Loneliness and Love

There’s a fundamental loneliness that is part of the fabric of being human. It arrives in the corners of night, when shadows form from curtain folds and the backs of chairs. It seeps in just before twilight, when afternoon exhales its last breath and evening hasn’t yet inhaled. It lives on the edges of exaltation, in the space between the golden hour when the gods breathe their jeweled breath over meadows and in the splintered crack just before night’s multi-colored ink begins to sink into dreams.

There are acute times when loneliness appears. Holidays, transitional ebbs in the day or week, birthdays. This is often when the shame stories bleed into loneliness and tell you things like, “Everyone else is having fun right now. Everyone else has a family and is off on an adventure and I’m alone. Or I’m not alone – I’m with my family or my partner – and I still feel lonely.” Loneliness is a twin sister to grief, and they often arrive at your doorstep holding hands. When you breathe deeply enough into the loneliness, the dam that has been holding back your grief breaks and the water comes pouring out on the rivers of memory. A grandparent who has passed away. Parents’ divorce long ago. A friendship that came to the end of a road.

But loneliness often arrives first, standing with a bouquet of wilted flowers, asking only one thing: to be invited inside. Loneliness arrives like a hollow in the tree of body, the empty place where diaphragm and stomach meet. Loneliness is the space without breath. Loneliness is an empty belly. Loneliness is the time you cried alone on your bed and nobody came to comfort you.

There was a time when you were as close to oneness as you could be with another human being, when you grew inside your mother’s belly, eating what she ate, smelling what she smelled, moving as she moved. But even then there was an amniotic sac that surrounded you and created a definable boundary between baby and mother. There is still a sac. We can no longer see it but this white slippery sac of separateness surrounds us still. We are meant to feel lonely. It’s part of the definition of being human.

It’s important to know this so that we don’t fall into traps of thinking it should be otherwise. The culture sends us both overt and covert messages that it should be otherwise; that if you buy this car or live in this house or have this baby with this partner you will be immunized against loneliness. It isn’t so.

There isn’t a partner in the world that can protect you against loneliness. That’s not the function of love.

There isn’t a friend in the world that can protect you against loneliness. That’s not the reason for friendship.

There’s not a child in the world that can protect you from loneliness. That’s not the purpose of being a parent.

There is only one antidote to loneliness: to befriend it. When we make friends with loneliness, which means shedding the belief that we’re not supposed to feel it and shattering the fantasy that other people with their families and friends are immune to it, we welcome it in through the front door. We greet loneliness as we would any other feeling state and become curious about its stories. Loneliness, we might say, tell me about yourself. What color are you? What shape are you? What stories from my past live in the strands of yarn that compose your tattered blankets?

Once you invite loneliness inside it changes tenor. This is the paradox of loneliness: when we befriend it, it shapeshifts into another form. It’s still there, in the pocket of your body, but it loses its spike. Once you invite loneliness over the threshold, it softens, like an angry child taken into a mother’s warm arms. Curiosity is the potion that shifts it and creativity is the medicine that sends it into channels of light.

On the other side of loneliness is Solitude. When you sink into loneliness without fighting it, Solitude will reach for your hand and invite you into endless conversation, leading you down the grassy pathways and dimly-lit cobblestone streets that comprise the labyrinth of your soul. In this place, there is no more loneliness. You no longer long for someone to sit beside you on the bench because you are in the timeless place where creativity and imagination enrapture you in their ways. Once surrendered, you find that you could stay here for a very long time. And you discover that with a full cup, you see your life and your partner and your child and your friends through a very different lens. They are no longer here to fill you up but are vessels into which you can pour your light. The fullness of Self leads to the fullness of Love. We walk through the doorways that scare us and we find ourselves, waiting with a bouquet of brilliant flowers, on the other side.

46 comments to Love and Loneliness

  • Camila

    Hi Sheryl,

    I recently came across your website and it came to me when i need it most. It happens to me everytime i start dating someone with all the quality I am looking for in a partner, I start getting overly anxious, thinking about how I shouldnt be feeling this way if I truly liked him or that maybe he’s just not the one i should be with. If I were with the right guy I shouldn’t be feeling this way, right?

