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Jimmy Hendrix said it a long time ago, “loneliness is a drag”. In grief, loneliness seems to show it’s face when we begin to realize how alone we really are now. The silence in our lives and the empty spaces in our homes can sometimes morph into aching loneliness and at some point, some of us may start looking for ways to end that loneliness.

waves of grief

This is the first part of a two post discussion that asks questions about the relationship between loneliness and dating and how they fit into our grief. It suggests that we might take the time to understand the causes of our loneliness and choose what we might do about it with intent.

This first post is mostly about finding ways of thinking about and working through our loneliness before we find ourselves doing things to try to end that loneliness that might not be the real issues or the best solutions. The second post will be more about dating, and asks lots and lots of questions that we might want to consider.

The purpose of this post is to encourage us to think about why we are doing things before we act so we are sure that our choices and actions are not our grief and the loneliness within it speaking and “taking control” of what we are doing. It’s also to encourage us to perhaps not rush into dating and relationships until we have found some healing and clarity in our grief journey. 

Not that our loneliness isn’t real or powerful or at times painful, not that dating is inherently wrong; this discussion is here to suggest that what we do with our loneliness and what we do about it, is important enough to stop and think about, in advance if possible, even if you’re not interested now, even if you aren’t there now. 

Based on what we may remember from the past, usually loneliness had its resolutions in finding and being with another person in some sort of relationship. Most recently in our lives, it was satisfied by our loved ones who are now no longer there to fill that need.

In our grief, because we have so much lonely time, our loneliness can become magnified by the emptiness and the echos of our love and we may begin to think or feel that we can fix it, that we can somehow not feel lonely if we could only find someone to spend time with, to fill the emptiness with someones presence and maybe it would all get better and go away if we could find someone to love.

But this is grief we’re dealing with. Most times, we don’t actually miss having someone in our lives, we miss having our spouse or partner, our loved one, in our lives. They are irreplaceable! They are what we really miss and want. But in our grief, we can sometimes seem to forget that, and just start wanting anyone to fill that emptiness with their presence. We might convince ourselves that this is what we need and then we will do anything we can, just to stop the loneliness.

And we may also be driven to look for others in part by a desire for intimacy in our lives; a part of our lives with our loved ones that is also empty now. That can become its own driving need and push us to seek out resolution of that part of what we miss with new relationships as well. Especially for men I think, this can sometimes become a driving force and can sometimes overtake reason and reasoning (I say this with the memory of some things from early in my own grief journey, lol ). 

But again, as it is with loneliness, what we are probably really missing is intimacy with our loved ones and not just intimacy for its own sake. Not that it isn’t nice or sometimes fun in its own way, but since we are also grieving, as we try to process the things that are missing in our lives and the loneliness we feel in our grief, it seems important to also consider and know why we might go seeking to fill this particular empty space with other people, in advance, before we try to fill this need if we feel we have to.

We may even tell ourselves that our loved ones would want us to find another someone, that they would not want us to be alone forever. And that may be true, but in the loneliness of grief, we can let that thought become a self-justifying permission for us to move on quickly just so we are not alone and lonely anymore. Sometimes we can go to great lengths to convince ourselves that this is the one, this person is going to take away the hurt, the pain and the loneliness (and grief) just by being there. 

In reality, it rarely works that way. Occasionally a new person may indeed find their way into our life early on and become important, become someone we can find comfort and friendship and slowly build love with. We might even find someone else who is grieving to spend time with, perhaps as a friend to begin with, and through that friendship, help each other find the healing we need.

But most often we have to find ourselves first. We have to become ok with being alone, with finding ways to fill the silence and the emptiness in our lives by ourselves, before we are well enough, healed enough, and strong enough to have much to offer others, to have something worth sharing with them besides our continuing grief. We have to learn to be ok with ourselves before we jump into a “fix my loneliness” relationship

It’s like the old rebound effect. When we were young and if we broke up with a boyfriend or girlfriend (or they broke up with us), we often immediately jumped into another relationship to fill that gap in our lives. In those situations too, it usually (though not always) didn’t work out for very long or very well. They were usually just substitutes or perhaps distractions or diversions, and our hearts knew it even if our minds and  bodies didn’t! 

Maybe you were lucky and the first one became the only one! Maybe you spent most  or all of your adult life with that one person. What a potentially wonderful thing. But unfortunately, it also leaves you without any experiences about other relationships in the past to help you know what to do now. 

But if the first one wasn’t “the only one”, then we possibly did the rebound thing at least once along the way and sometimes, we can still do it now, forgetting, or not caring that it might be just a rebound now as well. We get so missing the company, so wishing for companionship and affirmation, that, especially early in our grief, we can start reaching out, we can feel we need to start dating and trying to meet people without any thought or sense of caution

Sometimes, in our grief and loneliness, the first time a person offers us kindness, affirmation, compassion or empathy and makes us feel important and maybe even loved, that person can very quickly become the object of our attention and affection. All our safety valves can be turned off, we can ignore the warning flags and we can plunge ahead with no caution into relationships of various intensity that are usually just substitutes for our loved ones that may seem to make us feel less lonely for a time.

