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how to be lonely

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 3 years, 8 months ago

Mother Teresa  said that loneliness is the world's biggest problem, and the more I live the more I think she was right.


But why are there so many lonely people? The Beatles asked the same question in Eleanor Rigby.


I think it's at least partly their own fault. But that doesn't help. Loneliness, like depression (to which I think it's very closely linked) is a vicious circle, and it's not obvious how to break it. 


How many light globes does it take to change a social worker? (;-> But if you do want to change, here's some possibly unwelcome advice.


These are things you can do that will make you more lonely. Guaranteed! So however little you think you do them, if you can do them even less, maybe you'll develop some relationships and be less lonely. What have you got to lose?


And some good news: These aren't habits. Habits are hard to break, but these aren't fundamentally about habits.


These are all about attitudes. That is in some ways good news, and some ways bad. Changing your attitudes is relatively easy if you want to. Wanting to is the hurdle. 



Give unwelcome advice

This is guaranteed to lessen any relationship.


And it is rarely helpful to the recipient. But it is so tempting! And it is the main motivation for this whole page. Often I have prayerfully decided to hold my tongue. It has never been easy, but always I think a good decision.


And conversely, when I have broken this rule I have almost always regretted it. The normal result is to make the recipient all the more determined not to take the advice given. 


It's a common problem. A nagging wife is a cliche in most cultures, it even gets a few mentions in the Bible. But it's not just a problem in marriages. It lessens any relationship.


And it can be a hard line to draw. One of the marks of a true friend is the way they give unwelcome news. The line between helpfully and lovingly bearing the burden of unwelcome news on the one hand, and unhelpfully and insensitively giving unwelcome advice on the other, is an easy one to unknowingly cross with the very best of intentions.   



And again, it's not just women who gossip.


And it is also so tempting, particularly if you are lonely. Because other people will listen to a gossip. And the better you are at gossip, the more they will listen, and the less they will interrupt. Heaven!


Or perhaps hell in disguise? Why don't people talk to a gossip? Because it is so obviously dangerous to do so! You might accidentally tell them something about yourself, and have it spread all over town. And even if you don't, they might think you have, and that's almost as bad.


Gossips are lonely people, whether they realise it or not. Their victims resent them. Their potential victims keep a distance so as not to become victims. And everyone they meet is one or the other of those two.


Turn up late

Now that's an interesting one. And another trap.


People who can keep others waiting demonstrate a certain power by doing it. And that sort of power is attractive.


But that's not to say that keeping people waiting for you will develop this power. Just the opposite. That's the trap.


Compare these two scenarios. P for punctual. T for tardy.


Dear me, Peter isn't normally late. I hope he's all right. We'd better wait a few more minutes.


Oh dear, Tom's late again. No telling when he'll get here, let's go.


Get the picture?


Blame others

In an unrelated seminar I once heard a psychologist say there was only one rule of mental health: Never take responsibility for what you cannot control. 


I think that;s a very important and helpful principle, and I really like it and always have. But years later I realised it's only half of the picture. The other half is: Always take responsibility for what you can control.   


Avoiding responsibility can take many forms.


I've had this great tourist attraction here for years, and I've never seen the Mayor or General Manager take an interest. They've never even been inside the door. And now they talk of encouraging tourism? Actual quote I heard recently, after a meeting at which both those people had been present.


A better way: Mr Mayor, I'm glad you're making tourism a priority. I'd like to invite you and the General Manager to have a look at my Museum. The individually guided tour is normally $25 but of course for you it's on the house. Or just wander around. 


 Whose fault is it that the Mayor hasn't visited the Museum?


But it can be far more subtle. I need to get up at 5am tomorrow to do this. No Nobody is forcing you to do that. I've decided to go a bit short of sleep to get this done. That is taking responsibility, and control, The first way of thinking avoids all of that, and isn't going to lead to good decisions.  


Put yourself first

Love, old man, is expensive. - Goose egg seller to Scrooge McDuck in Isle of the Golden Geese, a 1963 Disney comic story by Carl Barks


To rank the effort above the prize - This, then, may be called love. - Confucius


Love is perhaps the ultimate human relationship, and the ultimate cure of loneliness.


But love is charactised by giving, not receiving. Love you seek in order to receive is not love at all. That is the paradox. Similarly, seeking your own happiness above all else is counterproductive. Seeking to make others happy is far more successful! 



Sex can be the ultimate in giving, or the ultimate in abuse, and even both at once. It works best when it works for both partners, and only then.


Most people get it wrong from time to time. That's normal. Some never get it right. That's sad. A friend and I were listening to the radio years ago when a Government advertisement on using condoms to prevent AIDS transmission came on, and the guy said all sex is good. We both burst out laughing, and it was healing in a way but bitter in its irony. She had lost her prized virginity in a violent date-rape a week previously. You have to laugh or cry.


Belittle people

This can take many forms and overlaps some of the others. Actually many of these do.


It can be implicit, such as turning up late and talking in an uninterruptible stream. But it can also be explicit.


Be kind to your ex

For example, you've just dumped your lawyer, or your accountant, or your real estate agent, or your favourite pizza joint. How do you explain this to others?


The lonely person will say, the old one was no good. This of course belittles them. But it also belittles your new one, and also anyone hearing who likes your old one. More people than you might think, doesn't it? Some, maybe many, maybe even all of the people hearing you wish you would shut up. Not good.