    Your blog posts made me realize for the first time that it probably isnt the guy but Im dealing with relationship anxiety. However, I just started dating this guy 5 months ago and I have had these doubts from the moment we met. I read your posts happening when married, or when something major happens but thats not the case for me.. I have moments of clarity when I say I truly think this guy is great for me and I dont want to leave him, but most of the time im just anxious and dont feel like i like him or want to see him and its just exhausting and lonely. Im considering taking your course, but maybe this is just a case that im with the wrong guy.

    • ColoradoGirl

      Camila, keep reading.. Sheryl has MANY posts and talks extensively in her e-courses about relationship anxiety that is present from day 1. I was in that boat… keep digging!

    • UnforcedRhythmsOfGrace

      Hi Camila, I will take a guess and say that most of the people who visit this site would identify pretty closely with what you wrote. I know I do.
      For decades I was afraid to open my heart to anyone. I dismissed guy after guy after guy cause it didn’t “feel right”, and finally shut men out completely cause I had begun to believe I wasn’t made for marriage/relationship. And I definitely didn’t believe I was loveable. Then I met a man whose kindness, authenticity, & emotional availability triggered every knee-jerk fear reaction in me, right from date #1. My heart knew then that it was safe with him, but my brain worked hard to find evidence otherwise and pounced on anything (ANYTHING!) to convince me he was “wrong” for me (I tried to break up with him at least once a week for the first 2 yrs). Because to believe my heart would mean that I was loveable, and that meant having to rethink everything I’d ever believed about myself. Fear fears nothing more than Love.
      I won’t say it will be an easy journey – you’ll feel out of your depth and terrified at times, or maybe emotionless, distant, and wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into – but you won’t regret doing the work. Slowly, healing shows up. It’s a work in progress rewriting a lifetime of lies we’ve believed about ourselves & love. But the point comes where you will know for yourself the joy of opening your heart to someone and having solid love reflected back to you.
      I can only suggest that you keep reading this website – you will find hope in the posts and in many of the comments. Take Sheryl’s course if you can. Find a wise counselor. Journal. And most of all, be responsible for your own aliveness (you’ll hear that a lot on this site!), be gentle with yourself, let Love lead, and give it time. It will be SO unspeakably worth it!! You are in the right place at the right time.
      PS. That guy?… we got married 4 weeks ago tomorrow 🙂 To think I almost missed out on experiencing the beautiful love he offers…

      • Oh, my soul sings from your P.S.! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your journey here. I know it’s a lifeline for many.

      • Camila

        Thank you SO much for taking the time to write this, it really spoke a lot to me and gave me so much encouragement to keep holding on when all I want to do is give up!

        I guess a lot of my doubts come from a place that I don’t know if it has been addressed here (maybe it has and I just havent seen it) but in addition to all the doubt from day one, it took a couple of dates for us to kiss and once we did I didnt enjoy it, I dont know if its that I dont think he’s a good kisser or I just dont think we’re in sync but that keeps blocking me from everything. This also makes me think that im the exception from relationship anxiety and that Im just with the wrong person for me, even though he has EVERYTHING im looking for in a guy and there are no red flags. I honestly dont know if it should be a deal breaker or not.

        Again, thanks so much for your wisdom!! It means the world.

        • UnforcedRhythmsOfGrace

          Can I chime in again? I would say hold off on making that the deciding factor of staying or going. I struggled with it too. No weak knees, no fireworks… absolutely nothing. For a long time I was simply going on the knowledge that there was something different and special about him that I would really regret walking away from, even though the lack of initial spark messed with me, a lot! However, I was basing it on a lot of distorted messages around what love is, so my expectations/imaginations around “chemistry” were high and unrealistic. And remember that anxiety blocks us from feeling things in a natural, healthy way.
          But things have changed as I’ve faced the fears, let my heart trust, and relaxed into the relationship. Its kind of cliche, but picture a flower opening to the sun. I still have a lot of growing and learning to do to replace my false expectations with a true understanding of love, but I’ve found that as I make vulnerable connection and gratitude my priorities, the “in sync-ness” is definitely, beautifully there.
          Give it time. Everything is working for your good.

