When You Find Yourself Totally Alone
Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark.
– Ancient Zen saying
Some day you may find yourself totally alone. At least you will feel that way.
Virtually no one wants to find themselves alone in the world. But it happens. It happens to almost every one of us at some time or another in our lives. In our modern world where more people are alive than at any other time in human history, more of us feel totally alone. What’s worse, no one is prepared for it. We may be surrounded by people, even family, yet feel alone. As if you are a shadow passing by other living creatures who don’t know you are there.
You may not know anyone who feels totally alone today. That is a critical point. People who feel alone disappear into the crowd. You know someone, but you don’t know how deeply confused and alone they feel. We may work with them or sit beside them at worship or nod as we pass them when leaving home or in the market, but not realize how alone they feel. For a person who feels totally alone, the world is a very different place from the one most of us live in. Same world, feels alien.
When it happens that we find ourselves alone in the world, most of us reluctantly ask ourselves if we are responsible for our own aloneness. Most of us convince ourselves that others were to blame. Or just one other. Always someone else, for some of us. Those who blame themselves for their total aloneness may be the worst off because they face their accuser every day in the mirror. They don’t even want to look.
I’m not going to tell you that your aloneness (or anyone else’s) was your own fault. Because it wasn’t. Nor am I prepared to let you put the blame on someone else. Because they likely weren’t at fault either. And because they no longer matter to you.
When you are alone in the world, the people of your past matter little. Even family members and loved ones seem unimportant. That’s alienation, or some call it dissociation.
What matters to a person who feels alone is the people of their future. If it’s you, you need a new future, not a repeat of your past. That means you need to learn how to create a new and healthy future. Often that means having to let go of the past, of the people, though not the memories. Much as you wish it to be different, you can’t get people you know or knew to care more than they do. They knew the old you, got used to the old you, and you need to create a new you.
Most of us have wondered what it would be like to start our lives over again, especially our adults lives. And especially knowing what we have already learned. Now is the time. This is the big chance. Make a new set of friends, even relatives (by marriage or other association), the way you would like to have friends. The kind of friends you would like to have. The kind of friend who will appreciate you as a true friend. Easier said than done? I’ll show you how.
Your future will be entirely your responsibility because you will create it. If you fall back on ways that caused you to be alone in the first place, you will be responsible for that and you will feel worse because you failed yourself and you know it. You need to think out what characteristics you would want of a new friend before you go looking for one.
The first rule about making new friends when you feel alone is that the people who are easiest to befriend are the wrong kinds of friends to have. For example, spend money on them or actively engage in sex with them and they may quickly learn to like you. However, they will also vanish or betray you as quickly as they came, leaving you alone again. False friends. Temporary pals. Business friends that disappear as soon as they have nothing more to gain from associating with you.
False friends always want something from you or they drop you. Real friends–the ones you want to have–need something from you, but it’s not much. They want you to care about them. In exchange, they will care about you. To make a real friend you have to care about someone beyond yourself. The life of that friend must be more important than what you care about the cashier in the supermarket or the meter reader who checks your power consumption for the utility.
People with whom you exchange pleasantries, a few drinks, a few laughs are not necessarily real friends. To them you are their means of passing some time in a pleasant way. Make the distinction. Pals and friends are not the same thing. Nor should you, when you make a real friend, forget how to treat them and to think of them differently.
The second rule about making new friends is to analyze what kind of people you had previously as friends. You obviously don’t want to make more like them or they would still be your friends. Something was wrong in those previous relationships. Did you buy them with investments of money or energy or time, for example? Friends are made by investing time and energy in them or on their behalf, but if they have nothing to give back you will not have anything on which to cement a friendship.
The hardest lesson many of us have to learn about making friends and cementing relationships is that most people aren’t worth trying to make into friends. For you. They may be suitable friends for others, but something doesn’t click with you and you likely won’t ever be able to make it happen. To be a friend to you, a person must invest emotional energy in you. That will often happen only after you have made the same investment in them. But, like sticking coins in a slot machine, not everyone you invest emotional energy in will become a true friend.
There are many different kinds of friendships, but the worthwhile ones begin and continue with your doing something of value to or for the other person. They will do things for you too, if they want to, if they know how and if they want to be real friends. Making a new friend means putting yourself out there to do something for someone else, with no promise of return. You may do something for many different people before you find one or two with promise for a friendship. Everyone will take from you if you offer, only a friend or potential friend will give back something in return.
We’re a social species. When we find ourselves totally alone–or feeling alone, no matter how many others are around us–because no one cares, we feel alienated from the rest of the world. Aloneness is a feeling more than a physical reality. The feeling is real. Many times when someone feels totally alone it’s because they have realized that no one cares about them the way they would like someone to care. In a highly social world, no one seeks them out for the pleasure of their company.
Despite our need for social experiences and social relationships, we also need some time to ourselves. Without that time to ourselves, time when we can do what we want and enjoy our own company, we can’t be independent people. We can only be part of a collective of two or more people if we can’t do things on our own and enjoy both the doing together and the aloneness. People who depend on other close friends or spouses so much they spend all their time together suffer most when the other is taken away, such as by death.
