The 5 Stages Of Loneliness
When you’ve been in a state of perpetual singlehood, loneliness becomes a natural part of your life. I used to repeat a line from Jamila Woods’ Holy: “I’m not lonely, I’m alone.” I felt like there was such power in removing the word lonely from my life. If I could just stop being lonely, everything would be better.
I was lying to myself. I AM lonely, and I am also alone.
I’ve lived alone for 3 years, and while there are some amazing perks, it’s been overwhelmingly lonely. I go to work, I do that same (STRESSFUL) work, I come home, I make dinner, I shower, and I go to sleep. It’s a daily cycle of solitude and oftentimes roaring silence. It’s a lifestyle that I’ve never quite grown accustomed.
I have a large personality and I love to talk. I adored living with my two roommates in Harlem. Our daily conversations about our relatively mundane days were a highlight. We usually all made separate dinners but ate together quite frequently. We had regular happy hours, and we would watch TV together at least twice a week. I got time with my good girlfriends as much or as little as I needed. They were only one knock away.
These days, I genuinely fear that I will always live this life alone and never have someone to share a home with.
That fear is physically painful. There’s a clenching in my throat, a tightening in my chest, a pain in my gut because I simply cannot bear the possibility. I don’t want to do this another day, let alone a lifetime. These spurts of bone chilling fear fall into the ebbs and flows of loneliness.
I find that loneliness and grief share an emotional cycle. Loneliness has highs and lows; there can be seemingly endless stretches where you are so happy to be single and free to do whatever it is that you enjoy. You’re NOT lonely during these stretches, you’re loving the solitude that you’ve been given.
As someone who experienced an inordinate amount of grief in the last year, I know that grief has similar stretches.
You can come to that eventual acceptance and experience varying periods of genuine joy. Then, suddenly, despair hits out of nowhere, and you must endure that cycle again. It’s a feeling that never seems to go away. Just as you never stop missing that person you loved so very much, you never stop seeking companionship. You simply learn to keep living in spite of it.
Stage 1: Denial
“I’m not lonely, I’m alone.” I work HARD to deny that I’m feeling this way. Loneliness is for those who are weak or lack purpose. I’m too successful to be lonely. My family loves me too much to be lonely. I have so many friends! I’m not THAT girl.
I actively deny this fact about my life every day. I go out with my friends on the weekend. I travel between New York, Philadelphia, Delaware, and DC with a breezy convenience. It’s just two hours! I enjoy the drive! I tell myself that if I stay busy, I won’t feel the loneliness. If I call my grandmother enough, I’ll be fine. Everything’s fine.
I’ll plan a 10 day excursion to Europe with my cousin. We’ll visit Barcelona and Paris and Portugal. It’s going to be so fun! We’ll have an international girls trip. It’ll be amazing. I’m not worried about when I get back home. I’m not concerned about the summer to follow.
“You’re so lucky!” everyone tells me. I am lucky, I can travel as much as I want. I don’t have any obligations to anyone or anything. I can save a significant amount of money, and I can go to any store and buy (almost) whatever my little cheap heart desires. I’m beyond blessed.
What more could I possibly want?
Stage 2: Anger
Once I acknowledge that I want someone to share this life with and genuinely have gotten to the point where I DETEST coming home alone day in and day out, I get that feeling of frustration. My anger tends to manifest as irrational jealousy and simple rage.
I told a friend that I felt like the Khloe Kardashian of our trio. The other two are both happily married with children. Meanwhile, I’m sitting at home missing my runaway dog, viewing multiple streaming accounts and perfecting recipes for my slow cooker.
Much like Khloe, I’m anxiously awaiting “my turn.” I’m waiting for Lamar to go to rehab and get it together or for Tristan to be faithful. This is the point when the desire for something greater becomes such a large fixture in my life.
It’s all I can think about. For some reason, even though I find myself the Khloe of our group and I’m shamelessly pitiful, I become resentful of those who have found joy in their lives.
It’s a very raw and simple jealousy. There’s a relative I’m close with that has two beautiful children and a laid back, comical husband. It’s everything I want. The two kids, the loving husband. She’s magnificently devoted to her children, and I could see myself doing just the same.
I want that! I want to shout it to the rooftops, but I hide it. It simmers quietly beneath the surface. I can’t express it; it can’t reveal itself. It’s not fair to her or anyone else. It’s my burden to bear.
Jealousy and anger can both arise from the fear of something lost, or in my case, something never being found. You become possessive of that desire. I daydream and plan for a future not yet realized. It’s a troubling emotion that won’t quit. It just grows and festers and becomes more and more painful to endure.
