What makes a woman lonely?
Ask A Therapist: I’m Single & I’m Embarrassed About How Lonely I Am
Ever wondered what you’d say to a therapist, given the chance? We asked Dr Sheri Jacobson, a retired psychotherapist with over 17 years’ clinical experience and the co-founder of Harley Therapy Platform (UK Online Therapists), for advice on the things we worry about in private.
Have a question for a therapist? Submit yours for Sheri.
I’ve been single for a while now, since about three months before the pandemic. A lot of the time I’m fine with it, and sometimes even happy to be single: I am free to define my life and date who I want and focus solely on my own happiness. I keep seeing articles and posts on social media that emphasise how being a single woman is something to be empowered by instead of constantly seeking a partner for the sake of it. I want to be fully empowered all the time too.
But I’m just not. It doesn’t help that all my close friends are in relationships and it can’t help but make me feel lonely, especially around events like last New Year’s Eve, which I spent alone thanks to COVID. I try to talk to my friends about feeling lonely but they just feel sorry for me, which makes me feel patronised. So I have these intense bouts of real loneliness and then feel ashamed to feel this way. I know my happiness isn’t defined by another person but that doesn’t mean I want to be alone.
How can I learn to embrace all these feelings now without just rushing into another relationship?
– Katya, 27
It’s important to remember that the pandemic has made loneliness worse: chiefly because of the physical isolation and the lack of contact with people, which is really important to our wellbeing. The pause on a lot of activities and seeing other people has really compounded this feeling of isolation. And while people who live together or are in relationships have been bonding closer in the pandemic, it’s hard to feel that you have missed out on that.
There is no shame in feeling loneliness, it is just a feeling. As far as possible, be non-judgmental of your emotions: there’s no good emotions, there’s no bad emotions, things are as they are. Loneliness, like anything, is just an emotional state. These emotions will come and they will go and the more work that we can do on 1) allowing those feelings to be and 2) being compassionate towards ourselves, ironically, the less negative we will feel.
It’s often hard to say this negative feeling is actually a positive one or a neutral one. If you’re boiling with anger, for example, it feels so uncomfortable that it might well be a negative feeling. But the fact is, the more that we can tolerate feelings like loneliness, the less power that it has over us and the easier it is to diffuse. The more that we can be tolerant and accepting of the hardships or difficulties of life, the more it is likely that it won’t disturb us as much.
One of the ways that people often read into their negative feelings and thoughts is by engaging in them with rumination. You might spend a lot of time trying to work out: Why do I feel this way? Should I be single? Should I not be? Why am I feeling bad about it? Is it bad that I’m feeling bad? We can get ourselves into a real tangle. There’s a couple of techniques, aside from working on the acceptance, for when you get stuck ruminating. One is distraction, but it’s not a distraction by way of avoidance: it’s more diversion. It’s doing something healthy in place of ruminating, which could be doing something that you enjoy. The other is breathing techniques. So if you’re feeling negative thoughts and emotions rising, and you’ve got yourself into a mental tangle, how can you get out? Often just resetting, by focusing internally on basic things like the breath or bodily sensations, can help some people get out of that negative loop.
Other than managing your relationship to your emotions, there are practical steps to combat loneliness. I would start with filtering through your relationships and deciding who it is that you feel good spending time with. Do they enhance your wellbeing? We often feel better after spending time with some people and worse after spending time with others. It’s about identifying how you feel after spending some time, even online, with someone and recognising who those good quality connections are with.
With that in mind, make time to nurture those relationships. You do that by investing time and energy with the grand old skill of listening. The more that we can make time for someone and listen to them, and the other person does the same with you, the less lonely we feel. As we all know, we can be very lonely in a busy crowd, often because we don’t have that emotional connection with someone which is facilitated by good listening, good sharing and good support of one another.
Loneliness in older people
Older people are especially vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation – and it can have a serious effect on health. But there are ways to overcome loneliness, even if you live alone and find it hard to get out.
Hundreds of thousands of elderly people are lonely and cut off from society in this country, especially those over the age of 75.
According to Age UK, more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, and more than a million older people say they go over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member.
People can become socially isolated for a variety of reasons, such as getting older or weaker, no longer being the hub of their family, leaving the workplace, the deaths of spouses and friends, or through disability or illness.
Whatever the cause, it’s shockingly easy to be left feeling alone and vulnerable, which can lead to depression and a serious decline in physical health and wellbeing.
Someone who’s lonely probably also finds it hard to reach out. There’s a stigma surrounding loneliness, and older people tend not to ask for help because they have too much pride.
It’s important to remember loneliness can – and does – affect anyone, of any age.
Here are ways for older people to connect with others, and feel useful and appreciated again.
Smile, even if it feels hard
Grab every chance to smile at others or begin a conversation – for instance, with the cashier at the shop or the person next to you in the GP waiting room.
