The Mighty Logo

4 Ways I Coped With the 'Suffocating' Loneliness After My Divorce

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Immediately following my divorce back in 2015, the one thing I’ll remember the most is how overwhelmingly isolated I felt. The loneliness suffocated me.

The relationship I had just left lasted for over 15 years and was very much ingrained in my identity by that point. We did everything together and were co-dependent on each other.

I also had to move an hour away from my closest friends at the time. So while my support system was still available to me, I didn’t have a lot of face time with adults. I had my 5-month-old son, but considering he wasn’t old enough to carry on a conversation with me, I felt pretty damn lonely.

Once things settled down a bit, I was so starved for adult companionship that I jumped right into dating. This was a lot of fun until suddenly it wasn’t. It took me experiencing the hurt of getting dumped by someone I had really started to become dependent on, yet again, for me to take a second look at how I was valuing my time.

You see, time is valuable. I had to pay a babysitter to watch my son in order for me to have any sort of social life. When I thought about all the time I had spent to date men who had no real intention of becoming a real friend or partner to me in the long-run, I knew I had to be more mindful of how I spent my time, and who with.

So I decided I would take a break from dating for a while, and learn to date myself. If I had to spend the money on a babysitter to get out of the house, I was going to spend my time doing things I’ve always wanted to do and see things I’ve always wanted to see.

This started my experiment on curing my loneliness by embracing solitude. Here’s how I did it.

1. Making “The List”

I started off by making a list of everything I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time or support to try. For me, it included things like movies and restaurants to try, dance lessons and travel destinations. I really made sure not to censor myself and wrote out everything that came to mind.

2. Setting Priorities

With my list completed, I then went through it and categorized each of the ideas. I wanted to give priority to the activities that scared me the most, but I wanted to do for the longest amount of time. I knew in order to get comfortable with being by myself, I was going to have to really test my own limits and desensitize myself to my own fears. Then I ranked them based on the level of my perceived difficulty to accomplish each one.

3. Setting Intentions

I then set the intention that each and every week, I would book a babysitter and do each of the activities alone, starting with the easiest.

4. Confronting My Fears

First one up was to see a movie I had been wanting to see. It was still in the theaters, which made it great practice since I’d have to get out of the house and go by myself. I really had to get over my own mindset that movies are meant to be seen with a partner or in groups. My anxiety on the ride there was through the roof! But once I got to the ticket window and purchased my ticket and then got my snacks, it hit me. It was incredibly liberating to make all my own choices. I picked the movie, I picked the snacks — there was no having to compromise! From there on out, I was hooked!

The week after the movie, I decided to tackle going out to eat by myself. To my surprise, I had the same, liberating experience. I chose the restaurant, exactly what I wanted to eat and how much I wanted to order. There was no having to compromise with anyone.

The other surprise was despite me anticipating a silent meal and bringing a book with me in preparation for it, I still had multiple friendly conversations with complete strangers since I had chosen to sit near at the bar. Considering dining out was one of my absolute favorite activities, it felt so good to know I could still enjoy the same experience with or without company.

The greatest test of me embracing my solitude was to sign up for a class I really wanted to take and to go by myself. I chose salsa dancing, which was incredibly scary to me not arriving with a dance partner. Little did I know that the vast majority of dance students don’t have partners! You get paired up in the class by the instructor and actuallyhave to rotate partners. So it turned out to be an amazing place for me to make new friends. I quickly fell in love with dancing and the community at my local studio and looked forward to each and every one of my classes.

Over the next year and a half, I kept to my schedule of carving out time for me to do things by myself, for myself. I eventually learned to love the independence of my solitude. I never had to stress about my social life, because if plans with a friend or a date fell through I had a list of activities I could do instead by myself that I enjoyed just as much if not more than time spent with others.

This also lead me to be more mindful of who I accepted plans with. If I knew I wouldn’t really enjoy the company or the activity anyway, I made the decision to decline the invitation, instead saving my time for things that truly made me happy.

In order to embrace and learn to love solitude, it takes a plan and some practice. Spend the time to create a dream list of activities you’d like to try, and then get to work on trying them out by yourself. Be consistent with it. It’s going to be uncomfortable at first, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Then soon enough, you’ll actually prefer it over always having to rely on others for your happiness.

Ready to turn loneliness into purposeful solitude today? Leave a comment below with the first activity you plan on trying solo.

Unsplash photo via Matthew Henry

Follow this journey here.

Originally published: July 6, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home