Death is real. We need to consider death. The death of a loved one or friend as well as our own. To survive the death of a close friend or mate, we need to have some measure of independence we can resort to after a tragedy. As we find ourselves alone, we need to have an independent life we can expand rather than no life other than with the one who departed. What happens to the “two who became one” when one dies? We need both the social part of relationships as well as knowledge that we can survive on our own. If we can survive our aloneness, we can build a new “together” with someone else.
Maybe the biggest question you would have about making a new friend or finding a new mate or spouse is whether or not you can trust that person. Ask yourself first, can you be trusted? How totally trustworthy are you? You can’t and shouldn’t expect a friend or mate to be more trustworthy than you. In one sense, you need to exude trustworthiness to make a friend because a potential new friend will look for that.
You will also need to need to feel you are contributing about 85 percent to the relationship in comparison to the other person’s 15 percent. Can you feel comfortable with that? In most relationships that work well, especially with wives and husbands, each feels they contribute about 85 percent to the relationship and can be satisfied with that. It’s not true though because neither one realizes how much the other contributes to the relationship. We only know fully what we contribute. Don’t be shocked if you seem to be giving more to a good friend than you receive. That’s human nature, the way it works.
Even in supposedly monogamous relationships, one of the partners or both will have sex with another person, covertly of course. In the United States a study has shown the 85 percent of married men and 65 percent of married women have at least one sexual experience outside the marriage. If you want a friend or spouse to forgive your mistakes, you must be prepared to forgive theirs. If you can, your relationship has a better chance of surviving than most. Remember, everyone makes mistakes of some kind. Everyone. Real friends forgive.
There will be mistakes. There will be errors. There will be times of neglect, of forgetfulness and of miscalculation of the importance of feelings by both parties. Forgiveness gets you past these problems. Holding a grudge, not forgiving, causes you more pain than it does the other person. It may not be fair, but it’s life.
In a world where we each of us expects to have to look out for our own best interests, it’s extremely hard to find someone worth investing your time and energy on to create a relationship. Finding one that works is worth the pain and struggle. Finding that special someone as a friend or mate or spouse may require a lot of pain and suffering along the way. It means failures and non-starters. It means being able to recognize a failed or unworthy relationship before you invest to much in it.
Failure to build a new relationship means you can try again. Quitting will ensure you remain alone.
When so many marriages fail within five years, for example, do you not wonder whether the couple jumped into something one or both were not ready for or whether they simply chose the wrong person? Was finding someone, anyone, more important than finding the right one? Did they share the same values? Did they want the same things from a marriage? Was each prepared to give to the other what the other needed? Or did they just want to be married, hoping that it would work out over time, as arranged marriages are supposed to do? Did they just want from a marriage what they wanted and judge the relationship on whether they got it or how completely they got it?
No matter what kind of relationship you want to begin, you must first decide what kind of person would satisfy your need. Not everyone will fit your need and you must understand that before you begin anything. Most people aren’t worth your time and emotional investment. The ones who are don’t wear signs advertising the fact on their chests.
Another factor to consider is that someone who is looking for a new friend or mate will be more interested in what you have to offer them than in what they can offer you. If you mount a public profile on a web site, for example, you are advertising. You will advertise what the other wants and you can satisfy, not what you are looking for. Tell what kind of person you are, what you enjoy, what you value. If you tell mostly what you are looking for you open yourself to the possibility of being targeted by someone who believes he or she can take advantage of that by pretending to offer just that.
Talking about yourself only works so far. In advertising, the advertiser needs to appear to be more interested in the needs of the buyer than his or her own needs. Be an asker and a listener more than a teller. The world is full of people who want to tell you about themselves but who don’t want to hear about you because they don’t care about you. To get their attention to start something, you need to listen first. And ask about them.
Whether you look for a new friend or a new mate, look where you expect to find such a person. Many think of joining a religious group or service club, but don’t think of volunteering. When you volunteer to help a charity, for example, you meet others who are also offering themselves to help others. If finding someone who will give of themselves to help others is something you are looking for–that’s a critical component of every long term relationship–then volunteering costs very little and offers many possible benefits, for everyone. Volunteering is a much overlooked place to find new friends.
To find a “best” anything is a struggle. But life is a struggle. That’s the way it works. Anything that comes easy is rarely worth more than was invested to get it. Keep looking. Unlike the elusive pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, finding a friend or soulmate you can treasure will happen if you do what is needed to find the right person. Don’t take you time at it, friends don’t usually come knocking on your door. Get doing it.
But remember, you must be the right person for the other as much as he or she must be right for you. The “lost love” was not just a missed opportunity. It was more likely a bad fit. Look for a better fit. It will happen if you work at it.
Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, an easy to read book about how to avoid personal and community problems before they become problems that are impossible to solve.
Learn more at http://billallin.com