Graham: One doesn’t have to be a lonely number
I am coming up on the anniversary of one of the true milestones in my life: It has been nearly five years since my divorce became official.
I got married in 1986 when I was 22 years old. That may seem really young for some people; the national median age when men across the country get married for the first time these days is 29.5. But in 1986 the average was 25.7, so I was a little more in line with the times.
But with my divorce in 2014, I found myself single after more than 28 years of marriage and two kids. I still had the experiences my wife and I had lived, but everything after that was going to be different.
Among all the changes, and there were many, one of the biggest was the fact that I had lost the companionship I once enjoyed. It meant a vacant home and an open calendar. And now it was my job to make both feel a little less empty.
I knew I had to avoid feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can lead to anxiety, depression and other mental-health concerns. I was not ready to start dating, so I had to find other ways of feeling socially connected. Another problem for me — I have never been much of a joiner, and it takes me a long time to warm up to new people when I am among strangers.
So I found a few ways to keep from feeling alone without having to be part of a group.
One is to occasionally treat myself to a “solo” date. It is easy after a divorce to spend too much time sitting by yourself at home, either watching TV or getting lost in the Internet. The little solo outings give me a chance to take in new experiences. I do things I would like to do if I was out on a “real” date with someone. And unlike when I was married, I don’t have to compromise on where I want to go, what I want to eat or what movie I see. The selection is always my No. 1 choice.
I also have joined nearby gyms. I will admit I have failed at times to work out on a regular basis, but the idea remains a good one for a couple of reasons. One, gyms can be a good place to meet new people and see new faces — even if you just nod when you cross paths at the treadmill or drinking fountain — and develop feelings of being part of a community. Second, physical activity can make you less prone to feelings of isolation and depression.
You also can find ways to ease feelings of loneliness while you are at home. Little activities like making your bed every day and keeping your place clean can make it feel more comfortable. I also always have a book I am reading. Being immersed in a different time or world, whether it is fictional or real, helps keep my mind active in a way television can’t.
Also, reading in a restaurant (or a coffeehouse if I actually drank coffee, I guess) can create feelings of social connection.
While I have stretched myself a little more socially since I was first divorced, these little activities were important to help me avoid feeling lonely in those early days of being single again.
Obviously there are hundreds of other ways to get out of the house when you find yourself single (or widowed for that matter) — go to museums, take classes to learn new skills such as cooking or pottery, hike the trails, join a book club, attend church regularly. If you have feelings of loneliness, pick a few and try them out; they might help.
If they don’t, please consider reaching out to a professional, or at least talking to a trusted friend or family member. There is nothing wrong with admitting you need help.
Doug Graham is Community Editor for the Daily Courier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.