When you imagine loneliness, what do you see?
Loneliness is a silent beast that is too often overlooked because of our misconceptions. In reality, loneliness can be present even in the most social of settings, like a glass prison detaching you from the rest of the world. You can have the constant companionship of a child or spouse, but still feel utterly alone in the world. Many children even grow up feeling lonely, yours truly included, but it’s so easy to miss the signs.
If you’re worried someone you know might be feeling lonely, perhaps our mental health community can help you figure things out. We asked them to share reasons you might not notice your friend is feeling lonely. If this sounds like someone you know, do your very best to reach out and be there for them. Sometimes, all we need is a friend to say, “Hey, it’s OK. I’m here with you. You aren’t alone.”
Here’s what our community had to say.
1. “I think a lot of people assume that, if you’re married, you’re automatically not lonely. I love my husband and spending time with him, but I need other friends to spend different kinds of time with, too.” — Melinda B.
2. “Because I don’t tell them. I don’t want to seem like a burden, a ‘Debbie Downer’ or a broken record. I don’t want to have to beg for attention and affection, only to feel like they’re only giving it out of obligation or pity, so I don’t ask.” — Jordan S.
3. “Because I’m a college student, and college students are considered to be surrounded by friends, friends of friends, partying 24/7 and getting into once-in-a-lifetime adventures every other day. A student isn’t supposed to be lonely or depressed or anxious… and when you attempt to talk about something you’re going through, people act as if they’re offended you have human feelings and soft spots as they do. They won’t even bother to listen — all they’ll say will be something along the lines of, ‘You have no reason to feel that way.’” — Paraskevi S.
4. “Because you cover it up by acting like you’re fine. Because you don’t want to burden them or you feel they don’t understand and get tired of your constant battle with your low mood of depression, anxiety and traumas you’re dealing with.” — Amy D.
5. “My single ‘friends’ don’t invite me out because I have a husband. I adore my husband and he is my best friend, but it often feels he is my only friend and I get so lonely it hurts.” — Anna J.
6. “Because I have children. People seem to think you’re never lonely because you have your children’s company. They couldn’t be any more wrong.” — Teresa I.
7. “Because I need time alone to decompress and de-stress from the day. Being around most people is exhausting for me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get lonely. I just have to know my limits and my safe people.” — Jayden R.
8. “Because I hide it really well. I only have ‘online’ friends, but when talking IRL I’d just say ‘friends.’ I’m mostly working and spend my time at home watching movies and TV shows, but sometimes I really wish I had someone to actually hang out with; someone to call up at 3 a.m.; someone to physically hug; just someone to talk to…” — Siddhi K.
9. “I always steer the conversation back to their life and focus on them, so I can hide behind their life and keep focus away from me or my feelings.” — Maya B.
10. “I live with my adult son and tend to his children while he and his wife work. I have slowly just stopped talking to everyone who isn’t my children and everyone has been fine with it. It reminds me of a line from a song: ‘Hello darkness, my old friend.’ Depression is horrible and I’m sure that’s why, when I stopped talking to people, they were more than happy to let me go. I’m always sad or sick now, anyway. I saw an old friend at an event recently and she told me I have been sick and unhealthy since she met me, which is true, but it hurt my feelings and there is the vicious circle that made me stop trying for a social life at all.” — Mari C.
11. “Many people assume I’m not lonely because I open my house up to all of kids’ friends and babysit for other kids often. They seem to think because my house is always full of chaos and kids having fun that I am fulfilled enough. Plus, I’m a very empathetic person and often play therapist for those I’m close to, so they assume or don’t realize I have my own problems and feel lonely. There’s no one to understand me the way I understand them.” — Kristina H.
12. “Because I’m the life of the party. When I’m with my friends, I laugh and talk non-stop. I lift everyone’s spirits while not lifting my own. I struggle with chronic loneliness, so even when I am surrounded by people I love, I feel terribly isolated and alone. I’m always there for everyone, even when they’re not there for me.” — Hali B.
13. “Because I have spent decades learning how to hide my loneliness. Growing up, my biological father always told me to ‘just get over it,’ so I learned how to not let anything show. It was easier to keep it hidden than to feel constantly invalidated.” — Amanda H.
14. “Because most of the people in my life don’t care. Except one: my best friend. She always tells me I’ll find my perfect man, but I don’t think so at all.” — Steven S.
15. “I have a job where I’m surrounded by good people I consider friends; I have friends outside of work; I have the best boyfriend who is always with me, but loneliness doesn’t always mean being physically alone. It’s an empty feeling. It’s the thought that the people in your life could be gone at any moment. It’s feeling as though no one actually cares about you — they just stick around for reasons a, b or c. It’s the little voice of doubt saying, ‘No one actually understands or likes you.’” — Felicia Z.
16. “When I’m around other people, I’m too good at pretending to be OK. I can laugh and joke around, even carry on conversation for extended periods of time, but the loneliness is always there, like an empty space in my chest that leaves me feeling cold inside. I don’t know how to tell people I feel alone, because I don’t want them to worry or feel like I’m a burden.” — Oliver T.
17. “Because they think I’m exaggerating when I’m telling the truth about my loneliness. I don’t exaggerate, and I hate exaggeration, but somehow people still think I do. Loneliness sucks. I’m tired of crying so much from loving so much and not being loved back.” — Tammy C.
18. “I’m a highly independent person and I take care of myself well. So, I can seem like I’m put-together and happy, which most times I am. But when I come home or I’m by myself, the loneliness is always there.” — Becky R.
19. “Everyone assumes I can’t be lonely because I have a partner and a child. My partner works hard and works a lot. My kid is 4.” — Krystal T.
Are you feeling lonely, or know someone who is? Let us know what we missed in the comments below.