In our fast-paced world of longer working hours and quick distractions, it's difficult to develop and maintain relationships that soothe the soul. Even as relationship and behavioral experts, both Pat Love and Jon Carlson each found themselves battling the plague of loneliness. It was only after a momentous meeting with the Dalai Lama that Love and Carlson began to develop an effective approach that would recalibrate the way they understood relationships. Now with Never Lonely Again, readers will learn how to find the necessary time to maintain friendships, be truly present for a partner, and reach out to people when in need.
Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.
—Dag Hammarskjöld, former U.N. secretary-general
During the loneliest times in my life, the mantra in my head went something like this: 'Nobody knows me, and nobody wants to know me.' I went through my days longing for someone to reach out and grab me, engage me, and draw me fully into life. I wanted to be touched, known, and experienced, but I didn't know how to make that happen. I felt alone, isolated, and empty, but that didn't make sense. How could I feel empty when I was so busy and productive? How could I feel isolated when I was married to a fine man, had two healthy and bright children, and was surrounded by friends and acquaintances? My loneliness didn't make sense, but it was real, because despite my best efforts, my connection to others, even those I loved, seem to hang by a thread.
Remembering the lonely times fills me with deep regret now, because I believe that I missed many important times in my life by not being present. I was there physically but not emotionally or intimately. I was disconnected from me and everyone else. Reflecting back, I can still conjure the sensation of watching my life pass by on television, once-removed from reality. It's a surreal experience to be in a room where everyone seems to be relating, having a real life, connecting and reconnecting, and I am not.
I wonder now if anyone ever noticed my loneliness. Yet if someone had asked me, 'Pat, are you lonely?' I probably would have said, 'No.' The loneliness was just too painful and embarrassing to acknowledge. Being lonely made me feel like a failure, as though something were wrong with me. I had spent much of my early life fearing that people would feel sorry for me, and I didn't want to be pitied or somehow seen as damaged goods.
Furthermore, I wasn't very aware; contemplation and self-examination were not part of my life. I didn't want to look at myself too closely; in fact, I kept moving from sunup to sundown just so I wouldn't be aware. I didn't want to be aware of the fact that I couldn't let anyone in or that I didn't know how to really connect with anyone—even my own husband and children. The movie inside my head did not include a picture of me as lonely, yet the loneliness was visceral. I walked around with a feeling of longing, as though I were missing something vital.
We once had a cat whose only kitten died shortly after birth, and afterward she walked around the house crying, going from room to room looking and searching. It was heartbreaking to watch her. That is what my life felt like so many, many times during the loneliness, especially in the morning and the evening, when it was the worst. I couldn't stay in bed once I awakened because the loneliness would take over, so as soon as I felt it coming I'd jump out of bed and get busy. At night I'd have to read or watch TV to distract my mind from going to the place of longing that is so real it can almost make you sick to your stomach.
As trying as all this was, however, it took years before I even questioned my state. I just thought that this is my life and I have to deal with it. But I didn't know how to make it better. If only I had been given a book like this; to realize that there was a clear way out would have made such a difference and would undoubtedly have prevented a lot of heartache and regret, because my loneliness and my lack of skills to manage it left a path of destruction through the first half of my life.
When I did start taking a closer look at myself, it was a little bit like a takeoff on an old country-western song: I was looking for answers in all the wrong places. Like many women and some men, I looked first at my primary relationship to find the cause of my suffering. This was long before author Dan Kiley coined the phrase living together loneliness (LTL), but I fit his profile perfectly: I was unhappy; I was unable to turn to my husband when I felt bad, because in my mind I wasn't supposed to have needs; I felt isolated and alone; and the only time I felt anywhere close to normal was when I was extremely busy—but even busyness was losing its solace. The loneliness was becoming more profound, and I had nowhere to turn. I finally left my marriage because I thought that it was the source of my misery. Yet even though I left the relationship, I took my loneliness with me. This was the beginning of many regrets.
Now I was a single parent, alone, and even more lonely. I could write a book about the dangers of dating and mating when you are lonely. Suffice it to say that it is not a good emotional place from which to make life decisions. Once again, I was looking in the wrong place to find the answer to my longing. To avoid the terror of being alone—because I now thought that being single was the cause of my lonely feelings—I ignored my values and my good common sense, just to have a man in my life. Score another regret.
When the next relationship didn't quell my loneliness, I started looking deeper. I went into therapy, reviewed my childhood, and confronted my history of neglect as well as my family history of divorce and alcoholism. Blaming my parents only made me bluer. By this time both of my parents had been dead for more than a decade, so at least I didn't blame them in person. I now have a much more compassionate understanding of their lives.
Dr. Pat Love is a distinguished professor, author, trainer and long-standing licensed clinician. Her ever-popular books Hot Monogamy and The Truth About Love have taken her around the world and on numerous shows in the U.S., such as Oprah, The Today Show and CNN. Dr. Love is also a regular contributor to Psychology Today.
Jon Carlson, PsyD, EdD, ABPP (Wisconsin) is Distinguished Professor, Psychology and Counseling at Governors State University and a psychologist at the Wellness Clinic in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Jon has served as editor of several periodicals including the Journal of Individual Psychology and The Family Journal. He holds Diplomates in both Family Psychology and Adlerian Psychology. He has authored 150 journal articles and 50 books including Time for a Better Marriage, Adlerian Therapy, Inclusive Cultural Empathy, The Mummy at the Dining Room Table, Bad Therapy, The Client Who Changed Me, Their Finest Hour, Creative Breakthroughs in Therapy, and Moved by the Spirit. He has created over 250 professional trade video and DVD's with leading professional therapists and educators. In 2004 the American Counseling Association named him a "Living Legend." In 2009 the Division of Psychotherapy of the American Psychological Association named him "Distinguished Psychologist" for his life contribution to psychotherapy. He has received similar awards from four other professional organizations. Recently he syndicated an advice cartoon "On The Edge" with cartoonist Joe Martin. Dr. Carlson has been married to his wife Laura for forty-two years. They have five children.