How to speak your loneliness story
Don’t know how to speak about your loneliness?
I’ve got your back.
I received some responses to a poll I posted on Instagram in September 2020 about what’s stopping your from speaking your loneliness story. The poll asked if it was: A) that you had no one in your life with whom you could speak your story of loneliness or; B) if you didn’t know how to have that conversation.
The response was 100 per cent for option B: You didn’t know how to have that conversation.
Well, I’ve got you covered. Let’s have a chat about how to have that conversation about admitting our loneliness aloud.
Before we get into the post…
I want to say how proud I am that you’re here. It’s not easy at times to be a gay man. It’s definitely not easy to admit that we’re lonely. The combination of the two means that I know that you worked through some internal conflicts to simply navigate your way to this little corner of the internet and to then open this post.
I’m proud of you and I’m really glad that you’re here. Can you allow yourself to receive some advice on how to work through your thoughts and feelings of loneliness and begin to move towards the authentic connection all humans need?
Vulnerability is HARD
If you’re at the point where you know that you’re chronically lonely but don’t know what to do next or how to do it, the answer is simple: be vulnerable and speak your loneliness.
Well, the answer is simple to write, but not simple to do.
That generally queasy feeling your likely experiencing is part of the stigma of loneliness. It’s tempting to put close this window and go and distract yourself, isn’t it?
Are you afraid that if you spoke about your loneliness and desire for more authentic connection in your life that you’ll be judged? Are you afraid that you’ll be rejected?
Question to consider: Can the judgement and rejection you fear from others compare to how you judge and reject yourself?
If you’re like me, the judgement and rejection I give myself is FAR worse than that which others could ever possibly do. But still, the fear is there.
Further, have you engaged in a game of ‘shoulds/shouldn’ts’? You know this game. It’s the one where we tell ourselves that we shouldn’t feel lonely because we have a partner, friends and/or a great job. Or that we should be more popular than we feel we are because we’re giving so much of our selves to the world.
I can play this game at an Olympic-level, I assure you.
It’s only once we allow ourselves to accept what we’re thinking and how we are feeling and begin to feel the feelings that we’ve spent years denying or avoiding can we begin to use our loneliness as the gift it is.
What?? Loneliness is a gift?!
Yes. Loneliness is never a gift that anyone wants, but it’s the gift we’ve likely been ignoring for years. Loneliness is our body’s way to come back to connection. It’s meant to be an emotion we feel in the short-term. It’s not meant to be a chronic state.
Step 1 – Who’s worthy of you?
In moving towards getting the type of authentic connection we need as gay men (that we need as humans), we need to know who has earned the right to hear our story of loneliness and desire for more authentic connection. This is a person who we know will respond with empathy and without judgement.
This may seem counter-intuitive for those in the depths of loneliness and battling through its stigma, but I promise you that someone in your life has earned that right.
It could be your spouse, your partner, a friend, a family member. It could also be a coach, a mentor or a trained therapist (I have a great page on my site if you need some suggestions). For me, while I have two sites about loneliness in which I use my own lived experience of loneliness and disconnection in a very public way, very few people have earned the right to hear about my story.
Critically, have you earned the right to hear your own loneliness story? Your loneliness doesn’t define you, but can you allow your loneliness to be? Keep this in mind as we go on.
Step 2 – Doing connection
To connect is a verb. Verbs indicate action. You must connect.
This is scary AF, but my advice is to go slowly and be kind to yourself. You doing connection could look like volunteering your services somewhere in your community. You could make arrangements to chat – either in person or via phone or video – with that someone who’s earned the right to hear your story of loneliness.
Be aware of the stories you’re telling yourself at this stage. My stories often include how busy I am or unprepared I am to do something. We’ll explore the power of these stories in future content, but for now we need to recognise them for what they are: stories, not fact.
Step 3 – You CAN do it
Yes, these are scary steps to take. But know this: You’re worth it.
The reluctance you feel come with the fear of vulnerability. But as my intellectual crush, Dr Brené Brown, writes:
‘…we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame and uncertainty. Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity and love.’
And, as a gay man, I’m going to say that you’re capable of being courageous, as it takes courage to come out – and to stay out – as gay.
You’re capable of being courageous and doing courageous things.
Step 4 – Kindness and honesty
I heard this when I was struggling to speak my truth about my sexuality aloud and I remind myself of it when I’ve been avoiding the tough conversations - at home, at work and within myself:
Every conversation can be made better when we approach it with kindness and honesty.
I shorten this to kindness and honesty.
I fear these tough conversations. I fear rejection. I fear judgment. I fear being thought less of. I fear not being able to control the outcome. I used to put off these conversations until I could be assured that I’d only be judged positively. I’d only be thought more of. I’d only be accepted.
Needless to say, I didn’t have many of these conversations.