          • Camila

            Thank you so much!!

            I had decided that I was going to push through with him and even registered for the course… However, I think its too late and I think he has reached a point where he doesn’t want to deal with my anxiety anymore. We were doing really well and talking normally and he just stopped responding.. is it bad that part of me is sad but the other part is relieved I wont feel like this anymore?

  • J

    this is really poetic. Many thanks for sharing.

  • Jenn Pamela Chowdhury

    This is a gorgeous piece. It brought me to tears. Thank you so much Sheryl. Every word resonated with me.

  • Mr B

    Hi Sheryl,

    Very beautiful and resonates with me well. I feel that in times when i am alone and lonely i go within, rather than fight that feeling of going within, i just go. find that black space and realize that its not that scary, my thoughts, my emotions what ever it may be will pass. it always does. so now when i am lonely it doesn’t bother me as that’s where i need to be at that given time to allow some understanding and growth within.

    Thanks always – Mr B

  • Lauren

    Thank you for this. I had been feeling bad about spending the day alone when my boyfriend was at a movie. I felt a lot of pressure to go out with friends. Both my partner and I used to go out at night a lot with friends, but now we both realize that we are both entering a new phase of life where we more just enjoy eachother’s company. This has been a hard part of the transition for me, because I have always gone out with friends and partied, but now I want to avoid those situations and focus on my relationship. I am realizing more that those things are not important, and I should put getting to know myself as a priority.

  • Findingpeace28

    Your articles are always so timely, Sheryl! There must be some collective conscious that allows us highly sensitives to be feeling the same feelings around the same time. If I remember correctly, I believe you wrote an article on “loneliness” this time last year. I appreciate the validation, and normalization, and also the reminder of how necessary it is to BEFRIEND loneliness rather than shoo it away, or fall into old habits of projecting onto a partner, and saying “if my partner was more x, I’d feel less lonely.” I’ve been working on sitting with my feelings, breathing into them, and then seeing what creativity arises.

    “The fullness of Self leads to the fullness of Love.”

    I LOVE THIS!

  • Vasallisa

    I married my soulmate in 2010. He passed on in 2014. We spent every waking moment together besides using the bathroom. In hindsight I wonder if we knew our time would be short so we clung together in everything we did . Work play we even bathed together daily. It sounds romantic and beautiful and really was. Now without him I’m acing a difficult time. I love that closeness we had. I want it again but I wonder if it was health yo.

  • Christy

    Beautiful Sheryl. It is the eve of my 40th birthday and every word of this resonates deeply with me. Thank you for sharing your beauty.

  • Mônica

    Thanks a lot for this article, Sheryl!

    It makes me think, though, and it’s not as if I don’t know the answer. But I sometimes feel lonely and wish that I had a partner (I’m single). Is it “wrong” to want to have a partner in order not to feel lonely?

    Sometimes I read about filling one’s well, and it makes me think that if I connect enough to myself and to God than I won’t even need a partner. As I said, it’s not that I don’t know the answer, but I feel sort of puzzled… why “bother” looking for a partner when what I really need is not anywhere else but wihin and above? Why bother looking for love after all?

    It’s not an ironic question at all, I’m just trying to make sense of it 🙂

    • Since it sounds like you know the answer, what do you think it might be? Always best when we can answer our own questions ;).

      • Mônica

        Haha, you’re right. It’s just that I can’t find a balance yet. I want to keep working on self love and filling my well and being happy regardless what happens in my life, including finding a partner. So it almost looks as if a partner is actually optional and that I can pretty much share my life with friends and other kinds of loved ones – I’m fine with the principle that we need love in life, this equals being human, but it could be a non romantic kind of love, couldn’t it? Or not? What am I missing in the equation?

  • Sonja

    There are so many lines that made my heart sigh. Loneliness has been such a painful feeling for me. I find myself longing for friendships, not really knowing how to befriend myself and take my own hand. It’s a human experience. We need to talk about it more. It needs to be normalized! Thank you for doing just that.

  • Me Myself and I

    Oh how I needed to read this today. Thank you, Sheryl, for always knowing what to write about. Your messages resonate strongly for me.

    Sending you back the same energy you put out to the world.

