Before the quarter-life crisis, you have your preteen and teenage angst and after, you’ll endure the “oh-no-I’m-almost-30” panic, “I’m-30-now-how-did-I-get-so-old” syndrome, the “good-god-I’m-turning-40” breakdown, your mid-life crisis, and so on. It seems a little bleak to think about your life this way, but all of these things will come and go and are a natural part of aging. Each time, there will be different components of said change that will afflict you. For your twenty-something blues, the most major component is loneliness. Yes, you will have experienced loneliness before and you will experience it again, but this is a different type of loneliness that can be very overwhelming at first. But no worries, this post will help guide you through it as best as it can.
PART I: WHY AM I SO LONELY?
The logical place to start when dealing with an issue is at the source. What exactly changed in your life that now makes you feel so lonely so frequently?
One common reason is that your living arrangements have shifted. You might have moved away from home or away from a dorm where there was constantly someone there to talk to or to welcome you back after a full day of work. When you don’t have that anymore, you will likely feel that absence very acutely. You are missing people who were a major part of your daily life in the place where you spend most of your time: home.
Another common reason is that you are starting your career or a graduate program. Both of these are new beginnings and are your debut into the real world of career, profession, and adulthood. You will likely come into contact with fewer people in your work or grad programs, so you are limited to a smaller pool of potential friends. In fact, even if you befriend everyone around you, the idea that the number of new people you have the ability to meet is limited can be upsetting in and of itself. But even more importantly, the fact that you and your friends are probably all switching to new work and graduate schedules means it is going to be harder to maintain the same sort of contact you managed during your school years. Holidays are rarer, weekday off-hours are generally used for sleep, and weekends are packed with all of the things you didn’t have time for during the week. Schedules fill up, time becomes scarce, and it becomes harder and harder to see the people you love.
PART II: MAKING THINGS BETTER
There are two basic ways you can improve whatever situation is causing you to feel lonely.
The first method is simply to stay in touch with the people you care about in any way you can. We are fortunate to live in a world of many technologies, so don’t be afraid to use them. Sure, texting a friend is not nearly as great as being able to go out to dinner with them, but it’s still a great way to keep lines of communication open and keep each other up to date on your respective lives (remember they are likely going through very similar lonely spells and will love hearing from you). Picture sharing apps like Snapchat and Instagram are also great so you can put a face to the stream of words that you receive via text. Plus, you should never underestimate the benefits of actually seeing someone, even if it is a silly grimace on your phone.
Whenever you get the chance to see those loved ones in person, try to seize the opportunity. One of the biggest mistakes I made was using excuses like, “I’m too tired from being busy all the time” and “You guys are so far away.” Trust me, it will be worth it to spend time with friends and family. It will rejuvenate you so much more than sitting on the Internet until you pass out. And don’t worry– they’ll understand if you fall asleep on the couch while watching TV together.
The second method is much easier said than done and requires a lot of time, practice, and patience. Learn to enjoy spending time with yourself. Yes, it sounds like a cliché and maybe it is one, but it is truly important. I am in no way implying that you should isolate yourself and become a hermit. Instead, find some activities that you can do on your own. You can start off with the easy things like watching TV, playing a video game, going on the internet, or reading books, but eventually you’ll want to move on to more substantial solo activities like learning to take yourself out to dinner or to go shopping alone. I find that one of the most important skills that I have learned while living alone and one of the best things to do by oneself is cooking. Cooking is good for you in a multitude of ways (you naturally eat healthier and better than if you constantly order out and you save a lot of money too), but the most important aspect is potentially the nurturing and nourishing act. This is a major reason why people love cooking for others; it is a deeply intimate way of showing someone you care about them. It has a very similar effect when you cook for yourself: you nourish and bond with yourself. You are showing yourself that you care.
Undoubtedly, taking care of yourself and acknowledging your successes are the best ways to learn to enjoy spending time with yourself. Think of it like you’re taking care of someone else if it helps. What would you feed that person? How would you cheer them up when they’re down? How would you entertain them? Ask questions like this and apply them to yourself.
I know these methods seem silly, but I can assure that they will at least help a little bit. I have been living alone in a studio apartment in a city and country that I never even visited for over a month now. At first, I was scared to have the responsibility of taking care of myself and was intensely lonely all the time. I would sit at my desk and wonder why I chose to do this. But as time passed, I began to adapt slowly. I started taking myself out to walk around the city and through parks. I go shopping on my own. I cook for myself every night I am on my own. I made new friends. I constantly message my old friends. I talk to myself frequently (it’s both normal and really amusing). Does this mean I am not missing my loved ones so much now? Absolutely not. I miss them more and more every day, but I am more confident that I will be able to hang in there until I see them next.