Q: I’m a thinker; I sometimes wish that I weren’t, but I am. I constantly feel as if I am too detached from everyday life–too much of an analyzer to immerse myself in it without feeling like I’m “acting.” I am SO lonely. My sisters are in long term relationships (which impedes their social availability), and my mother and I clash too much to be close beyond our surface-level communication; don’t get me wrong–we are pleasant, and we love each other, but the connection is too shallow for my needs. I have friends, and I go out, at which time I laugh and play the part, but…something is really missing, no matter how hard I try to “have fun.” I need intimacy–regular, deep companionship…I’m 30 years old and the longest relationship I’ve ever had lasted one year, and that was 12 years ago. I don’t understand what’s wrong. My friends tell me that I’m a good person–that I’m sweet and intelligent and that I don’t have any “grating” qualities in my personality. I just don’t seem to meet men with whom I feel a special connection, and when I do, they either don’t want a commitment with me, or they are wrong for me (self-centered guys or men who live too far away). I fell in love with a guy who was here on a visa, for example, so when he predictably had to leave a few months later, I was devastated for several months afterwards. Then, recently, I met a guy who was freshly divorced; I really liked him, but, well, he wasn’t interested in anything serious, despite how well we seemed to connect. The loneliness now is actually painful. I live alone, and my best friends have moved away, become married, etc., so few people are around. I’ve tried making friends online, but they usually turn out to be undependable or involved in relationships, so they can hardly find time for getting together. I would join clubs or organizations, but I’m in a Ph.D. program and am studying when I’m not working. I’d give up my studies, but I’ve come so far to stop now. I don’t know what to do, but I’ve been lonely for my whole life (I’ve always felt “different”), and I’m so tired of it. I’m not a shy person! I have no problems in social situations, and I also have social know-how because I can read people well and know when and when not to say things, etc. I’m not “awkward” is what I’m trying to say. I think that I get categorized for being intelligent and that it prevents people from wanting to be close to me. I don’t know how you can possibly help me, but I’m writing to you anyway, just in case. Please don’t say anything mean–the last (and only other) psychologist to whom I sent a message online said something quite mean to me in response. Thanks.
A: I think your idea of getting involved in local clubs and organizations is a good one but I also understand the demands of graduate school. In some ways life does get put on hold but you can’t do that so much that you are miserable. Have you tried online dating? You have to go through a lot of misses before you find a good fit. It’s normal to want a serious intimate relationship but I’m not sure why you don’t get genuine enjoyment out of spending time with your friends and family. It could be that you need to work on your relationship with yourself. We always attract better, more like minded people when we feel good about ourselves. You know the old cliché “you must first love yourself before you can love someone else.” There is a great deal of truth in this although falling in love isn’t the hard part. Having a healthy long-term relationship is the hard part. I’d also suggest finding a therapist to explore the issues deeper and to make sure you are in a good place with yourself. There are many many self-help books on relationships if you can find any time to read – maybe on school breaks. This may seem out of left field but if you don’t have a pet, you might consider getting one. I have had many clients get through difficult and lonely times with the companionship of an animal. You are always loved and never alone. But the bottom line is that it will happen when the timing is right. Maybe the universe has someone very special in mind for you but there are things that need to happen before you (or he) will be ready. Good luck and hang in there. It will happen.