  • kmg

    thank you for this post! it makes me think of one of my favorite poems by hafiz – “don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. / let it cut more deep. / let it ferment and season you / as few human or even divine ingredients can. / something missing in my heart tonight / has made my eyes so soft / my voice so tender / my need of God / absolutely clear.”

  • I’m much more comfortable now with loneliness than I was when I was younger. It used to really upset me when I was lonely and I did look for things or people to “fix” it. Now most of the time if it does come up, I don’t get sad because of it. There is just the pure feeling,itself, which feels much simpler.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thank you for your post this Sunday night. I am really struggling with feeling loneliness since having a baby. It has been such a profound experience- pregnancy and birth, the love I feel for my daughter, the long physical recovery- it has been difficult to bare all of these experiences on my own. Of course I share some things with my husband, other mothers, family. But at the end of the day much of the changes are very personal and no one can relate 100 percent. It has also been difficult to focus on filling my own well of self, as I want to give everything to my daughter. And recently, weaning off of nursing, I have been mourning the extreme closeness of having my daughter in my belly. The loneliness that comes with this has been a surprise to me.

  • Q

    Thank you for this poetic blogpost. As poet/critic Maggie Nelson writes in Bluets, “I have been trying, for sometime now, to find dignity in my loneliness… It is easier, of course, to find dignity in one’s solitude.”

    I have also been trying to regain this dignity. I appreciate the reminder by one of the replies above to seek agency in one’s own aliveness.

    Today, now 9 months ago, my girlfriend and I broke up. I did your break-up course, which was a sweet, helpful gesture. Thank you. The grief has been more profound than I could ever have imagined. Part of it is that, while I daily practice grieving and letting her go, our break up came when we were amidst a lot of growth together. She also said this when breaking up with me. As I cannot land on a reason for it, I have settled simply with the fact that life is unpredictable: sometimes people make decisions based upon a constellation of feelings and dynamics that are out of our control, perhaps unrelated to us. While I see the areas where each of us fell short and needed to grow together and separately to catalyze our own thriving – I still struggle to feel that it is over, “forever.” I miss her deeply. She is still very close to me, and feels as if on a trip in a remote country where communication isn’t possible for the moment. When we met up, she also voiced that I’m still very near to her, and she was very emotional. I feel an accordion of emotion when it comes to her: alternately deeply angry for her lack of clear reasons, grieving deeply (still!) her absence, and also, frustratingly, deep threads of remaining anxiety, that somehow despite my resilient feeling that we are good together, that I missed a sign that we had some grievous flaw. ( I originally found your site due to each of our relationship anxieties.)

    If we both had anxieties, I that I’d be left, and she that she’d leave me, and each of us that somehow the other wasn’t in some way “right enough,” even if we both enjoyed each other, then shouldn’t by now, after 9 months, I have reached a deeper place of understanding and solitude? Despite many friendships I still struggle with loneliness, and with a resilient feeling that we were good together, that our time was unfinished. As for your “red flag” issues, for as much as I’ve combed through the relationship these past nine months, I can only see that she was slow to let me fully into her life. We each had areas where we hadn’t yet let the other in. She/we did continue to let each other in more fully, but it was a slow process.

    Since breaking up I have learned a lot about myself, and about our time together, and I am grateful for this space. But now I feel ready to be back with her, and she is not here. Did I miss something? Do I need to attend to my anxiety that she was not right for me, or I for her? When we last met, she asked if we could take a complete silence for a while to sort things internally. I had sweet solitude after this for about a month, but am now very lonely, and steeped in grief. As she broke up with me to begin with, and then requested the space to clarify, I want to honor it, but my heart can’t take anymore.

    Did I miss something? How does one navigate the internals “no”s and “yes”s that seem without landing? How does one attend to the remaining anxiety, contorted by loneliness and grief? Can one find solitude in not having an answer?

    • Eve

      Nine months is not even close to long enough to digest this loss. Sorry to tell you, but as a widow, I can say you may not to feel back on your feet again for a couple of years. Truly. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and don’t pressure yourself to heal any faster. A major wound takes time… so sorry.

