Dear Carolyn: I feel I’m at the very edge of what is survivable as far as loneliness. I’ve always thought it preferable to be on my own than to settle for someone, which seems unfair to me and to the other person. I’ve also thought that leading a generally fulfilling life should be enough.
But, I do all the things it seems one is supposed to do. I have a fulfilling career. I travel. I make time for friends. I pursue my interests and hobbies. But even when I have the best day filled with interesting people and activities, most of the time I go home alone, and lately it’s a rare night that I don’t cry myself to sleep over this (body-racking sobs, actually).
I should also add that I have no family to speak of. My parents died several years ago, and for various reasons it is no longer possible for me to have any contact with either of my siblings.
I also feel like every few years I have to make new friends, as the older ones settle into long-term relationships or the demands of raising families. For the most part these friends still make time for me, but the reality is they just have less time to give, and I still have all the time in the world.
So, in my worst, feeling-sorriest-for-myself moments, I think that I have no backup, that I’m not the most important person in anyone’s life, and no amount of self-help cliches can convince me there’s any other solution than finding a trustworthy partner, even if he’s not really what I’m looking for or what I want.
At what point can I give myself permission to say that overwhelming loneliness is worse than a low level of dissatisfaction or unhappiness with the wrong person? – Alone
At 5, you wanted someone who would play games by your rules. At 11, you had a crush on a guy’s hair. Outsize confidence was lookin’ pretty good to you at 19, and nice butt was the kind of bonus you believed you had every right to seek. At 26, wow, an educated guy with a solid job who felt the same way as you about kids?
When you replaced these standards by which you judged men, did you need “permission” to do it?
You’ve evolved, your life has evolved, your desires have evolved, and your family has dissolved. Please don’t apologize to anyone for rewriting your definition of attractiveness to reflect a basic and duly recognized desire for steady companionship.
As long as you don’t force yourself to keep seeing someone whose company you don’t enjoy or who mistreats you, your “low level of dissatisfaction” is likely to be with mannerisms, résumé items or beliefs that used to be important but don’t seem so anymore.
And when you meet someone whose companionship brings more pleasure to you than your life does now, will you still be able to say, “He’s not really what I’m looking for or what I want”?
Also: The words you use, “trustworthy partner,” are hardly license to throw a bag over the first man you see. You’ll have to be as selective as ever.
Given your vulnerability, in fact, please be pickier than ever. Just be picky about different things: Don’t budge an inch on the way someone treats you.
If your hobbies/ interests/career are just textbook stabs at being OK with being single and aren’t driven by a sense of purpose that’s bigger than you, then that’s an untapped source of peace that’s entirely within your control – which nobody’s mate ever is.