The people we find if we (blindly) search for someone to fill that loneliness may often look and sound and even feel good for a time. It might even be fun for a while, but  beyond dating them, once they win us over in some way, once we drop our resistance, what happens then? What do they look like or become then? 

Especially if we met them online, are they who they claim to be? Who are they really? What do they really want and why are they looking at our damaged hearts and souls so intently? What are they looking for and expecting to get from being with us? If they are pressuring us to be or do or share something, why is that? Why would anyone who had our best interests at heart pressure us in any way at all?

Or, to be fair, are they just good people wanting to help make it better and help sooth our hurt and sadness just because they want to and they genuinely care? Are they lonely too? Our hearts know the difference if we listen to them! 

Alternatively, maybe we aren’t interested in bringing someone into our lives now at all. Maybe its not the time or there is no place in our grief for someone else. Maybe we just want to grieve our loved ones and somehow get through that and the loneliness it contains before we consider anything or anyone else (if we ever do). Maybe we can learn to recognize where the loneliness comes from and understand why we feel it and that it is often accentuated by our grief. Maybe we can eventually let the loneliness go and learn to be ok on our own.

But if we do want to look at other people to bring into our lives, especially because we feel lonely, maybe it would be good if we could make sure our minds are back in gear and the fog has cleared before we begin dating. 

If we do choose to meet new people, it would also be good to make sure that whenever we meet someone in any environment, that we stay safe and that we make sure we ask the hard questions, of ourselves and of them, and expect to get honest answers in return. If we don’t get honest answers or those answers we do get don’t feel right or resonate right within us, instead of ignoring them and going forward anyway, perhaps it would be good if we could be focused enough to recognize that they don’t feel right and be able to walk away and say no thanks in some way that works for us, no matter how lonely we feel.

It also seems good here (and all along the way) to remember that we are grieving and our grief often does strange things to our minds and emotions. Especially in the early part of the journey, our judgement is often compromised and what we think and feel my not be us at all, it may be our grief (and our loneliness) speaking and we might not want to act on it right away, even though it seems reasonable at the time. What may seem like a good idea in our grief-filled and lonely lives, under other circumstances, we might see it quite differently and might recognize those things as not such good ideas or ways of behaving.

We often hear or read that it is best if we can hold off from making important decisions in our grief for as long as possible, maybe through the entire first year if we can. 

So if things like selling your house, selling your car, spending all your money on something frivolous, quitting your job, or moving to a new State are all things to give yourself some time before you do them, then relationships, bringing other people deeply into your life, sharing your resources, and especially doing so quickly, might be even more important things to hold off on. It might be important to wait until your mind and emotions begin to clear of the “grief fog” and you can act with purpose and intent and not just react or overreact in trying to fill an un-fillable need.

Later in our journeys, when we have found some healing, when we are maybe becoming more comfortable with what is happening in our lives, maybe when we are emotionally really ready to do so and not so consumed with grief and loneliness, we can then begin to investigate safe and reasonable possibilities for bringing new people  into our lives.

The idea of dating carries so many expectations and assumptions and potential dangers within it and online dating seems full of unknowns and uncertainties as well. Are there other alternatives that might be available for us to try that might fill some of our loneliness in a safe and satisfying way?

How about friendships? Can we have friendships that fill those lonely spaces instead of relationships? Can we find others who are just looking for some good people to bring into their lives without having to create a special or exclusive relationship, without “dating” to meet new strangers and without trying to recreate something we miss and can no longer have.  Can we come together as groups of friends and fill some of the lonely time that way?

What about the community of bereaved spouses and partners? At least there we all have a commonality that can help us to build friendships and maybe even relationships down the road. Usually we are all just hurting in a similar way and hoping for someone to spend a little time with on our journeys. There are a lot of us out there!

Will (can) dating a non-bereaved person ever give us answers we need? Will they ever be able to understand enough of what we are feeling and what our needs really are? Are we even on the same planet with them anymore?

Are we changed so much by our grief that we may rarely find the companionship, understanding and maybe even the love we need and are looking for outside of the community of the bereaved? Would we be best served instead by looking to forge new friendships and relationships amongst kindred spirits and fellow travelers on the road to healing and wellness?

As in all aspects of grieving, we each need to find our own answers and find what works for us in our own way and in our own time. There are no all-purpose answers, there are no single right answers that fit everyone, but it might be good to ask ourselves what and why we are making the choices we are, before we begin searching for someone to “fill our loneliness”.