Loneliness – is it breaking your heart?
Recent research by UK Universities (April 2016) has reached a conclusion which is both sad and alarming. Loneliness is linked to a 29% increased likelihood of cardiovascular ill-health. It seems that being alone with no friends or contacts is literally breaking hearts.
We all have an image of loneliness – sitting in a dark room, staring through the window, no-one there and the phone never rings. But loneliness is wider than that. There is nothing more isolating than a crowded room where you have no connections; a family where you feel under-valued; a relationship which has lost its spark; being the only singleton in a group of couples; arriving in a new town or a new business with no-one to chat to. We have all felt loneliness. The issue is when it becomes a sad habit.
There are many potential reasons – stress, poor eating, lack of exercise, increase alcohol and smoking – or maybe just ill health through depression. Whatever it is for you, if you are lonely then time to take heart and do something about it.
When we interviewed a group of Sassy women the stories were stark.
Jane is a 54 year old Sassita, never married but with a long-term partner. They met when they were 40 and he already had two kids but was honest in saying he wanted no more. It seemed alright at the time – maybe 40 was too old to be a mother anyway. But as the years have sped by a big yawning gap has opened in Jane’s world.
The kids, who she helped to raise are living their own lives and the silence is deafening. She is and always will be the ‘step girlfriend’. There is no homecoming from university, no texts when something funny happens, no girl’s lunches, no birthday parties to organise. Jane has done her job, her duty, tried to be a mother for 12 years and now feels…alone.
Sue is, on the surface, a gregarious, gorgeous woman who puts other Sassitas to shame with her sense of style. She never looks grubby, always looks chic, she smiles, she is warm, she is interesting. But Sue is chronically lonely. She goes home from a good career every night to a house where the only company is the cat who is adored. Her nieces call her crazy cat lady at which Sue smiles to hide the pain of put into that stereotypical persona. She spends hours looking through various dating websites, wondering if there might be someone out there but too fearful to sign up. She has gone beyond flowers and passion. She just wants a friend.
Anita is divorced, loves poetry and appears to have a very full social life – all with women just like her. They eat out, do the cinema, traipse to the theatre, talk about their grown-up kids. Anita is surrounded by friends and a wider family who love her and her company. But, other than her daughter, who she has to let be free, she has never had a soulmate. There is just no-one to say hello in the morning, kiss goodnight and just hold.
OK. If, like the author you are crying at reading about yourself, then stop right now. Loneliness is not a place to wallow – it is a state of living and mind to be changed. It will take guts, courage and a bit of risk, but it is time to turn the tables on ‘alone’.
Step One: Define your interests
Do you like dancing, reading walking, poetry, flowers, religion, politics, art, theatre, animals, cookery, writing, exercise, anything we really cannot mention on a public blog? If so, then there are other people out there who like the same things. You have to find them.
Step Two: Find your group
Instead of reading Saying Sassy (though please come back – we have a lot more to say on lots of things), start researching groups, classes, clubs, interest circles. Wherever you are there is likely to be something close to what you want. Caveat: If you are living on a remote island, then we take this back – though you are probably well into the community and less likely to be lonely. For some of you it means signing up to a dating website. Go on – he or she is out there somewhere. For top tips on dating success wait for our blog ‘Grey haired and scared – can I date after 45?’
Step Three: Take a deep breath
If you have been lonely for a long time, this might take some courage – but you have to get in touch and go out. Yes, it will feel daunting walking into an established group for the first time. Yes, hitting the first ‘like’ on Tinder or making contact with a matched potential partner will have you more scared than your cat on a hot tin roof. Yes, going on a course with a bunch of strangers will have you planning escape routes before you arrive. But you are making progress.
Step Four: Keep going
Don’t expect every foray to be a success. The author once joined a city walking group to find herself in a bunch of evangelical religionists bent on converting her and every passing soul in the street. Their choice – but not a great day out for her. Another experiment with dating found her searching for a tall dark-haired man in the restaurant. The real date had used his cousin’s photo. He was short (very short), fat (very fat) and dull (very, very dull) – oh, and there were the rotten teeth to boot!
Step five: Be generous
There is an old saying that what you give comes back two-fold. Don’t expect a new group of potential friends or a possible soulmate to do all the work. Give girl! Be friendly, helpful, make connections, offer advice (only if it is asked for). Welcome people into your life. Take a risk. Ask people round for coffee, a drink, a walk, just a chat. Striding out of loneliness can be a rocky road, but every road leads somewhere. Keep going.
A last word. Jane followed the five steps. She joined a dance class, met a widower with young kids who needed a mother, agreed with her partner it was time to move on. She is 55 and has two little people who, last month, asked if they could call her mum. It works. Try it.