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Guest blog: Only the lonely

Recently we had a discussion in a comment thread about loneliness. It’s not something I’ve written about much here before, so Anya (@letthelovein on Twitter) kindly volunteered to write a guest blog – on loneliness in a world of desire…

When everyone else is ‘at it’; the shame of loneliness in a world of desire

Honestly, you can’t get away from it. There’s a new article about today’s hook-up culture at every turn.

Half the time they’re warning us against it, half the time saying how bloody marvellous it is that women can enjoy ‘zipless fucks’ with the best of them.

Wait, you’re not having sex all the time, in fact several times a day, with different people you’ve only just met? Holy shit, how do you even look at yourself in the mirror? What’s so wrong with you that people are not prostrating themselves at the altar of your bed-stand?

God forbid you’re looking for more than someone who’s back on Tinder right after you have sex. As the author of The New Rules of Sex, Lauren Brim, pointed out in an interview with The Telegraph last year:

“I looked around and saw there were many single people around me, all of them attractive, talented and intelligent people,” she says. “Some of them hadn’t been in a relationship for years.”

There are times when I wonder if it’s more socially acceptable to say “I want to get laid” than it is to say “I’m feeling really lonely”?

This thought struck home after one woman’s courageously vulnerable comment on a guest post by a male escort;

“.. Hiring an escort, for company or sex, when my own personal life is lonely and dating seems like an impossibility .. well, it would feel like a final nail in the coffin of my own humiliation. Paying someone to pretend to like me for a couple hours? Paying someone to sleep with me because no one else will?

“It’s not the taboo of sex work, it’s more the fear of forcing yourself on someone who sees your company or your body as a chore. That’s just … it’s too much to bear.

“The bare bones of the shame of self doubt/loneliness etc etc. is far more taboo a topic than the concept of hiring male escorts is, tbh.

“It’s not about the stigma of paying for the sex or affection you want, it’s about the stigma of admitting to why you’re not getting it in your personal life in the first place.”

The pain of loneliness isn’t just about not getting laid; the shame comes from feeling unwanted, untouched, undesirable, invisible.

If it’s raining men/women and you’re still bone dry, loneliness feels like a personal failure: it confirms your worst fears about your lack of desirability.

In an interview for her new book The Sex Myths: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality, Rachel Hills addresses the stigma head-on;

“We’ve moved from a culture in which we were told that sex is bad and dangerous and should only be had under very particular circumstances, to one in which we’re told that sex is pretty great, really – and if you’re not doing it, something must be wrong with you ..

“We are told that our desirability and likeability is tied up to our sexuality .. Because why wouldn’t it be if there are no barriers any more ..?

“But the reality is that many people go for long stretches of time without or between having sex, especially if they are single.”

Not that those who are having all the sex are having a completely better ride of it. In Nancy Jo Sales’ controversial article Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse”  for Vanity Fair, a group of young women share that

“It’s a contest to see who cares less, and guys win a lot at caring less”;

“Sex should stem from emotional intimacy, and it’s the opposite with us right now, and I think it really is kind of destroying females’ self-images,” says Fallon.

“It’s body first, personality second,” says Stephanie.

“Honestly, I feel like the body doesn’t even matter to them as long as you’re willing,” says Reese. “It’s that bad.”

“But if you say any of this out loud, it’s like you’re weak, you’re not independent, you somehow missed the whole memo about third-wave feminism,” says Amanda.

Talking to another group of young women, this time in Delaware, Sales reveals that for some young women, the sexual freedom they’re experiencing doesn’t even have the expected pay-off:

“A lot of guys are lacking in that department,” says Courtney with a sigh. “What’s a real orgasm like? I wouldn’t know.” They all laugh knowingly.

Loneliness isn’t just lack of company; it’s about not having our emotional and physical needs respected, acknowledged and met. It’s about our sense of value.

I’m not going to patronise you and give you tips about how you should ‘get out more and find a hobby’ (although competence in an activity often brings a more general confidence). But I am going to make five points which I truly, deeply, hope will help;

#1 – You are not alone

At your loneliest, when your bones feel waterlogged with loneliness, shame, self-loathing, sorrow, when you ache to feel the touch of another on your skin, remember this:

Right now, at this very moment, as you read these words and your sense of shame burns the very air you breathe, on a planet of 7 billion other humans, someone else is feeling the exact same way RIGHT NOW.

You are not alone. If you take nothing else away from this article, take this.

As someone whose lifestyle and health means she can go for days without seeing or speaking to another human being (let alone being touched), it brings me a strange comfort to know that while I may be alone in a physical sense, my fears, feelings and emotions connect me to hundreds, thousands, MILLIONS of people.

