some reason I’m more likely to stress about my problems than ask God for help. But He’s there, He’s listening, and He is able.

Be pro-active. Because I live far from my church, I’ve had to seek out community elsewhere. There is a MOPS group that meets right across the street, and it has been a huge answer to prayer (see above!). However, making new friends and forming community takes work. It’s hard and it requires you to put yourself out there. You risk rejection and awkwardness. But it is necessary. Give it the time and the energy it deserves. In the long run, it’s worth it.

As a final word to you individuals without kids, I want you to know how much people like me need you. Many of my friends with kids don’t have time to hang out with me. Setting up a coffee date is like moving a mountain. But for those with slightly more flexible schedules, please know that your freedom can be a gift to others. I need adult conversation with other women, and sometimes my friends without kids are the best ones to provide it.

So that’s how I’m handling loneliness. How about you? Any words of encouragement for people like me?

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Comments 7

  1. Judy Miller Blackburn

    Sharon, for me “alone” and “lonely” are quite different. I can be “alone” in a crowd yet not lonely when totally alone. Relationships are one of our biggest challenges while on this earth. God puts people into our lives to fulfill so many of our needs and for us to bless them. Some are immediate, some are short term, and some are “with us” for a life time. Every move and every life change brings relationship challenges. I’ve moved 14 times so I understand your adjustments. My lifetime of relationships, not without difficulty, and the resulting friendships (most now long distance) warm my heart.

  2. MsPomegranate

    when I’m lonely I try to take my spiritual “pulse” to see the reasons why — then I ask my friends to pray for me. Even if they can’t talk and comfort me, its an ecouragement to know that they can say a quick word to the Father on my behalf. Thanks for the great post. 🙂

  3. Katy

    Good thoughts. Part of me often wonders if the kind of loneliness we experience as Americans is as prevalent in other parts of the world. Or, perhaps people in our country didn’t feel the same in times past. Think about it- 100 or 200 yrs ago, families lived together in the same house with siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles… or on a plot of land close together. Sisters probably had children near in age and everybody worked together to take care of them- even breastfeeding them! It was a team effort. I know for a fact that this way of life is still common in other parts of the world today. Having lived overseas, I would say that our culture is pretty solitary. This is just my experience, though.

  4. alex

    I know this happened to me, especially with every move and every change. And I very much did “if I had a dog, i could make friends” all the way to kids. I have also used FB as a crutch to “connect” with people to stave away lonely feelings. I don’t know if there is an easy solution, but I do no that I have to put myself out there and try to make friends more. And not all people we meet will be THE BEST FRIEND that we had in HS or college or that last city. Some people may not even be our favorite people but they can be a good person to do something with and an excuse to get out of the house. It took me awhile to realize that.

  5. Tim

    “magic friend fertilizer” Snort! Best phrase I’ve read on a blog in a while, Sharon.

    On loneliness and friends and companionship, I don’t know that there is an answer. For me, I am such an introvert that time without others around is really easy no me. Still, I do need people around sometimes, someone I can talk with or just be still with. My wife and I have that kind of time together. There are a few others I can do that with too, but it doesn’t happen all that often. I tend to treasure the moments when they do come, and reflect on them after they’re over.

    Cheers,
    Tim

  6. Vega

    I appreciate discussions about solitude and loneliness. I’m a single, late-20s, introverted woman who has moved extensively throughout childhood and beyond, so making friends and forming good, healthy and lasting relationships has been a continuing challenge for me — one that I am overcoming, praise God!

    The statement that leapt at me was “It’s hard to work alone and pour yourself into something without a peer who can relate.” This has always been my challenge, that I won’t find a friend – or husband for that matter – who can relate to my unique experiences. The fear of being misunderstood can be so great (especially for introverts), to the point that I would rather not share my experiences, and remain alone, than to suffer misunderstanding. Which just exacerbates the tragedy of Adam’s aloneness!

    But the fear of misunderstanding is just that — a fear, which can be overcome by Christ’s power. I had to learn to put myself out there, risk a little rejection and misunderstanding, before I found those valuable friends who would accept and embrace me and my uniqueness. Even if they didn’t fully understand, they still accepted me. Yes, there will always be people who can’t or won’t make an effort to relate, but the reward of finding those who will is worth the effort.

    Furthermore — and this was a revelation to me — the world can learn from my unique experiences, and others have unique experiences I can learn from too. Even if my friends can’t relate at first, who is to say that they will never change, or that my experiences aren’t valuable to them? And am I to get proud and withdraw from friendships because I feel like “they will never understand me, those plebeians”? I also had to learn humility, to reach out to people I would initially recoil from because “they won’t relate”. Boy, have I been surprised.

    NKJV translates Prov 18:24 as “A man who has friends must himself be friendly”, which completely aligns with “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I think one can too high a standard for friendships — like spouses 😉 there will never be that One Friend (short of Jesus) who will completely understand all my ins and outs. But if I am to have friends, I have to be friendly and humble myself, and be courageous in reaching out to people who may be feeling the same thing I am. It’s daunting, but it’s worth it.

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