But every time that I approach these conversations with kindness and honesty, something magical happens. I’m present. I listen. I respond in the moment. I feel seen. I feel heard. I feel like I belong in that moment.
I used kindness and honesty each time I seek connection to help me through thoughts and feelings of loneliness. I use kindness and honesty each time I come out as gay.
It’s freeing. It’s genuine. It’s beautiful.
In the end, how I approach these tough, shitty and awful conversations is the only thing that I can control. I choose to approach them with kindness and honesty.
Step 5 – Speaking our loneliness
Once you’ve identified someone who’s earned the right to hear your loneliness story and desire for more authentic connection in your life and resolved to speak your story with kindness and honesty, the only thing to do is to open your mouth and speak.
It’s OK that you don’t know what to say at first. Perhaps you could use me and my work as the starting point in the conversation.
Also, sitting directly across from someone can make us feel uncomfortable. Going for a walk or some other activity in which you're next to someone could help.
Take a deep breath and then speak your truth. Then wait. Wait for the other person to step in and to step up. Be present in this moment and resist the possibly overwhelming urge to fill the silence with words or, worse, to dismiss what you’ve just shared and confided (remember: loneliness is killing us. The demands your attention).
This moment is where the connective magic begins.
If you genuinely feel that no one has earned the right to hear your story of loneliness, can you write yourself a letter with kindness and honesty? There’s a large part of you who’s been waiting for you to notice yourself.
However you start the conversation, know that you’re doing a great thing to honour the part of you that’s been craving genuine, authentic connection with your self, those most important to you and to your community.
Step 6 – What happens now?
Once you’re opened your mouth and spoken with kindness and honesty, it’s possible that the following will happen:
You’ll be met with a very clear ‘Me too’ from the person with whom you’ve shared (remember that almost 2/3 of people reported feeling lonely in 2019…)
They may want to fix your loneliness for you. By all means accept their help, but your loneliness and need for connection is YOUR loneliness and need for connection. Only you can fix it through the type of connection that is authentic for you.
You may experience a ‘vulnerability hangover’, which leaves you feeling, well, hungover after you’ve shared a truth that’s been weighing you down. Self-care is the only way I know through this stage. And if ‘self-care’ seems too hippy for your pragmatic mind, I recommend watching a favourite movie or reading a part of a favourite book.
You may – may – experience a negative response to sharing your loneliness story. This happens and it never stops being shit when it does. Typically, the initial response is positive and good, loving and supportive words are said. Then, over time, there’s a disconnection between what’s said at first and the follow-up (more on the follow-up in a moment). This can manifest in a variety of ways, from unreturned texts and calls to non-committal statements about how ‘we should catch up again'.
This never fails to hurt. Never. We put yourself out there in a real and vulnerable way and then we feel like things have gotten worse after we did.
I hear you. I've been there.
But I know this to be true: in speaking our loneliness story and asking for more connection in our lives, we hold up a mirror to others and they – perhaps unwillingly – are forced to reckon with their own state of (dis)connection. You and I both know that the topic of loneliness makes us very uncomfortable - especially in a community that values appearances as highly as the gay community - and it’s only natural that we can want to recoil from that which triggers us or shatters our illusions of having life sorted.
This is a reflection on them, not on you and your worth. You’ve created the space for others to step forward and be real. You’ve created the space for the real, authentic connection you need. Some people aren't ready to confront the pain of loneliness within themselves. This is not on you.
Please, read that again.
And then read it once more.
I just had to, too.
Step 7 – What’s next?
Just like coming out, we never stop having to reach out for connection.
Irrespective of whether you experience a vulnerability hangover, self-care is needed. You’ve done a brave and courageous thing, and this is worthy of your own recognition.
Finally, set up a time and date to re-connect with the person with whom you’ve shared your story. Don’t accept a ‘we should catch up again’. It’s too vague. Only a firm time, date and place will suffice.
Then treat that next chat as the tremendously important appointment it is. Shit doesn’t have to get as real in the next chat, but you need to be wary of retreating back into ‘safe’ ways of connecting, which aren’t really connecting. Watch out for conversations that don’t go beyond work, sex, dating, politics, sport or the weather.
I'd LOVE to hear how you spoke your loneliness story! Come and join the discussion in the Facebook group exclusively for premium subscribers of The Loneliness Guy.
Where to now?
Connection is the antidote to loneliness. Subscribe to my website through either a basic subscription (free) or premium subscription (monthly charge) and let’s stay connected as we work to de-stigmatise loneliness and promote authentic connection for gay men.
Thank you for reading this post. I hope that you’ve found it helpful.
I’m now asking for YOUR help.
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You may not feel lonely and have just the right amount of authentic connection in your life, but sharing this article could really help a friend or relative who may be quietly struggling with the thoughts and feelings of loneliness and disconnection.
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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Resources page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.