If you’re shy or not sure what to say, try asking people about themselves.
Invite friends for tea
If you’re feeling down and alone, it’s tempting to think nobody wants to visit you. But often friends, family and neighbours will appreciate receiving an invitation to come and spend some time with you.
If you’d prefer for someone else to host, Re-engage is a charity that holds regular free Sunday afternoon tea parties for people over the age of 75 who live alone.
You’ll be collected from your home and driven to a volunteer host’s home for the afternoon. Apply online or call Re-engage on 0800 716 543.
Keep in touch by phone
Having a chat with a friend or relative over the phone can be the next best thing to being with them.
Or you can call The Silver Line, a helpline for older people set up by Esther Rantzen, on 0800 470 8090.
You can also call Independent Age on 0800 319 6789 or Age UK on 0800 678 1602.
Learn to love computers
If your friends and family live far away, a good way to stay in touch, especially with grandchildren, is by using a personal computer, smartphone or tablet.
You can share emails and photos with family and friends, have free video chats using services such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime or Viber, and make new online «friends» or reconnect with old friends on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and website forums.
A smartphone or tablet can be especially useful if you can’t get around very easily, as you can sit with it on your knee or close to hand and the screen is clear and bright.
A sponge-tip stylus pen or speech recognition may help if the touchscreen is difficult for arthritic hands or fingers with poor circulation.
Libraries and community centres often hold regular training courses for older people to learn basic computer skills – as well as being a good place to meet and spend time with others in their own right.
Get involved in local community activities
These will vary according to where you live, but the chances are you’ll have access to a singing or walking group, book clubs, bridge, bingo, quiz nights and faith groups.
Not to mention local branches of regional and national organisations that hold social events, such as the Women’s Institute and Re-engage.
The Silver Line helpline (0800 470 8090) can let you know what’s going on in your local area.
Fill your diary
It can help you feel less lonely if you plan the week ahead and put things in your diary to look forward to each day, such as a walk in the park or going to a local coffee shop, library, sports centre, cinema or museum.
Independent Age has published a guide about what to do if you’re feeling lonely, which includes tips about activities you could try.
Get out and about
Don’t wait for people to come and see you – travel to visit them.
One advantage of being older is that public transport is better value. Local bus travel is free for older people across England (though remoter areas may have more limited bus services).
The age at which you can apply for your free bus pass depends on when you were born and where you live.
Contact your local authority for more information on how to apply.
Use this State Pension calculator to find out the exact date when you can apply for your free bus pass.
For longer distances, you may be able to save money on train and coach travel by booking in advance online. If you do travel by train often then paying for a Senior Railcard may help you save money in the long-term.
The Royal Voluntary Service can put you in touch with volunteers who provide free transport for older people with mobility issues or who live in rural areas with limited public transport.
Use the knowledge and experience you have gained over a lifetime to give something back to your community.
You’ll get lots back in return, such as new skills and confidence – and, hopefully, some new friends, too.
There are endless volunteering opportunities that relish the qualities and skills of older people, such as patience, experience and calmness.
Examples are Home-Start, Sure Start, helping in a local charity shop or hospital or with a school reading programme. You can also volunteer to help the Citizens Advice charity in a range of activities.
Join the University of the Third Age
The University of the Third Age (U3A) operates in many areas, offering older people the chance to learn or do something new.
Run by volunteers, U3A has no exams. Instead, it gives you the chance to do, play or learn something you may never have done before, or something you haven’t considered since your school days.
U3A is also a great place to meet people and make new friends.
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What to Do If You’re Feeling Alone in a Relationship
Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women’s issues.
Updated on November 16, 2022
Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
You don’t have to be socially isolated to feel lonely. You might be in a long-term relationship or even in a family with many siblings. You might live in a shared house with friends and still feel alone.
Loneliness is a negative state in which you feel discomfort or social pain. You may feel alone, empty, or possibly even unwanted. It’s not unusual to feel lonely in a crowd or with a loved one. This feeling of social isolation often takes place even if you’re among other people.
This article will focus on feelings of loneliness despite being in a romantic relationship. In these cases, feeling lonely might seem to make no sense, especially if you feel alone as you sit at the dinner table next to your significant other. That’s because loneliness is a feeling and a perception. So, let’s look at why some people may feel lonely while in a relationship and tips for dealing with that feeling.
Loneliness Is on the Rise
According to recent research, loneliness is a public health problem. In addition, the global pandemic has deepened an epidemic of loneliness in America and can cause premature mortality.
A new Harvard report suggests that 36% of Americans feel profound loneliness, including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children. Moreover, since the outbreak of the pandemic with its many restrictions and lockdowns, loneliness has increased substantially.
Among couples, it’s often a challenge when one person feels lonely in the relationship. Sometimes, both partners feel isolated. Fortunately, there are solutions to this problem.
