December 4, 2014

Keeping This Covenant - Loneliness

Loneliness. The very word conjures up images of a cloudy day and an empty for the one poor soul who was left behind, again. Or a playground with laughing children...except for the quiet child in the corner whom nobody seems to notice. Dramatic, intense, and depressing...loneliness is a difficult topic to handle.

Yet, we have all felt it. In a crowded room or an empty house, often the emotion has very little to do with external circumstances and everything to do with the state of your heart. Loneliness is magnified in sadness and highlighted during the difficult moments of life. Often, we enable its presence and pity ourselves for its existence. We stand in the crowded room, feeling alone, and whisper, "Oh, does no one understand me? Does no one know how...lonely it is standing here?"

Within marriage, all excuses for loneliness disappear from the outside world. After all, marriage in itself is the joining of two lives, two worlds, into one. Even when your significant other cannot attend your company party, your coworkers all know that he will be there when you return home. Marriage, in essence, seems to guarantee the presence of the most significant person in your life to be there with you at all times. "How dare you be lonely?", cry the voices of the outside world. "You have your spouse, are they not enough? Your bed is not empty, why can you not appreciate what you have?" And so easily, loneliness is buried under a layer of guilt as the dearly beloved try to figure out, secretly, why they are indeed...lonely.

I believe that the very word "loneliness" and its meaning within our society do not do the emotion justice. We all seem to be acutely aware of the fact that a crowded room can still feel very isolating, but we do not extend that grace to married couples. I believe that there are several key things we must remember about the qualities of loneliness. In this way, may we ever be compassionate to those (myself included) who may feel lonely.

1. It's okay to feel lonely. Whether you're married or not, you are a unique individual with specific moments and memories that no one else in the whole wide world can claim. You are beautiful. You are extraordinary. You are fantastic. And it's okay if you feel lonely when everyone else tells you that you shouldn't.

2. Change is hard. Internal change. External change. I have a whole slew of blog posts just sitting in the pot covering those topics. I'll dip my toes into a small one real quick if you don't mind. I just graduated college a few months ago. Two days later, I started my first full-time corporate job. Oh, and this happened a week after moving back from Central America. Lots and lots of change has happened. Somewhere in there, I've been trying to process it all. This transition into the next phase of my life is sometimes hard. For myself and my recently graduated peers, we're all going through this weird transitionary period of life that can feel isolating. I'm surrounded by an amazing friend group and it's still odd. It would be odd if I were single, it's odd despite being married. The loneliness that can come through periods of growth is often painful, but on the other side, you look back and you see just how far you've come. Allow yourself to know that change can be lonely, but it will be okay, and we're all walking this road right along side you.

3.  Loneliness is not isolated to the single, the abandoned, or the forgotten. We are all humans and we are all capable of feeling deeply. If you are able to approach all people with compassion, not condemnation, you will begin to see that their capacity for hurt, anger, joy, and love are very similar to your own. Never underestimate the power of asking good questions and empathizing with sincerity. Often, lonely people just need someone to ask them what's wrong and someone to care enough to try to help. Don't assume that just because someone is in a relationship, they don't need a friend.

4. Friends are important. Like I previously mentioned, I am a fairly new graduate. In my past life (8 months ago), I was an actively involved student who honestly never felt alone in college. Even in the midst of internal growth and struggles, I found engaging conversations around every corner and a slew of friends who were all living life right there with me. The post-grad life has far less interactions. An 8-5 schedule leaves little time for mid-day coffee shop conversations or after midnight Taco Bell runs. I don't know what phase of life you're in, whether you're like me and figuring out life after school or if you've been married for 35 years, but I think friends are crucial in our lives. They provide a sounding board and present new ideas when you're overwhelmed. The crazy ones can bring out new sides of you that enrich your life and the true blue ones can sit in a quiet room with you and make you feel better without saying a word. I love the best friend I go home to every day, but we both need friends outside of each other. Thankfully, we operate on a similar wavelength and kick each other out of the house often enough to go meet up with our respective friend groups. It keeps us sane and it cultivates an enriching life. Loneliness usually creeps into my world when I draw back from these much-needed relationships.

I began writing this post trying to express my thoughts on loneliness within marriage. After writing, deleting, writing, deleting, and writing some more...I began having conversations with my friends. Slowly, my thoughts have churned from the "marriage" thoughts to the "this is just life" thoughts. There are so many circumstances that bring about loneliness in our lives, and there are so many different types of loneliness, it would be cliche to offer a 3-step article on how to beat the blues. While marriage offers a complexity to the emotion, because living with someone who knows your heart intricately seems like it should diffuse the loneliness, so very often, it doesn't. Life continues to move forward, good things happen, bad things happen, and as change sweeps through and situations are altered...we have to discover for ourselves how to take the next step. In my conversations with friends,  I have been struck by the thought of how often we discount people who have a significant other. I wish that would change. If anything, I wish we could pull away the veil of marriage and stop seeing it as a divider between the "singles" and the "marrieds", and instead, recognize that as humans, we are on this journey together. That, I believe, in the first step in recognizing that you are, most definitely, not alone.

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