10 things to do when you are desperately lonely but not ready for a relationship

I knew a woman who so longed to be loved, held, and not feel lonely that she gave her lover, a man who she had only recently met and knew to be a criminal, all of her life savings—some $43,000, to be exact. He promised that he would give the money back with interest (along with his abiding love), in two short months.

She had a small child to feed and had just lost her job—and, incidentally, two other boyfriends just like this one—but she trusted him primarily because “he believed in Karma.”

Over the next several months, she heard from him only once. When she began to inquire about his whereabouts, she learned that he had died in an automobile accident and had left behind a young widow and three small children. When she told a friend what she had discovered, her friend asked what she had learned. “He died in the car he bought with my money.”

This is an extreme example of what can happen when you are lonely but haven’t developed the inner resources to give yourself the good feelings that you are seeking from someone else.

I get it. I’ve been there, too. I had string of relationship disasters that I believed were the result of some dark fate, bad luck, or perhaps my difficult childhood. I married a man who I hoped would complete me (spoiler: it didn’t work). My role models and friends were no better off. My  failed marriage and relationships fell like a line of dominoes over the years, all to the Western tune of: “That rotten, no good, cheating son of a..., and he even took the dog!”

Heal from Heartbreak

Then I took a hard look at myself, sorted out what was really going on and healed my heart. I found my way through loneliness. I got really clear about the kind of soulful relationship I wanted. My future husband was introduced to me in a dream by name. I tried matchmakers, online dating, blind dates—the works. I met some good men who weren’t right for me. I stopped believing the person for me was out there.

Then I met David. I’d never met anyone like him. He’s a man with the heart of a lion, the mind of a philosopher, and soul of a poet. He was beyond everything I wanted, and honestly, it scared me at first. In David, I found a companion with whom I could share the depths of my soul. We’ve been happily married for more than 15 years. He’s my beloved, my partner and friend.

Meeting David was an incredible gift, but by the time I met him, I had already found what I longed for in my relationship with myself and my spirituality. My relationship with David was a bonus that reflected all the work I’d done on myself.

Love Yourself! Get Support and Counseling

My work counseling clients over the past 30 years has confirmed what I experienced myself: great relationships begin within. Honoring our own bodies, longings and dreams will lead us not only to more compatible partners, but deeper fulfillment. Often this takes some self-discovery and healing that is easier to do with the support and guidance of someone who has been down this path before.

What you can do right now

While you’re busy trying to sort out who really did what, whose responsibility your life actually is, and healing your heart, I offer you some “here and now” antidotes to feeling desperately lonely. (So you don’t go and find another relationship just like the last one, or just like our friend’s.)

10 things you can do when you feel desperately lonely:

Feel. I say we gotta feel it to heal it. And if we don’t know what we feel, we don’t know what we need. Get a pillow, sit on the floor and bring it on. Facing our fears sometimes is the perfect answer. Two and three o’clock in the morning are when loneliness hit me the worst. Whatever time it is, facing the boogeyman is ultimately what we all have to do if we want to be free and choose a relationship out of love rather than need (or desperation). If I was gentle, waited and sat with myself long enough, I would begin to feel and heal. I spent many nights (and days) just letting the floodgates loose and attending to  what was underneath all my anxiety.

Move. Give what’s inside some space. Let it move. Moving saved my life! Sometimes I had so much energy, so many feelings welling up in me, that I stood in my kitchen barefoot on the hardwood floor and gyrated around spastically flailing my fists at God and everyone, like James Brown on crack. I screamed and cried and danced and collapsed until I was empty. Running, hiking, swimming, dance classes—you name it, I did it!! Here’s a simple, but powerful movement exercise that will help you to listen to what your body is saying and get the feelings out.

Read. Yes, it is not easy to quiet that restless mind, so pick books that are inspirational and will engage you every time. Ones that have exercises and great “if I can do it, you can, too” stories. I always had a stack of self-help books and autobiographies nearby. Still do. Here’s a list of my favorite books on relationships and a list of my favorites on the spirit and soul.

Write. Write love letters ... to yourself. If you write one every night, you may find they get longer. Whatever you have pinging around in your head, put it on paper. Doesn’t matter how you do it: journal, write to God (he/she will answer back), write letters to your future self. You may have the next New York Times bestseller in you! I wrote copious amounts of dark, intense poetry. It was so great to get it out of my body!

Collage. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn about yourself--what you long for and what you really like--by pulling out magazine bits, art work, doodles, quotes, pictures of people, places and things. Sit quietly and ask yourself: What am I longing for most? And see what comes. If you want some help with your inquiry questions check out my article on divination. Using prompts like the Great Relationships Begin Within divination deck that my husband and I created to help support our inquiry practice can help prompt powerful healing and growth. (It’s also available as an IOS app.)

Talk. I had a list of folks who I could call when I needed to be “talked down”… if you know what I mean: friends who cared about me, knew my history and were devoted to my well-being. Honestly, I have never been a big phone talker, but when I got lonely sometimes it would take the edge off—just hearing someone’s voice was comforting enough to get me to the next place! When you are tempted to call an ex, read this: Stop, drop and roll.

Play. Find your version of what healthy fun is. We all need things that have positive consequences, but that we don’t have to “win” at. I started dancing the Five Rhythms, took salsa lessons, ice skated w/my son, played cards with friends, trained for the Avon Walk (okay, for me training is fun), painted with watercolors, took classes at City College, went to open-air markets.There are a million online resources to find “clean living,” fun things that will bring you joy. Play!  

Get a pet. I love cats, have two (Chloe and Leila), and a dog named Bella. I cannot tell you how many times my cats have come and cradled me in the midst of some of my most intense loneliness. And I let them. I was learning how to comfort myself when I had only known how to reach to someone else before (most of the time not the best someone, either). And yes, they respect me in the morning, all of them, every time—and best of all, so do I!!!

Laugh. Comedians are fab and I recommend getting a library of them—one of my all time faves is Orny Adams, or Saturday Night Live reruns. OR a great alternative is funny movies, and my list is long. If you don’t have them already, check out Hulu or Netflix; it’s way less expensive than a one-night stand or bad relationship choice.

Pray. Never underestimate the power of prayer. I have said prayers over and over, hoping someone or something out there would hear me, and then one day it happened. I found my Divine connection to…well, The Divine. It was like coming home, and now I find great comfort in prayer and meditation, as corny or simplistic as this sounds. I know, I know, you are desperately lonely. Then I say to you, pray like it! I’ve found praying for guidance to be of particular help. Here are some thoughts on prayer that has helped me through difficult times.

Meet your Tomorrow Me. Discover the part of yourself that looks out for you today on behalf of all your tomorrows. It has wisdom to help you be happy and thrive. This article on Four Ways to Find Your Tomorrow Me will help you develop this relationship with yourself.