I may never meet them; I may pass them on the street and never know. It doesn’t matter. The very fact I’m going through what I go through (whatever it is), is proof that I’m a member of the human race.

Even if that sucks royally at times.

#2 – You are normal

Love will never be certain, but after collecting thousands of stories, I’m willing to call this a fact: A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all men, women, and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.

When these needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We grow numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. There are certainly other causes of illness, numbness, and hurt, but the absence of love and belonging will always lead to suffering.”

Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection 

So seriously, yes, you’re normal. Whatever the state of your love and/or sex life, whatever it is you do or don’t do, I hereby give you permission to give yourself a break from feeling like you’re different from everyone else. OK?

#3 – You need and deserve support

Yes, you do. On both counts. While we tend to think of Relate as an organisation for couples, they welcome single people, too. Not only do they have a sliding scale for fees to ensure accessibility for the widest number of people possible, they also have a free web chat service with a trained counsellor.

One of their counsellors with over 25 years of experience, Andrew G Marshall, has written The Single Trap, a fantastic resource for both the newly and long-term single.

Other ways to find support, or to just receive sensual, consensual touch? Try Biodanza (great for renegotiating your relationship with your body), Cuddle Workshops (check out this hilarious review by The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage) or even good ol’ Tantra.

All too tree-huggy-hippy-shit? Then White Mischief, glorious purveyors of immersive party and cabaret experiences, now hold retreats “exploring community, connection, intimacy, performance and self-expression” in August and February each year.

#4 – You deserve self-compassion

“We see things not as they are, but as WE are.”

We’re our own worst critics. We compare and despair on a daily basis, regardless of whether it’s helpful or not. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever come across is, ‘don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides.’ We can never know what other people are going through, and appearances can be deceptive. Yes, they can. Are you keeping up appearances so no-one knows how lonely you’re feeling? Guess what, other people do that shit, too (see point #1. AGAIN).

Rejection, whether it’s real or perceived, is painful (literally). Don’t add to it by rejecting yourself, too.

#5 – You are enough

“There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy .. the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not worthy of connection”

Brene Brown, The Power of Vulnerability TED talk 

It’s so easy to overlook this detail, and it can be a tough one to swallow. But write it on your mirror, put a daily reminder in your phone, tell yourself it anyway: I Am Enough. I Am Enough.

I Am ENOUGH.

(Being shouted down by the voice in your head which disagrees? Use The Work by Byron Katie to question your own assumptions; powerful, free and liberating.)

Feeling like a sexual loser in a world full of hook-ups and hot stuffs can be lonely, debilitating and shameful. Remember: you’re not alone, you deserve support, and you’re already enough no matter WHAT may or may not go on between the sheets.

Regardless of our gender, our orientation, whether we’re feeling lonely or not, it’s time for us all to remember that.

17 Comments

  • Lola Solitude says:

    I’m sat at my desk at work almost weeping at how fuzzy and warm this made me feel inside.
    My personal life has been all over the place over the last couple of years, and it’s taken months of purposefully being positive and telling myself that I deserve help to actually make any progress.
    I’m also recently single, and I see absolutely no problem with being a massive flirt… That’s just how I am. But I also know that I have a tendency to get emotionally attached very quickly. And that’s something that I often feel is shameful. Until it hits me that I look for the best in life, and I’d rather avoid casual flings – I’m the one who’s going to be hurt, realistically, if something goes wrong.
    Basically, this blog is so right. So so right that we shouldn’t feel ashamed of reaching out for help and love and desire when we need it, but it’s okay to be lonely and say no and want better. So well written.

  • London Lad says:

    I’m 36, normal looking fella, employed, somehow haven’t been near a woman in 3 years, should be in my prime, but your confidence goes..got to keep believing, as once the confidence is gone its hard to get it back.

    • Anya says:

      Hey London Lad,

      Loss of confidence can be a killer. I know myself how it’s crippled me during periods of my life, which created a vicious circle; the less confident I’ve felt (in any arena), the less action I take in that area of my life, the higher the remaining stakes become, the more anxious I feel, the less I do in that area due to anxiety, and the lower my confidence sinks.

      Authentic confidence has a firm foundation, making it more resilient in the face of challenges and both fully congruent with and fully supported by your actions. Perhaps a couple of the resources listed in the post may help support you?

      Finally: you’re not alone in what you feel, nor do you have to be in finding your way through this period of your life. If you were a sportsman you’d have regular training sessions and umpteen coaches, right?

