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What It's Like to Be a 'Successful' (and Lonely) 20-Something

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I want to talk about what loneliness is like as a successful (sort-of) 20-something who seems to have “everything going for her” (not my words).

When I say I’m lonely, my usual response is something along the lines of, “But you’ve got loads of friends,” “Why don’t you go on Tinder?” and “But you’re always out.”

“But you’ve got loads of friends…”

Yep. Sometimes I can be surrounded by the most people, good people as well, and still feel as if I am completely on my own. Loneliness happens in your head. The anxiety that parallels loneliness makes sure you feel isolated, in your own head, phases you in and out of conversations and makes sure you go through every reason why it’d be better if you were on your own. In fact, sometimes I feel less lonely when I’m on my own. Like I don’t have to worry about being lonely when I’m on my own because there’s no pressure to feel anything else. When I’m at a social event or at work, shouldn’t the physical nature of people being in my presence make me feel something — anything — other than lonely?

If anything, it heightens the fact I am lonely. And probably only because of assumption. Assuming I am disliked, assuming when I’m not in a conversation that it is about me and therefore isolating myself, assuming someone isn’t texting me because they would rather me be on my own than be with me, assuming the people I am surrounded by don’t want me there. These assumptions lead to a greater sense of loneliness than could ever happen while I’m watching Netflix on my own. Because Netflix wants me there. If not only for the monthly payment. I am in control when I’m on my own. I can be happy or anxious and no one has to know. When overriding loneliness comes because of how I feel about the people around me, I can’t control how they behave. I can’t make them include me to such a degree that means I won’t be anxious or lonely anymore. Not only because that would mean everyone acting exactly the way I expect them to, but because it’s unrealistic. How many chats do I have with people every day that are harmless, about nobody, not intended to heighten anxiety? Loads.

“Why don’t you go on Tinder?”

Now. I’m not lonely because I don’t have a man. In fact, quite the opposite. When I have been in relationships I’ve felt lonelier than ever. Thoughts like, “They don’t love me enough,” “I do way more for them than they do for me” and “They aren’t at my every beck and call” dominate my mind.

I expect this level of complete submission and compassion that probably isn’t humanly possible. I expect someone to understand every last trigger and feel disappointed when I still feel lonely. Tinder, more specifically, only enhances my desire to, for now, be on my own.

Mindless talking to strangers makes me feel so detached from real people and makes me imagine an ideal that I know deep down doesn’t exist. Talking to someone I don’t know, all the while thinking, “They’ll only get to know what I’m like and not like me anyway” makes me feel like I am on this desperate search to not be lonely, when I know exactly how it’ll play out. I’ll expect this team, a relationship, someone who is on my side. And end up shouting at them when they can’t be what I need… I give so much and let people take so much that even when everything is exactly how it should be, I feel more alone than ever. So I’ll leave Tinder out for now I think…

“You’re always out..”

Yep. To fill the gap. Loneliness refers to the act of “being alone,” so what do I do? Try my absolute best to combat that by filling every last second of my time.

Scrambling around, sending texts, filling my calendar with social events and making sure I see my friends enough that they don’t forget how fun I am and how much they want to spend time with me. I basically force myself upon them, so I can radiate this fun loving, good time gal who isn’t lonely and is so strong and independent and someone they want to spend all their time with. And then when they say no (because peoples lives don’t revolve around me) I feel this gutting sensation of loneliness, of anxiety and the thoughts take over — “They must not like me anymore,” “I bet they’re not really busy.”

It’s endless.

It’s exhausting.

There are generations of lonely people. People seem to think it’s just the elderly that experience loneliness. And let me be clear, we need to combat that and carry on the work of organizations to negate elderly loneliness. But what I also think we need to do is think about loneliness across all generations. We have young people drowning in a sea of Instagram “perfection,” people in their 20s navigating in a world where everyone’s concern is who you’re dating, who your friends are, what are you doing on the weekend. Everyone asking when you’re having kids, when you’re getting married, when you’re going on vacation this year, what you had for tea last night, did you see that thing on Facebook last night? So many questions and so many disingenuous answers.

Let’s tackle loneliness in everyone.

Getty Images photo via Grandfailure

Originally published: November 4, 2018
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