If you must talk about it, then say how good your new one is instead. And leave it at that. This affirms them of course, and more than you might at first think. The alternative, that you only went to them because you were desperate, isn't very positive. It makes both you and they out to be losers. Actually it makes all of their customers out to be losers too, and also all of the customers of the old one. You're casting a wide net!


But not too kind

Suppose you have lived in a new country for many years, but still have fond ties to the old one. And that is natural, and healthy. Keep your fondness for the country of your birth, or of your ancestors. It's an important part of who you are. All of my parents and grandparents were born in Australia as was I. I am Australian through and through. But in some ways I am still an Australian Born Scot. I own a kilt and wear it as formal dress on occasions. I have from time to time belonged to a demonstration set of Scots Country dancers (but also to an Australian bush band). Scotland and Australia will both always be in my heart.


But that is no excuse for me to boringly tell everyone how great we Scots are, I have one friend whose country of origin I will not disclose. But whatever topic of discussion comes up, we eventually hear how much better his homeland does at it than Australia, and how stupid Australia is not to follow their example.


I'm sure we have all been tempted from time to time to say, put your money where your mouth is. If they're so much better, go home. We'd all be much happier if you did.   



Plug your ears

Some of my friends (and yes I value them a lot, they have redeeming features) cause me mild despair when they ring me, because I know that however busy I am I will have the choice of listening for half an hour or hanging up.


My record is seventeen attempts to politely end a conversation that had gone on for over half an hour. I was by then running late for an appointment (which they knew) so I was forced to just hang up. Next time we met that person started the conversation with "I don't know whether you realise how rude you were the other day..." referring to that. There is rudeness and rudeness...!


That's an extreme, and we are still friends. But the relationship could be closer, don't you think? And that is an opportunity lost. 


Do your friends and family not ring you as much as you'd like? Do you overtalk them when they do? Maybe, you need to be a better listener. Others like to be listened to, too.    


Blow your mind

Rick O'ShayReckon you've had enough of that red-eye, Hip?

Hipshot Percussion: I reckon not, pard, I's drinkin to fergit.

Rick: O, you're drinkin to forget all those men you've faced in gunfights and such?

Hip: Heck no, pard, I's drinkin to fergit how turrible I's gonna feel in the mornin. 


I like the occasional ale, have wine with dinner if I can, and love a good scotch. But if prohibition would work I'd vote for it. See a dream about drugs. (And I almost killed myself with excessive coffee consumption.) 


Substance abuse can be a short-term fix for loneliness and many other problems. Long term it's counterproductive, and while the damage can be overcome, mostly it can't be repaired. The sooner you come clean, the less the damage.


Is it a cause or an affect of loneliness? Often it is both, and becomes a vicious circle. It helps you forget your loneliness, and at the same time produces more of it. So if you can break any of these habits, you will be less lonely.



costs this country more than all other substance abuse combined. A drunk is only attractive to other drunks and to people who see them as a potential victim of some sort (sometimes even both at once). 



is a definite short-term plus and long-term loss. I've never smoked anything or wanted to, probably because I saw the misery my parents both went through trying to give up cigarettes. But it seems to relax the smoker and make them more in control, a very strong social plus. It also makes them less considerate of others... people who wouldn't dream of leaving a chocolate wrapper in the bush happily toss away an empty fag pack or even a still-smoldering cigarette butt, and a driver who is smoking tends to be a careless and aggressive menace in my experience (I was a school crossing supervisor for more than a decade). Tobacco smoking is now commonly seen as antisocial and a health hazard. Quit and your life expectancy increases within 24 hours (check me on that).


And another thing I notice is that all of the people I know who regularly find themselves too short of money to even buy food are smokers. Several have said over the years that they were cutting down, and when I did the maths they were still spending more on tobacco than I do on food.


It's never attractive to be forever short of money, but if it's all because you're a smoker that you can't afford to feed yourself properly, now that really sux, doesn't it? 


Get the picture?  



and its derivatives have most of Australia in denial, probably because so many doctors and politicians quietly use it themselves. The market for roll your own tobacco is shrinking but cigarette paper sales are up. Several of my friends were heavy users when young, and these days they are all technically schizophrenic, but I just pretend they've had one reefer too many and their behavior makes perfect sense. The weed has just changed their brains permanently. And it's an epidemic.


Medically it should be available for pain control. Socially, be very afraid.



should also be available medically, for terminal cancer for example. But beware. Keith Richards used it for years without getting hooked, then woke up one morning in a craving agony. A substantial percentage of our prison population are on methadone to control their heroin cravings.


LSD etc

If you try LSD you're already insane in a sense. It can fry your brain in a single hit. Or not. Crystal meth, speed and the rest are similar. Cocaine... well, listen to J.J.Cale... Just remember this fact, you can't get back. Roller coasters, bushwalks, sports... these can do the job much better. And you might make some real friends at the same time.   


Get the picture? 


Unwelcome advice?

I have perhaps broken my own first rule above. At the very least I am risking that, aren't I?


But if you think I have mentioned you above you may be wrong. These are not any of them unique people even in my experience. (Well, the seventeen attempts to hang up is a PB, but my record with that person is about ninety minutes for a conversation, and my PB with another friend many years ago is six hours... in those days calls were untimed, thank goodness. They are not alone!)


Even if you think you are one of my abovementioned friends (yes they are all friends, or so I hope), and even if you are, I hope this may be helpful. Feel free to discuss. I am listening. 




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