Reasons You May Feel Lonely While in a Relationship
If you feel lonely, maybe one of you has pulled back. Or both of you have drifted apart and aren’t as close as you used to be. Situational pressures like spending more time taking care of children or spending late evening hours on work projects might cause a rift between couples.
You might be too tired to reconnect for intimacy. You might feel too pressured (or tired) to meet someone else’s needs. It’s important to figure out what is causing your feelings and to be honest with yourself.
If you feel lonely while in a relationship, you might not be sharing your fears, worries, and vulnerabilities with your partner. Or you might be relying too much on your significant other to help you find meaning in life during trying times.
Another reason you might feel lonely even though you’re in a relationship is that you are trying to fill a void that has nothing to do with the relationship. This void might be something that your partner cannot reasonably be expected to fill for you.
Signs of Loneliness in a Relationship
Here are some things that might indicate feelings of loneliness in a relationship:
- If you feel lonely even when you are in physical proximity to your partner, you know something is off.
- If you notice that your communication is lacking and you’re sad and disappointed, that’s a sign.
- If you’re no longer eager to share stories about your everyday life (that includes work, family, and friends) with your partner, that might be a red flag.
- If you stopped having sex, that’s another sign that all is not right.
- If you seek to avoid time with your partner and tell your best friend that things are not working, it might be wise to pause and consider what’s going on.
Impact of Loneliness
While it may seem like no big deal, according to the Cleveland Clinic, loneliness is a risk factor for chronic health conditions. When you’re feeling lonely, cortisol increases. This is not good because having more of the stress hormone can hinder your mental performance, impact your immune system, and increase your risk for inflammation and heart disease.
The price you pay for loneliness might include a range of serious physical and emotional problems, including depression, anxiety, alcohol or drug abuse, and domestic abuse. Loneliness has also been implicated in premature death.
Limit Social Media
Many of us are spending an inordinate amount of time on Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram and we don’t even realize it. Although social media is a viable way to connect us when we can’t be together, it’s become clear that living more on our phones than in real life has negative consequences.
In a study called «Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S.,» published in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, heavy social media users felt more socially isolated. This does not bode well as they form relationships and mature.
With the prevalence of social media, young adults and others are constantly viewing images of happy couples having fun all over the globe. It’s natural to compare yourself and your partner to these people, especially as you go through rough times.
You might become jealous or feel like you or your relationship is lacking. But you’re looking at superficial images and only the sanitized and filtered version of real life.
One surprising way to make your relationship better is to go to bed at the same time and do not scroll through your phones. When one partner seems distracted by their phone, the other feels less valued and cared for.
How to Alleviate Loneliness in a Relationship
If you’ve been feeling lonely in your relationship, here are ways to work through those feelings.
Discuss Your Feelings With Your Significant Other
Remind the other person you’re not blaming or criticizing in any way, but want to share your feelings. Then share that you are really lonely. Maybe you both need to make changes.
Or this might be attributable to some feelings you have that predate the relationship and that you need to address yourself.
Take a Break From Social Media
Instead of texting your partner, make a phone call. Or better yet, meet up with them for a quick drink at your favorite café. Aim to focus on connecting with your partner.
Do Something Nice for Them
If your partner loves history, buy them a book about the Civil War. Or offer to drive the kids for ice cream after school so your partner, who works from home, can take a break and play a video game for a little while.
Think about others and give back. If you love animals, maybe both of you can volunteer at an animal shelter. Or reach out to see if you can work together on building a house for Habitat for Humanity.
Hug Your Partner
Be physically affectionate. When you hug your partner, oxytocin (often called the «cuddle hormone») is released. When you touch one another, you’ll feel a sense of closeness. You’ll also gain deeper feelings of connection, bonding, and trust.
Nurture Other Relationships
Call your buddy or spend time with your sister. Don’t forget to nurture your other important relationships. You’ll be reminded that you love others and that you yourself are loved.
Try Couple’s Therapy
By speaking to a couple’s therapist, you can learn proven skills to bring you closer together. Lean on this professional to guide you personally or together on ways to not feel isolated inside a relationship.
A Word From Verywell
Solitude and being alone can be a good thing. It can help you recharge and give you time to go inward through meditation, reading or journaling . But if you’re feeling lonely, disconnected and isolated even with your partner, look for ways to help yourself and your relationship. Do something constructive. The goal is to have a healthy relationship both with yourself and with your partner.
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- Cacioppo JT, Cacioppo S. The growing problem of loneliness. The Lancet. 2018;391(10119):426.
- Harvard University. Loneliness in America: How the Pandemic Has Deepened an Epidemic of Loneliness and What We Can Do About It.
- Cleveland Clinic. What Happens in Your Body When You’re Lonely?.
- Primack BA. Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S.AJPM. 2017; 53(1):1-8.
By Barbara Field
Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women’s issues.