Anger and jealousy are largely unproductive and my absolute least favorite part of this process.
To top it off, there’s the RAGE towards the men who have rejected me, tried to pursue me, or won’t forget me. I hate the havoc they wreak in my spirit, in my home, and most of all, in my phone.
Text messages that yield the FURY:
Unanswered texts – Fuck you.
“IDK when I’ll see you again, but I hope it’s soon” – Fuck you, you don’t make sense.
“I miss you” – Fuck you.
“Can I get a pic” – Fuck you, that’s what IG is for.
“You up?” – It’s 2 a.m. on Tuesday, fuck you.
“You don’t remember me?” — Obviously not, so fuck you.
Dick Pic – Ew, you’re gross. Fuck you.
“Money’s tight right now, just come over” – Absolutely not, fuck you.
“You got such a fat ass” – And water is wet. Fuck you.
Why is this such a difficult process? I ask myself this question constantly. The start and stop, plus the constant rejection create an unnatural mental exasperation. It seems endless, like the same boring reality television show on loop.
Everybody gets on my nerves. I seek companionship and hate everybody at the same time. How can I even try to function when I have this many thoughts and feelings? I don’t want to date the weirdo from Plenty of Fish, but I don’t want to die alone. I hate the gross men gawking at me on the street, but the one I like won’t even look my way twice.
I just want to scream. I want to punch someone or something. Although I have never faced such a tragedy, I completely understand M’lynn’s monologue at the end of Steel Magnolias. You just want to LET IT OUT on someone, anyone.
But then, I realize I don’t want to see anybody’s stupid, dumb face. It’s a conundrum. I want to be surrounded by people, and then I just want to process all of my feelings by myself.
When I realize it’s pointless to feel this angry, and I’ve sent all my fuck you’s via text, I’m usually back in the comfort of my own home. I’m staring at the same four walls, seeking an exit strategy. The anger is abating, and I’m STILL all by myself.
There’s nobody left to be angry with. It’s just me, and I can only hate myself.
Stage 3: Bargaining
When I’m sick and tired of feeling angry and frustrated, I start to seek solutions to my current plight. I consider spiritual, physical, online, and personal fixes.
I became more open-minded. I tried dating the pudgy guy, the jobless guy, the intellectual, the guy with a kid, the one who works too hard, the old guy, the young guy, the guy who lives nearby, the guy who lives far away. Nothing came to fruition.
I did a hard analysis of myself, tried new dating tactics. I came to the table honestly. I came to the table demurely. I was humble, I was proud, I was boisterous, I was quiet. All fail whales.
I tried online dating; that ultimately drove me to a place I would rather forget.
I’ve tried everything you can think of: being set up by friends and family, even blind dating through a local newspaper! You name it, I gave it a shot. Yet here I am, still single, still lonely.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been described as practical and intelligent. When there’s a problem, I can find a solution. I know where to search, who to ask, and ultimately what to do.
This problem, though, has no answers.
There’s nothing I can do.
I don’t know who to ask or where to find my options. It’s an endless search for answers.
It’s bewildering because I’ve honestly never been in this position. I always know what to do, and if I don’t, I know how to find help.
There’s no magic bullet to this problem. There’s no catch-all. I can only wait for it to be “my time.” And what if that never comes? What do I do then?
Nobody has answers for that. I feel like I’m failing the biggest test of my life, and there’s no make-ups. I didn’t even get a study guide. I never had a chance to pass, and I’m just left behind.
There’s not enough bargaining in the world because I have nothing to trade. All I have is time.
Stage 4: Depression
The despair of loneliness is an all-encompassing emotion. It grips me like a vice. I can feel it all over my body. My shoulders ache, my back is sore, my stomach hurts, and I have a headache that never goes away. It’s physically and mentally exhausting.
We often tell ourselves that loneliness is a pathetic emotion when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s a sign that you’ve been loved and WANT to be loved. Companionship is a natural human desire. It’s a sign that I value myself enough to know that I shouldn’t have to live this life alone.
The sadness of loneliness comes from a deep-seated fear that I will ALWAYS be alone. My anxiety creates an endless reel of devastating possibilities. There’s a panic that wraps itself around me, and I feel suffocated. Is this really how my life will go? There’s nothing I can do to stop it?
For the majority of my day, I pretend to be fine. I’m a traveling, fun-loving, wannabe foodie who’s enjoying every second of her life. I manage a staff of educators, and I can wrangle students with the best of them. I am the epitome of black girl magic.
