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Feeling Lonely

February 25, 2023

Another Way for week of Feb. 17, 2023

Feeling Lonely

Editor’s note: Fourth in a five-week series on friendship.

When we had our first baby (dark ages, 1981), the local hospital we dealt with still had shared rooms for new mothers. My roommate had just birthed her second child.

There was a curtain between our beds but we talked through it, and saw each other when I had to walk through her side to get to the bathroom. Besides the fact that she smoked (in our room, hard to believe!) I was saddened as I heard her talk about her life. Alice (not her real name) lived in a fairly isolated area and said her daily routine was that after she fixed breakfast and cleaned up the house a bit, she and her first child always went to spend the day at her mother’s. She returned home only in time to make supper. She seemed lonely.

Perhaps she felt sorry for me living 600 hundred miles away from my parents. At any rate, loneliness is universal and these days we can be in almost constant communication with our parents or siblings or friends who live at a distance (texting, Face Timing, Zooming, phone). But that doesn’t necessarily solve problems we may feel in our relationships or activities: sometimes we cope with loneliness by overworking, overspending, overeating, watching TV, or scrolling on our smart phones.

Loneliness is a fact of life. Sociologists and psychologists point out that being alone is the most common human condition. Think about it: at the beginning of life, the baby leaves the comfort of the womb to enter the stark delivery room. At the end of life, each of us crosses the threshold of death—alone. Even in close relationships like marriage, with our parents, with siblings, there is a realm where we are alone with our private thoughts, histories, and hopes.

When I wrote the book Becoming a Better Friend, I knew almost nothing about mental illness, suicide, and genuine and dangerous depression. I suppose some kids I went to school with in middle school and high school were more than just lonely, they were dealing with serious and sad mental issues. There was a college acquaintance I knew who tragically took her own life. College can be a profoundly lonely place.

One of the stories I shared in that book came from Nancy Potts who wrote a book titled Loneliness: Living Between the Times. She tells the story of Katie, a woman who attended a small church where the service usually closed with everyone joining hands in a large circle (pre-pandemic, obviously). Katie wrote the following note to the minister one week: “Thank you for ending the service by having the congregation hold hands. I live a very lonely life and Sunday is the only time I’m touched by another person all week.” (Victor Books, 1978, p. 40)

Speaking of the pandemic, we know that besides illness, it produced an epic number of people who were profoundly lonely especially in retirement centers, nursing homes and assisted living places. Through no fault of their own, administrators had to quarantine older people who were already often quite isolated from family and friends. My mother was one of them. Visiting through a cold glass pane window helped a little, but where Mom was really broken in spirit was no conversation at meals. Even when the residents were finally allowed to eat outside of their rooms, they were placed at a dining room table where they could not sit with anyone else: just eating alone. Mom, the social butterfly that she was, missed that conversation keenly, but she bore the changes ok—on the surface. We all grieved the remoteness for Mom.    

Mother, center in red top, visiting at a wonderful small family reunion when the pandemic had abated somewhat.

If you struggle with aloneness or being lonely, spend some time analyzing what brings on those lonely feelings for you. Perhaps list specific times on paper. What things cheer you up? Or, perhaps, visit or call someone else who may be lonely. While we can take comfort in knowing that loneliness is part of our human condition, there is a difference between being alone, and being lonely.


What do you do to chase away loneliness–for yourself or others?

When do you welcome being alone?

We’d love to hear!

You may write to me at Another Way, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834, or email

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of ten books, most recently Memoir of an Unimagined Career. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. I’ll pick out one of your questions: “When do you welcome being alone?”

    Yesterday, Cliff went to a movie by himself, an action flick I had no interest in seeing. I was happy to have the house to myself for about three hours and didn’t feel the slightest bit lonely. Birthing this most recent book has required our working together constantly. Also, I had to do all of the steps in publishing and printing my new memoir, a gargantuan job as it has turned out.

    But I have known loneliness–the extreme sort in the travel trailer in the 1970s and then at various times when I hadn’t yet met friends at church. One of my long-time friends now lives in a remote spot in NW Florida. She is very lonely and I was able to do something nice for her recently. I’d like to do more of that. Human connection is SO critical to mental and physical health. Thanks for addressing this very important issue, Melodie. 😀

    • I don’t mind at all either if Stuart takes off with one of his buddies or brothers for a project or trip to see this or that tool he’s been eyeballing. 🙂 Being able to focus at home on projects without interruption is nice! And yes, your 2nd book portrays that severe loneliness and frustration you went through at an earlier phase of life. That will be something some readers will grab on to and connect with. Thanks for your vulnerability.

      I lived in northwest Florida, although between Tallahassee and Panama. There are some pretty severe outback areas over there, further west. Keep your connections with your friend, which I’m sure you will do as you are able. Blessings.

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