      Perhaps a Flirting Tour with Jean Smith http://flirtology.co.uk/ may give you fun and constructive feedback, or The Chimp Paradox (recommended by Sir Chris Hoy, Steven Gerrard and Victoria Pendleton) may offer logical solutions; http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Chimp-Paradox-Management-Confidence/dp/009193558X

      Good luck, and don’t give up!

  • Robert says:

    There’s a club if you’d like to go
    you could meet somebody who really loves you
    so you go, and you stand on your own
    and you leave on your own
    and you go home, and you cry
    and you want to die

    When you say it’s gonna happen “now”
    well, when exactly do you mean?
    see I’ve already waited too long
    and all my hope is gone

    You shut your mouth
    how can you say
    I go about things the wrong way
    I am human and I need to be loved
    just like everybody else does

  • Jo says:

    This is absolutely brilliant and beautiful – it’s been a rough week and this guest post is a salve.

  • Jon says:

    No one ever contacts you out of the blue unless they want a favour.

    No phone calls, text messages. You go all weekend, all week, without talking to anyone.

    You see your presence as a chore for the others there.

    • Anya says:

      Jon, I hear you; I still have periods when I don’t hear from, see or speak (physically) to another human being.

      One of the things I’ve discovered is the link between ‘no one contacting me unless for a favour’ (other people being a burden to me) and ‘my own presence is a chore for others’ (I am a burden to other people). As Anai Nin is credited as saying, I discovered for myself that ‘we don’t see things as they are but as we are’.

      Luckily I’ve found increasing self-acceptance and self-compassion helpful in releasing the above feelings and, most especially, gratitude; http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good The irony is that the better my relationship with myself becomes (no longer considering myself a chore), the better my relationships with others become (they seek me out for my company and I feel more able to reach out to them first). :)

  • Northern Boy says:

    Brilliant stuff, thank you for writing. Being “lonely in the crowd” is a very strange set of feelings to deal with.

    • Anya says:

      Thanks, Northern Boy! I’ve felt “lonely in the crowd” on many occasions; you’re right, is IS a very strange set of feelings to deal with, but it’s far from unique. In a funny kind of way, it connects us to everyone else who’s ever experienced that sensation :)

  • This is one of the best things I’ve read in a long while. Thank you.

  • Intereesting article. xx

  • The Loneliest Person I Know says:

    I have no idea how relationships and sex works. A few months ago I thought to myself that I should just give up, that having no experience whatsoever must mean I’m “less-than” compared to every one around me. I certainly feel very distressed and sad every time I read one of the sex blogs here, because a part of me not only feels embarrassed and ashamed, but also like a loser compared to the person who wrote the article and all those that comment on them talking about their sex lives. I feel like I’m not even a real adult in comparison because I’m completely untouched.

    I’m 24 and have been depressed since I was 14, so that destroyed all my abilities to make connections, build relationships, develop confidence. Forget about sex, forget about hook ups, forget even about kissing more than one girl. Never happened for me because depression fucked me up. After 10 years of this horror I’m finally coming out of my depression with the help of different therapies. But although many different areas of my life have improved for the first time, sexuality still makes my self esteem fall through the floor every time I think about it. Even as I write this I feel like crying, and I guess that’s pretty pathetic. Even though I don’t like feeling that way, I do anyway.

    I feel like I should try and online date at some point. But I’m stuck wondering how many women will reject me when they find out about me being anxious, depressed, highly sensitive, and more emotional than most men. I hate thinking this way but these traits make me feel worthless to women. Like I’ll just be laughed at and get told to fuck off in favor of people who “make the grade”. Can I even date with thoughts like this running around in my head? Someone told me you have to be totally confident to start dating, but if I follow that advice I will never get to date. And I already feel so lonely and needy and wanting of affection and love. 😩

    PS: I’ve been on depression and anxiety forums for years and it’s truly sad and kind of sickening how many people I meet who confirm my fears. I’ve met lots of people (both men and women) who have had partners give up and leave them, relationships destroyed because they told the depressed partner they were “too sad, too needy, and/or too sensitive”. It’s amazing how the anxious and depressed people of the world get shit on, and people just write them off because they’re too scared to learn about depression. They’d rather take the easy way out and say “Oh they’re just being negative, ignore them!” The world pretended to care for a whopping 2 weeks after Robin Williams died , which I thought was very offensive. It took a celebrity death to make people care even for a New York minute about depression, and that is deeply sad.

    • The One says:

      I care. I just read this again after years and it made me cry. Your reply reminds me so much of a good friend of mine who I know feels like you do. You’ll get older and it will gradually get better. That’s really all I can say without digressing wildly into all the usual platitudes you’re not supposed to say to people who are depressed. I don’t know if you’ll even see this but if you do, I hope you’re a bit better now ❤

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