When I get home, that façade immediately crumbles and I’m a terrified girl. I’m terrified that this is all I’ll have—a stressful job and some great trips. The constant battle of pretending is draining. It leaves me bereft by the time I rest my head.
Then I’m too anxious and worn out to actually sleep. My mind continues to play tricks on me and convinces me that it’s hopeless. That THIS is hopeless. I’ll be waiting for my phone to ring from yet another man I’ve met. I run through the conversation on a loop, critiquing everything I said and did. I must pinpoint the exact moment I made yet another mistake to lead this guy to not text me back, just like all the others. I’m the only common denominator. I blame myself, and like many others, I’m my own harshest critic.
I can’t get away from myself and the way I hate my situation in this stage. The silence is deafening, and I can’t separate myself from the fear inside of my head that screams the following:
I’m not good enough
I messed this up for myself
I’ll always be alone and it’s my fault
I have nobody to turn to
Nine times out of 10, the negatives drown out the possibility of finding a positive. I’m so certain that my anxiety is telling me the truth, that I’m really not good enough and never will be. That my dreams of becoming a wife and mother are all for naught. There’s nobody to tell me I’m wrong, either, because I’m so alone and honestly ashamed.
I’m ashamed to admit that I feel this low, that my confidence is shattered. We’re not supposed to be this way. I’m black, I’m beautiful, I eat (relatively) well, I’ve got a “good head on my shoulders”—all these things!
All these bright spots in my life, and I can only see the darkness. That’s shameful to admit, but alas, it’s the truth. The reality of that shame keeps me from unloading on my friends and family. I often wonder, “What would my mother say if she saw me now?”
Crying over something I don’t have, would she tell me to get it together or offer encouragement? I may never know. I haven’t learned to open up about this. My secrets keep me enshrouded in the darkness. I go through my own process of pain and torment. It’s not pretty, and it’s not easy, but it’s mine.
But then, something happens to clear the storm clouds. It’s that breath of fresh air that was waiting for me.
Stage 5: Acceptance
Logically, I know that being single is temporary. I’m a pretty awesome person; there’s no reason to believe that the right guy for me will never come along. I’ve got much to be thankful for, and my journey allowed me to find acceptance in who I am right here and right now. I’ve experienced intense sadness and rejection. I know that there’s more on the other side, and I’m left with hope for the next thing. I know there’s something more than this, someone more than those before.
It’s been a combination of spiritual relationships, prayer, mindfulness, and no small amount of therapy to get to this point. I made a choice to live my life in the present and not focus on the unknown of the future. Calling it the unknown is also a misnomer, because I know with certainty that the Higher Being I believe in has never let me down. My faith is the conduit for joy. I choose to trust that there’s a greater plan for my life and that this journey of pain is purposeful.
I took stock of the challenges I’ve faced to this point, and this simply isn’t the worst.
Sometimes I’m still lonely and albeit hornier than most, but I’m LIVING, and living well, I might add. Do I seek companionship? Absolutely! Do I watch romantic comedies and wish with all my might that I could have a sweet moment to call my own? Yep! Maintaining that desire doesn’t have to equal sadness though.
Accepting this moment in my life is an active choice. I have to choose to be content every single day. Sometimes I have to make that choice multiple times throughout the day. When that cute guy who has a job, loves Game of Thrones, likes dogs, loves the Lord, AND respects Harry Potter doesn’t respond to my message on Match.com, I have to choose to move on and move forward. I’m not where I want to be, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad trip.
In this life, we have complete autonomy over what matters. Being single is no longer what matters. What matters are the experiences I continue to accrue and the joy I find throughout my days. I’ve added 13 stamps to my passport in the last four years alone, and it’s been wondrous. I have the ability to go where I want, when I want, and how I want. There will come a time when I can’t get up and go as I wish. Someday I will have to consider the needs of someone else.
Maybe he’ll want to come; maybe I’m worried that he will kill my vibe. I don’t know how it will all turn out, but I’m confident that I will be okay. I will move on, and I can be happy in the meantime. This feeling of joy and peace doesn’t invalidate the feelings of the previous four stages, it’s merely the final step.
I had to feel what I was feeling. I had to go through those motions. There’s beauty in the pain because I appreciate the joy that much more. And on the day that I’m finally blessed with my partner, I won’t take that for granted. I’ll cherish every part of our union, including myself. I’m critical to that partnership, and I know what I went through to get there.
It wasn’t easy but Lord knows it will be all worth it that it never worked out with any guy before.
Read more: https://thoughtcatalog.com/savannah-jackson/2019/12/the-5-stages-of-loneliness