We are lonely.
My post that’s gotten by far the biggest response is fighting the loneliness that comes with the second year of widowhood. The hard part is that we have to fix that loneliness for ourselves. Our former friends and the couples who no longer include us aren’t going to come to their senses, apologize with a big basket of bath salts, and invite us out to dinner. (Really, they’re not).
So let’s start with a new mindset:
Adopting a Beginners Mind: Banishing the Anger
In Buddhism, a beginners mind is to approach something as if for the first time without any preconceived notions. So let’s start by decluttering.
I had to start by discarding my anger at my former friends. Another yoga saying: it did not serve me. Like dating, the worst thing to do when meeting potential new friends is to whine about the ones who didn’t work out. They don’t want to hear about my resentments (no matter how justified).
More importantly, I had to be in a happier place to meet new people. And that meant seeing what I was doing as an opportunity, not a punishment because I’d been deserted.
Our old connections didn’t mean to hurt us. Our lives changed and our needs diverged. Being angry with them only poisons ourselves. They’re off living their lives while we’re wasting our time being pissed off.
But first, let’s unfriend them on Facebook. There! Now we can forget about them. (I will allow you to chant with each unfriending: “You are unworthy.”)
Doing Something You Love as Learning to Socialize
What do you like to do?
Now, how can you do that with other people?
My widowed girlfriend who loves gardening joined the Master Gardener’s Program, meeting new people, organizing their programs, and getting involved in community events. An avid hiker I know started a hiking group on meetup.com. Now he has a big tribe and we’re all happy to see each other each week when we go hiking.
I’m can be a loner, but I started taking a weekly writing class at the local adult education center. From there, I met the people who became my weekly writing group and later my good friends.
It can be hard to “put yourself out there.” But joining a gym or trying a painting class doesn’t have to be. You’re just doing something you already like (or in the case of the gym need to do).
I initially joined a yoga studio to deal with my anxiety, but I found a lovely group of women who included me in their activities. After I found my tribe, I began to feel grateful again for the first time since being widowed.
Having a beginner’s mind also helped me expand my scope of what I wanted to do. When I had no one to travel with, I went on two college alumni tours in Europe. A couple of my meetup groups do hiking trips throughout the United States. I never thought I’d want to do a group hiking trip—George’s and my vacations were geared towards decadent eating—but now it sounds like it might be fun.
Reaching Out to Make Friends
Not my thing. I’m shy.
But if I don’t reach out, I’m going to have a very lonely life. It’s hard to extend an invitation. Then you really are “putting yourself out there,” subject to rejection by an actual person. When you already feel vulnerable because you’re Lonely and Widowed.
But like dating, I had to learn not to take it personally when I extended a suggestion to meet for lunch or a walk and got turned down. People are busy and overloaded. They’re caring for elderly parents. Not everyone is going to relate to you. But if you don’t ask, you’ll be waiting around hoping that other people do all the reaching.
I extended a brunch invite to a woman who was so smart and vibrant, I thought her social schedule must be packed. Yet she had an undercurrent of sadness. She later told me that she too was lonely and wanted a friend. An outgoing yoga teacher recently confessed to me she has a fear of rejection. But since she’s always reaching out to include new people, I never would have guessed!
I had to get a new mindset. Instead of thinking of myself as a lonely widow, I saw myself as a writer, a yogi, a walker, an online dater with crazy stories to share. Then I could reach out based on common interests instead of need. One of my fellow yogis and I connected because we’re both anxious. When I hosted a party she was the one who came early to reassure my every five minutes that yes, people really were going to show up.
As with dating, start small like coffee. A third yoga concept: aparigraha not being attached to a particular outcome. The point is to try so that reaching out becomes a habit. When you do, regardless of whether it works, reward yourself with something comfy like chocolate or fluffy new socks.
So, what’s helped you to find connection? (My next post will be “Loneliness and Dating: They Don’t Have to be Synonyms”)