    • Stephanie

      Hi Q,

      I can identify with your deep feelings of loss. It’s been almost two years since my ex and I broke up, and I still feel grief from the perceived loss on a daily basis. Simple, tiny, flickers of joy mingle with simultaneous pangs of sadness that I can’t share those moments with him. I think it’s sometimes hard to match our feelings to reality — like even though my ex now lives 3000 miles away and we don’t speak, I still feel so close to him, like we could pick up right where we left off. But the reality is that he has chosen a different life and is no longer available to be a part of mine. It creates more suffering than anything else not to accept the reality that he just doesn’t want to be with me. The torture comes from wondering why, and combing through what was said by whom and when and how. Sometimes you just have to see what is, and accept it without having a real answer. There is no answer, and even if there was, it still wouldn’t be enough. The depth of your grief speaks to the depth of your love for her, and this makes you a rare gift in a sea of people who would never dare love so hard. But that depth makes you susceptible to this great pain, a pain that will gradually translate into (hopefully) gratitude that you experienced it. I am so thankful for such a profound experience of love, and though I struggle every day with fears like never finding it again, or that he was “perfect”…well, if he was so perfect then he’d still be here. People like us that are capable of feeling to this degree… these losses are just stepping stones to something else, something that will color our lives with so much wisdom. It takes TIME, like so much time and a lot of patience and compassion for yourself and for her. And if, for now, you are feeling like she’s just really far away and you can’t talk, that’s okay. That’s just how you feel. Just honor your feelings, don’t expect them to be different, and remind yourself what a human experience you are having. Hope this helps <3

      • Q

        Stephanie,
        Thanks for sharing your experience.

        I’m unsure that loving so deeply is the case for me. Part of loving is also letting go, and part of being unable to do so (yet) has been the confusion (in my case) of speaking with her, and being unsure whether this is final. So it’s a grieving process that derails or stalls periodically.

        At the end of the day, and in my case, loving her is being able to accept the incomprehension, and letting her go freely. I want her also to be happy, and assured of loving, me or someone else. I’m often too confused or angry at the moment still to do this, but it’ll happen.

        All the best to your own process,

        • Natalie

          I feel the same way. Today I saw my ex with a group of his friends and he was laughing about something. The break up was two days ago and it was because I was basically making him sacrifice everything for me. I don’t know why I did that. Part of it was probably because he assumed I knew what his needs were, but the other parts are still unclear to me. Now I don’t know how to handle the grief. I know he loves me, but I also know that the way I was acting in our relationship was making him unhappy. I keep wishing there was a way to get back together with him, to restart from the beginning and do things differently. I miss him a lot. What I saw today broke my heart and healed it at the same time. I want him to be happy, so I will try to let him go and live his life. I just wish there was a way he could have been happy with me in it.

  • Eleonora

    Thank you, Sheryl.

  • Custard353

    Thank you Sheryl.
    This really resonates with me because all my life I have chased away loneliness, so much so that it now catches up with me even when I am not really alone.

    I have debated the becoming a parent issue so many times over the last three years as I am nearing my 40th birthday and honestly, the only reason i would be making the decision to have a child is to alleviate loneliness and what you have written here is so right, avoidance of loneliness is not the reason to have a child nor is having a partner or a friend, but to give to others when we feel full inside.

  • Annette

    Dear Sheryl – Thank-you. Last night I felt my loneliest ever. I called my boyfriend twice…to hear his voice and to just feel connected to someone in hopes of warding off that intense lonely feeling I had. I drifted into the pit of pity thinking that if I just had family around me or had someone living with me then, I wouldn’t feel this lonely. That surely, people who have family living with them don’t feel this loneliness. Then I finally consoled myself that if I just went to sleep, in the morning I’d feel much better. And I do…I got through “it”. But thanks for helping me to learn how to understand my feeling of loneliness. Blessings!

  • Louise

    Hi there

    Thank you for the wonderful post Sheryl. Do you have any advice for when your partner is having relationship anxiety…wants to stay together but scared to commit (i.e. buying a house etc)

    Thank you

  • agnes

    Hi Sheryl. This is a beautiful one and I remember so vividly the unexpected empty pit that would appear eventually in every relationship before I found this work. Perhaps it’s still there sometimes but I notice it less because I know it’s normal.

