I’ve had the opportunity to meet some really amazing guys since I’ve begun this journey. One of the topics that’s really resonated with me is “loneliness.” My friend, Phil McAuliffe can speak on that subject so much better than I can… and he graciously agreed to write a guest post. You can find him on Instagram or here on his website, thelonelinessguy.com
Phil McAuliffe, The Loneliness Guy (Check out his website here —-> thelonelinessguy)
The thoughts and feelings that come from feeling lonely – or socially-isolated, if you prefer – are awful. We can spend years running away from them. We spend so much time and energy hustling for the acceptance of others. We spend so much time numbing the pain or denying that there’s even a problem.
Before I continue, I want to say how proud of you I am for simply reading these words. I know that it took courage for you to begin reading this. I see you. I honour you. I’m proud of you.
It’s hard to know exactly where to begin when writing about loneliness. I have two sites devoted to the issue of loneliness and authentic connection thelonelinessguy.com for gay men and thelonelydiplomat.com for diplomats) and feel that I’ve barely touched the sides in terms of the content that’s needed to address the issue.
Loneliness is tricky. A standard dictionary definition says something that loneliness is the absence of people or meaningful connection with others. For me, I go with the definition of ‘if you feel lonely, then you are lonely.’ But what does loneliness feel like?
For me, loneliness felt like I was living someone else’s life. I believed that I was supposed to feel happy and ‘on’ all the time, but I felt empty and apathetic. I was suffocating beneath the masks I was wearing and the combined weight of expectations I felt were on me. I felt that I couldn’t tell anyone; I didn’t have the vocabulary, nor did I feel that society would allow it. We men are meant to be self-sufficient physical, mental and emotional islands, right? I internalised all this and, as a result, it took me years to realise that I was lonely. I denied it for a long time, because I have a loving family, have friends and was – by all standard metrics – successful. But I realised that I had no one in my life with whom I could be really me.
I got help. I engaged the services of a coach. It was one of the best and hardest and bravest things I’ve ever done. I did a lot of work within myself, and with support from others within the program, I began taking off my masks and engaging with the world as myself. This involved knowing what is important to me, why it is important and then acting on that in a way that aligns with myself. Over time, how I parented, worked and lived changed. It involved reckoning with my sexuality, which ended a beautiful relationship when I decided to live life as a gay man. I became more myself and I know that I am seen, I am heard and that I belong to myself, to those I love most and in my community. It’s not been easy, but it’s always been worth it.
Loneliness can feel different for everyone, so I look at our behaviours as an indicator of potential loneliness. I see it everywhere: Substance abuse or dependence; numbing through shopping, gambling, sex, work, exercise or infinite other ways; the connivances of the Mr. Nice Guys; the anger of the keyboard warrior in LGBTQ spaces online and the seeking of connection through validation on hookup apps.
The loneliness we feel is not the result of a global pandemic, or social media, or Grindr, or more people living alone. The pandemic has highlighted what was already there. Indeed, in 2019 61 per cent of Americans surveyed admitted that they’re lonely. That’s way more than half, and is getting towards 2/3 people. Who’s talking about it? Where’s the conversation about it? Why do we answer truthfully in anonymous surveys and not talk about our loneliness and our need to connect with each other?
In one way, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of connection in our lives. When all else is stripped away, there we are.
Realising that I was lonely was an uncomfortable truth. Indeed, coming out as lonely both internally and publicly was harder for me than accepting my sexuality and coming out as gay. It felt like there is a greater stigma to loneliness than there is about being gay. We’re all about ‘connection’ as a society, but there’s extraordinarily little about the reason why we all need more connection. I feel that we need to know why we’re lonely before we get to connect. This way, the connection we do have is real. It’s genuine. It’s authentic.
Alas, there’s no shortcut, nor is there a magic pill to solve your loneliness. And when we ‘connect’ to cure our loneliness, we can rush to connect with those most important to us and to our communities. The cure to your loneliness starts with the process of connection to your self and allowing your authentic self to be.
To get that type of life-sustaining connection, we need to feel our loneliness and work within ourselves and build a team to identify its source. This is hard, messy and beautiful work. That it is this way automatically sorts out those who are ready to work on themselves and those who aren’t. By opening this article and reading this far, I know which camp you’re in. Know that I’m proud of you.
The loneliness you may be feeling right now is a gift. It’s not a gift that you want, to be sure. It’s your soul’s way of getting your attention and inviting you to step into the world in a more authentic way. Do you accept its invitation?