My family lives in a small, idyllic town off of the Southeastern Coast of the USA. It is a well-known destination for southern elites (I mean that as a compliment) who come here to spend a few idle days before heading back to the grind of whatever they do for work in whatever larger city they live. Generally, the people who live in my hometown are retired or got married within less than 8 years of college and are adapted to the slower pace.
When between jobs, I have found myself back there with little to do and less and less people to do it with. I am not married or retired. Among the popular activities in my coastal hometown are golf, drinking, boating, riding bikes, tennis, golf and drinking. These are fun, but not perfect for someone who is confident that his next paycheck will come, but doesn’t know exactly when. And, I left my bike in San Francisco; I don’t own a boat yet; and think drinking heavily while unemployed can jeopardize potential future employment. This means I have to be creative in avoiding boredom. Consequently, I have found and developed other fulfilling hobbies, such as jiu-jitsu, but I have not figured out how to get paid to do them.
As for my friends here, their family obligations leave them with little time to fuck around with one of their few remaining bachelor friends. I must emphasize that I attribute my friends’ unavailability to their busyness, but not maliciousness, and will continue to do so until proven wrong. This phenomenon of busyness is prevalent in most places in this country among people in their mid-30s, because that seems to be the optimal age to start a family. I love my friends.
Getting to the point, the lack of suitable daily social activities and people to do them with creates a lot of alone time for me here. I, like other people need to spend about half of my time alone to feel like I am at my best. I love me some me, time.
However, too much alone time is widely known as hazardous to a person’s mental health. I just finished reading a great book in which the author explains how loneliness and disconnection are a sure path to a decrease in mental health and even depression. The author did this in more depth and with more eloquence than I am here, but, if you have been alive for long enough, you know what I am talking about. We weren’t designed to spend life in solitude.
Having experienced extended periods of solitude in my hometown, I have become more proficient at keeping my mind out of the “devil’s workshop.” It wasn’t always like this, but, through experience, I have vastly improved at being alone. Below are a few things I recommend doing to help you stay sane while you are by yourself for extended periods of time.
- Call People–I’m coming out of the gate with this one, because it can make or break the quality of your mindset and, in turn, mental health. Calling and staying in touch with people, even if it is just to bullshit, can do wonders for your psychey. Taking it a step further, every time I think of someone I haven’t been in contact with for some time, I write their name down and plan on reaching out to them within 24 hours. It works. Our tendency, as human beings, is to interpret other people’s inability to spend time with us as them not wanting to. This is less often the case. There is a quote that is credited to Napolean that goes, “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” Replace “incompetence” with “busyness” and there you have a philosophy you can use when people can’t hang out with you. Besides, I like being around me, so other people must feel that way too. Lastly, I found it acceptable to have long phone conversations about nothing with friends who might live far away, but are available during these times. You don’t have to join a cult to diminish the sting of loneliness. Stay connected to people you know. It works. I promise.
- Exercise–Duh! Exercise is the antidote for a better life for innumerable reasons. Doing it regularly while alone and idle is no exception. Adding to this, sticking to a goal-based exercise program during protracted alone time is optimal. I have found meaning and purpose in the seemingly sophomoric or insignificant goal of learning to hold a handstand for longer than 30 seconds. I have found that setting small exercise related goals like this one can keep a person engaged in exercising in the first place. Additionally, keep in mind that your busy friends may have put their personal fitness under their family and financial priorities. Eventually, they will have to make room for fitness again. Being alone and uncommitted is an opportunity to invest in your physical health that other, more established professionals may not have. Take advantage of it.
- Learn–Balancing work and a social life often leaves little time for one’s personal learning interests. I, for one, am a language learning nerd. I thoroughly enjoy learning how to speak foreign languages whether I reach fluency or not. If you find yourself alone and still have the lingering thought that goes something like, “I’ve always wanted to do that,” you should use idle or alone time to try whatever “that” is. Either you will eventually find one or more people to share your life with OR you will die alone. In either scenario, your schedule won’t allow you to pursue things you want to learn for their own sake forever.
- Trust the Process–The end is nigh. Every time I have escaped periods of unemployment and the loneliness that goes with it through force, I wound up putting myself in an unsustainable work or life situation. Instead of trusting that the change will come how and when it is supposed to, I forced it only to land myself back in the static position I was in before. The change will come if you let it and it will be change that you may not have wanted, but needed. Do what you need to do to pursue available opportunities, but don’t force it.
- Friends and Health–Expanding on two previous points, be grateful for your friends and health. As an unmarried, unestablished and unoccupied adult, you may feel like you have lost many things. This is sometime the case, but, typically, if you try focusing on the solid relationships and health that you still have, you may find that you still have an abundance of these. In fact, when you have nothing, the people who remain in your life are the ones worth holding on to. Just because you may be temporarily poor in career success and finances, doesn’t mean you can’t be rich in your relationships and health. List the relationships and positive aspects of your health out loud if it helps. Keep in mind that it is during such times that you have the opportunity to invest more in these areas. Don’t let it pass you by.
All in all, loneliness is difficult and unnatural. Definitive action is necessary to keep it from clouding your mood. It can, however, be tamed using just some of the above loneliness-slaying tactics. Keep well and let me know in the comments if you relate to this and have any other ideas on how to kill the loneliness monster.