    I hope you don’t mind me asking a question about an unrelated topic. It’s something that’s been making me anxious all day and I feel desperate to understand. I want to rekindle my own sense of sexual aliveness and cautiously, I have begun reading Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel. I enjoyed her TED talks and was hopeful about her work, but I know feel stuck between understanding her perspective but also feeling it jar against yours and everything I’ve learned here. Esther’s work centres around trying to reconcile Sexuality and Intimacy. An analogy she uses which sums up her work quite succinctly is ‘fire needs air’. She talks about creating safe, comfortable distance within loving, committed relationships in order to let desire bloom. I’m terrified that this means going back to the days of infatuation and game-playing (which I don’t want because I LOVE our intimacy), but I’m also terrified that I will never feel passionate about sex with my partner ever again. I love him so much but I just never want to have sex. Nothing to do with him, I understand this is within me, but I don’t feel capable of cultivating my own desire. One of the main ways Perel suggests we do this is by nurturing a separate identity, which reminds me of how you encourage us to fill our own wells. That I

    • agnes

      *That, I can get on board with. Do we HAVE to choose between warmth, safety, intimacy and sexual aliveness? Can we not have both in a LTR? Esther says we can, but that it’s a dance. We nurture closeness but we also nurture separateness. I’m not looking for butterflies, but I do need to feel desire to have sex with my partner and I don’t. I’ve been working for so long to rekindle my desire using your articles as a guide, but nothing has improved. I feel like I’m just never working hard enough on my inner work and that’s why I remain stuck, despite how much I try. I’ve tried making sex a habit and it’s never helped, it just pains me that I’m going against my feelings so much. I’d love to take your course but I won’t be able to afford it this year.

      Have you read Mating in Captivity? I’d love to know what you think.

      Love, agnes.

  • Laura

    I love this post. It is so beautifully written. You just capture the imagery of those feelings so very beautifully.

    And I’m reminded of the times I had anxiety attacks as a child. Looking back I think they came from a place of loneliness, and it was so hard to handle. Anyway. Just wanted to say you write so wonderfully. Just waiting for you to write a fiction book :))) t’would be gripping!! Xxx

  • nic

    Great post and really beautiful written. After my mother passed I have experienced for the first time in my life feelings of loneliness. However I have a practical question.. If I feel lonely how do I befriend loneliness? I read a lot about befriending certain emotions with people saying befriend your loneliness or befriend your fear but when it happens it overwhelmes and makes me sad and I have no idea how to get to a point of accepting a feeling/befriending it. Does that mean journaling about it or thinking about what it is for me and why I feel like this or is it a visualisation excercise? I guess Im looking for practical tools to befriend, invite and then accept an emotion :)) Not sure if what Im saying makes sense as it is on a different level as the post was written…

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    The last couple of weeks I have been feeling the daunting feelings of loneliness. I was in the spin cycle of I feel lonely and I am in great company with my husband, but when he isnt home i feel lonely, I have no family support and it has triggered it. Even when we are in company good or bad we still feel lonely. I managed to get out of the sad feelings of despair. I now enjoy being on my own. Happy to live with me i am a beautiful, fun woman.

  • Angela

    I have beautiful friends there my family. My family dont deserve me, I am the most beautiful woman I know, I have so much trust and love for myself. I wish I had a nice mother and brother but I dont. Just because i spoke up to my mum and say i font wanna hear negativity please listen to my feelings, she blocked me out of her contacts. And my brother dosent want to know me and my other brother.. is that abnormal behaviour or what? They are narcisstic, i have been feeling so sad, depressed and abandoned. They are horrible people, i feel so punished by them. I will not allow them to bully me and get me down. I just wont, I am too special and I deserve a wonderful, safe life. Its a cruel and harsh world my dear Sheryl. 💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻🙏🏻😇😇😇❤️

  • Lydia

    Why do we always forget that we are the one who’s responsible for our happines, worth and sense of self

  • Alissa

    Hi Sheryl,

    I am looking for a book on navigating life transitions. Do you have any you recommend? Transitions for me are hard. I feel so much during the those times and I want to read a book on this topic

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