My truth is this: being single and 39 can be lonely, and to my recollection, there is no hard fast rule on “what to do” when you know you are, in fact, lonely.
The basic thing I’ve realized is our society’s pace doesn’t help. And by society’s pace, I mean how typical Americans rush by, their eyes locked to a phone, or their eyes linked to a spot above your forehead as they walk by and pretend you don’t exist.
Americans are busy.
Too busy for my liking.
There are exceptions:
The kind woman with rich blue eyes that spoke to me at the dog park about her life while our dogs played.
The coffee barista that asked me how my day was going.
Those closest friends that come stay with me and make my spine tingle with laughter.
Is there a growing class of people that don’t define success by the zeroes in their bank account, but rather the daily debit of connections and positive bids in their emotional bank account?
Loneliness plays a big part of understanding who I am.
Not doing something about loneliness is what scares me.
I feel lonely thinking about the idea of a finding a “soulmate.”
I get anxious about finding my “next thing.” I get depressed if I sit around on my ass for too long waiting for the puzzle to unfold. I’ve transitioned from one career to the next.
I know what waking up and staring into a black coffee cup of infinite choices feels like.
But why do I question this experience of loneliness, anxiety, or depression as good or bad?
Does a “soulmate” or finding our “next thing” or true happiness exist because society taught us to believe in it? What does our notion of “soulmate” mean relative to Disney movies, romantic comedies, and why do we only fall in love with “one soulmate?”
What if our “thing” is to be what we are in this moment:
Honestly, I am semi-okay with being alone. By semi, I mean, I accept it, but also want to move away from feeling this way.
In fact, when my mind tilts towards sadness, anxiety, or depression, the only thing I question is my effort about what I’m doing to move away from it.
One way to do this is to focus on the my effort in being useful to other people.
It takes effort to feel useful and it is what I examine about myself the most.
Am I trying to meet new groups I’m curious about, am I trying to travel, am I trying to connect, am I meeting my friends to workout, and am I doing thoughtful things for others every day?
I could wait forever for these things to come to me, for what I believe intimacy, connection, and chemistry are, but there is probably someone that a phone’s call away that can make this real if I put effort into them.
It isn’t easy to listen to yourself…
And allow the internal solitude or isolation to be there, but because it is important to know “why I feel it” and what I can do about it.
I am glad when simpering couples walk by me with their fingers interlocked, chuckling about some inside joke only they understand. They could have purple fangs and look like gorillas, I would still smile for them.
I am content with the huddle of strangers, the teams of softball and kickball players that chuckle and laugh in the back of the bar over a pitcher of beer with their rec league shirts.
Even when I travel, walking out of the baggage gate and seeing the joy of a mother hugging and kissing their child; a lover holding flowers, waiting with eternal hope; a family reunited, jumping with glee as they start to chatter in endless stories and memories of their travels.
Yes, I feel this tinge of jealousy, but it only lasts for as long as my self-awareness allows it.
Why should I be jealous?
They have found what we’ve all probably felt at one point in our lives — true connection — the yin to the loneliness’s yang.
Knowing you are lonely is a good place to be because you can start trying to do something about it.
I moved to Bucktown, Chicago in September of 2017 to begin making a startup from scratch. I didn’t know many people when I moved here. I can be introverted, unless given copious amounts of tequila. I treat people kind. I smile when spoken too. I listen well.
But I know what type of people I fit with as friends, or lovers, or coworkers. I am unconventional in how I live, travel, and want to live a life that “feels” authentic to me.
Connection and feeling useful are keys to a meaningful life.
But loneliness doesn’t care about being useful or connection. Loneliness wants to simmer inside you. Loneliness is a response to how you feel about your environment, like that moment you realize losing a loved one is never coming back. And sometimes I need to feel this response.
It’s touching to think about the people, the things, the pets, the friends, the lovers, you’ve lost.
The “Shoulds” of Your Life: I am not here to tell you what you should do, but I can tell you what I do. You should use loneliness as a guide. When you feel it, pretend it is the South star. In your relationships, in your career, in your fitness tribe, in your family, in your friendships, it means there is a North start to start walking towards, together.
You should take this moment to lean into your loneliness and think about what you miss. About what you want more of. About what the point of life is. About why you are here.
Self-aware people get more of what they want. They create the world they seek.
Then you should (take a few deep breaths) and get a piece of paper and write down what you miss. What you need. What you hope for. What you think about. Why you think you are lonely today.
In pro sports, there isn’t much room for empathy or sympathy, but idling around, wallowing in isolation isn’t all that great either. Maybe for awhile, but not for too long. Because after a while, it becomes a practice.
And practice turns to habits, a way of living.
A loneliness mindset isn’t one I want to live in.
No one is going to put this puzzle together for you. Not a therapist, a self-help book, a bunch of drugs, alcohol, and sex, not even a ayahuasca retreat in Belize.
There are a few things I do that help me overcome my loneliness.
“Get your shit together Huffman and figure it out,” coaches used to yell at me.
That seems harsh, but to be honest, if you wallow in sadness, depression, and anxiety, and don’t get your body moving, you can get stuck there.
So let’s figure your shit out with effort.
Effort isn’t easy.
To lose weight, it takes effort.
To make friends, it takes effort.
To be useful, it takes effort.
To beat loneliness, it takes self-awareness and action.
Saying hello to someone at CrossFit. Or joining a sports league or a book club, or a sketch comedy group is just effort. If you live in your head, you need effort to get out into the world and learn from it.
Effort is something you can control and there is a common quote in the pro athlete world:
“Control the controllables.”
Your controllable is your effort in joining groups of people and hobbies you are already curious about.
Secondly, do one thoughtful thing a day for someone you care about. Write them a text. Send them a letter. Call them. Tell them how you proud you are of them, how much you appreciate their friendship, how glad you are they are in your life.
With a sustained effort, loneliness won’t last forever, right?