Prologue: Why am I about to share something so personal? Because I have seen loneliness beyond myself. I have seen it in you. I have seen it in your eyes. I have heard it in your voice. I know. You know. You have it too. I care. I hurt for you. My heart aches for you. We can do something about this. What’s the answer? I don’t know yet, but I won’t give up the search. I think this…awareness and understanding…this is just the beginning.
“Why are you so lonely?” he asked. He asked it so earnestly, so genuine, with an interesting tact. It was like he could not figure me out. I was so surprised by the question I was speechless. No one had ever asked me that. I guess everyone assumed I was lonely because my soulmate died, but when he asked me that question, it stopped me in my tracks. There it was, my loneliness, in broad daylight. I felt naked. He saw it.
Having been widowed almost five years, the accumulation of lonely days and nights and the loneliness of single parenthood has worn on me. He commented it was like I had reached a breaking point. I could not take it anymore. Something had to change. I wished someone could give me a new love, a new husband, a new companion, something, anything. Life is not meant to be lived alone. My kids have been asking me to give them a step-dad for years now. Most kids beg for a puppy. My kids want a living father figure. I get it. I cannot just marry someone for the wrong reasons though so I have been patient and careful. I have not jumped into anything. Well, I had not, until a few months ago.
I got to thinking how many people are lonely in our world today. How many people get into relationships to quench the thirst from loneliness versus a true, meant-to-be connection? If you are lonely, and you meet someone who you really connect with, how do you discern whether it is truly right, or whether you are clouded by the impact of it satisfying your lonely heart?!
If I am being honest, I have been lonely most of my life. Growing up as an overweight child, I always felt isolated and insecure. As a teenager I worked all the time so I was rarely able to hang out with my friends. In college and work I focused so intensely on work and studies that I left very little time for a social or romantic life. I moved around a lot so that did not help, never being in one place long enough to build really deep relationships.
Why, if I was lonely, would I put all my time and effort into work and purpose instead of relationships?! Simple. It is the path of least resistance. I was good at school and work. What I was good at, I pursued like a train. It is so common. If you look at a child who is naturally gifted in math, but struggles with writing, which one will the child naturally want to work on when given the choice? The one that comes natural to them. The problem is, that other part remains stunted if we let it sit idle.
I have had grief counseling since my husband died, and it has been abundantly clear that I need to work on building relationships. Yet I also lost my identity when he died. I put my career on hold so I have been busy struggling to rebuild my professional purpose. When you are a single parent of multiple young children, there is not much free time so trying to forge ahead in either area is a challenge, let alone both of them.
I pursue my professional identity so much because it is part of my concept of the meaning of my life. In the book The Courage To Be Disliked, the authors discuss the meaning of life in a revolutionary way. People spend their entire lives contemplating the meaning of life. It is one of the biggest questions in our existence. These authors put it this way: “Life in general has no meaning whatsoever.” “But you can assign meaning to that life. And you are the only one who can assign meaning to your life.”
The book goes on to discuss the concept that our meaning of life has a “guiding star” which is “contribution to others.” I have seen this in my own life and the lives of so many. This is why, in part, I have let relationships fall by the wayside and focused on my professional purpose. I NEED a sense of contribution to others. I felt I had that in civil service. Everyone who has a job can feel that with their employers and co-workers. So that has been part of my post-loss search. Since my husband died, I have spent countless hours and energy on my search for a way to “contribute to others” while giving enough attention and time to raising my children alone.
While I have definitely made progress with my purpose, I am still far from stable. I have a long way to go. In my relationship world, the same is true. I suppose life is always a work in progress. It seems if you look around you can find a lot of really successful people whose relationship world is empty. Then you can find a lot of people who have amazing relationships, but struggle with their professional identities and progress. Life is meant to be in balance. We need both. It is so tough, especially as a single parent, to make time for both.
Before I met my soulmate, my loneliness was not so unbearable. My career life happily consumed me. Then I met him. He changed everything. He taught me about friendship, love, life, fun, rest, play…everything in a new way. I had never experienced anything like that before. I became happier than ever before, content in an unfathomable way. When he died, I had come to expect it. That is to say, I could not imagine living without it.
If you have not experienced this type of contrast, the only way I can describe it is this: Imagine you win the lottery. You become a millionaire. You have everything you could want financially for four years. Then suddenly, overnight, you are robbed and every penny is taken from you. You are left only with memories of your wealth and financial security. When I met my husband, I won the love lottery. When he died, I lost it all.
“Why are you so lonely?” the man asked again. I never knew what I was missing until I was rich. Then overnight I was once again poor. I have seen both sides. I know the difference. I know the power of love. I know the contentment of companionship.
With eyes wide opened,
Epilogue: You may be like me. You may have lost someone you felt you could not live without. Or not. You may have incredible relationships, but have never gotten beyond a dead-end career. Or you may have a “great” career, but it does nothing to feed your soul. Here is the most interesting one though…the person who seems to have a great career and a great spouse, the one who seems to have it all. Yet they cheat, they feed addictions, they feel empty inside, and so on. What of them? What is missing? I would argue that the perception of what they have is inaccurate. For example, they may have the “perfect” partner, but they are for whatever reason lacking a true soul connection. The person may look perfect on paper, and in truth be nothing less, but if their souls do not connect, they may as well be ships passing in the night. To be continued…
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