I’m somebody who’s struggled with feelings of loneliness my whole life. It’s a big part of why I decided to become a relationship coach. I wanted to understand why some of my relationships felt more substantial than others. I wanted to understand why sometimes I relished being alone, yet other times being alone evoked feelings of profound sadness.
The question I wanted to answer was this: What makes some relationships feel better than others? It was a mystery I was determined to solve.
I have always been somebody who constantly alternated between desiring to be alone, which I now know is classic introvert behavior, and desiring to be with others. The thing was, I only wanted to be with others in a very particular way. I didn’t want to chit-chat, mingle, or even party. I wanted to feel warmth radiating between me and the other person. I wanted to feel safe and comfortable. I wanted to feel close.
If my relationship with someone didn’t have that element of closeness, it tended to make me feel more isolated than just being alone. For this reason, I found most of the advice out there about how to overcome loneliness profoundly unhelpful. “Put yourself out there more!” the experts exclaimed. “Relationships are a numbers game… get enough acquaintances and you’ll eventually find good friendships.” That sounded reasonable enough. But it felt… exhausting.
I simply didn’t buy the idea that the best route out of loneliness is to play a numbers game. Most of us already have people in our lives with whom we feel that spark of connection, we just don’t know how to properly fan the flames. We don’t know how to move from casually interacting with someone to becoming close.
In other words, I’ve found, through much research and introspection, that most of us who struggle with loneliness are not lacking access to other people. That’s not the source of the pain.
The source of the pain is the lack of a certain feeling in our relationships. And that feeling is closeness.
As I say in my new book, Stop Being Lonely, “When a relationship lacks closeness, you’ll sense that the other person doesn’t really know you and/or doesn’t really care about you. Loneliness is essentially sadness caused by a lack of closeness, also known as sadness caused by distance. This is why it doesn’t work to simply surround yourself with people. You must actually feel close to them.”
So what exactly do I mean by closeness? As the quote above implies, the feeling of closeness arises between two people when they both feel that the other understands them well and cares about them deeply. I call these two essential qualities of closeness “knowing and caring.”
Getting to know others in the way that fosters closeness means coming to understand them from their own perspective. This is substantially different from how we usually “know” people. We tend to believe we know someone when we’ve interacted with him a lot and developed our own theory of “how he is.” But to create closeness you must, above all else, understand how he sees himself.
Once you can see him from his own perspective, the next step is to start communicating that you care about him. In other words, show him you’re interested, engaged, and invested in his happiness and well-being. This doesn’t mean becoming “concerned” or worried about his well-being, which is really just you dumping your anxieties onto the other person, it simply means communicating that he matters to you.
Taken together, knowing and caring are a powerful combination. They say to the other person, “Not only do I see the real you, I want to keep the real you well.” This is the message you will give and receive from close relationships. What more could we want from our relationships?
This feeling of being understood and valued — this feel of closeness — is what you’re really craving when you’re lonely.
The great news is that this feeling can be created with anyone who also wants to feel it. Closeness doesn’t have to be something that happens randomly or by accident — it is within your control to create. Starting now, you really can stop being lonely.
Friends photo available from Shutterstock