It’s a safe bet that when you see me publish an article, I’m not with a significant other. I don’t tend to write on a date; I also try to put the laptop away during sex.
My keyboard is not sitting next to me over dinner. It’s not curled up next to me on the couch during movie times.
That is to say, there are times when we will be alone regardless of the number of partners we have.
If you are in a cohabitating relationship, you might not experience this as much. Many married couples open their relationships and go out on dates, but usually come home. But even they can experience the feeling of loneliness when their partner goes out on a date, and they are home alone.
Some couples try to create rules to prevent emotional stress. Rules like that are established in order to avoid loneliness and jealousy. These rarely work for the benefit of the couple and are sometimes as useless as having a rule against erectile dysfunction as if the male sex organ cares what your rules are.
Your heart doesn’t care about your rules either.
Rules don’t create or prevent emotions any more than they make the sun rise and set.
Many of us in polyamory are not cohabitating. Some of us prefer to live alone, some of us are drifter types traveling for work, and some of us just happen not to have a partner they want to live with.
In those instances, there isn’t a rule in the world that will help.
I’ve had some points in my life five simultaneous relationships ranging from friends with benefits to a cohabitating life partner. And even in that configuration, I had many periods of loneliness.
Currently, I have two partners and a couple “open slots” where I’d love to have a good friend. Unfortunately, I have been running into an issue of meeting monogamous people who are slightly open to an open relationship, but because I bring emotional honesty into play, they want more with me, don’t believe they can become emotionally connected to me, and not get jealous.
In other words, I’d be a good partner to them if I could “hit it and quit it,” but that’s not really my style.
But even if I filled these spots, I’d still have many periods of loneliness.
I have a partner in Florida and one in Maryland. I have had dates in Maryland, Virginia, D.C., Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia. That’s eight states and territories, and yet… I still have many periods of loneliness.
I have two loving relationships, two or three people I’m talking to at the “getting to know you” stage of a possible relationship, and a fun sexual escapade partner one to four times a month.
I have a pretty busy schedule as a polyamorous man.
But I still get lonely.
This is often a deal-breaking point for many people. This is likely one of the top three reasons for most people sticking to monogamy.
The thinking goes that, if a person is monogamous and finds a good enough partner, they will spend most nights together, and then move in and spend nearly all nights together and not feel lonely.
And yet, while this is a short-term solution, the relationship hits roadblocks and people report feeling alone even when in the same house as their partner.
It also requires people to go long periods of time where they are merely dating people and spend every other night alone.
Monogamy doesn’t cure loneliness. It merely gives one the illusion that one person will always be there for them every minute of the day.
Once we rationally think about this, we understand that no person in the world will be there every single minute of the day.
Think about the pre-teens and tweens going off to have an overnight with a friend, only to come walking out, tears drying, blanket in hand, and mommy or daddy holding the other hand as they load them up in the car at 11pm.
Instantly, homesick little boys and girls that are in a safe home with friends and attending adults become sobbing, hug seeking piles of emotions.
Adults are just larger children with more experience.
When our live-in partner goes off on a date, we too can become hug seeking piles of emotions. Sure, we’ll fire up Netflix, grab a snack, and curl up on the couch waiting for them to return. They are our safety net.
And when they are gone, we can get mad at the person getting their attention. We take loneliness, mix in some bitterness, and end up with jealousy.
Even with all the rules in the world, like trying to date at the same time, we’ll get those feelings. Monogamy comes with the same problems when our partner feels distant.
A common misconception in the media is that polyamory is a cure for loneliness. And most beginners make this mistake as well.
“If I just have one more partner,” the thinking goes, “then I won’t be lonely.”
Yes. You will. Because life is always sometimes lonely.
Loneliness isn’t a consequence of not having enough partners, or of being polyamorous, or of being monogamous, or of not having a soul mate.
Loneliness is a consequence of being human.
I’ve been married twice. I’ve probably lived with about eight partners. I have been monogamous, polyamorous, a swinger, hypersexual, asexual, bisexual, successful in life, unsuccessful in life, and more.
I’ve found no combination of partners, loves, or living situations that prevent loneliness. Loneliness is always close at hand to be experienced.
After all, if it weren’t for being alone, there would be very few writers in the world.
As we get older, we are mostly learning coping strategies for overcoming loneliness. We are like little Napoleons that are coming up with plans against an invisible enemy.
We get a romantic partner or two, we get a sexual partner or two, we get a good friend or two, we get a hobby or two, we develop interests that actually require alone times such as reading, writing, or painting.
And at that point, we’ve eliminated a good 80 or 90 percent of our feelings of loneliness. We may even come to value our time alone, especially if the rest of our lives feels overwhelming.
But you will not eliminate it, nor should you. There are a few things to consider.
You’re Supossed To Be Lonely
First, consider that we are not happiness machines. There was a rash of books on attaining total happiness over the past 20 years, with most rational psychologists and social scientists just shaking their heads.
Happiness is not a graspable thing that you can hang on to. It’s a thing you want a significant amount of. But the longer you try to hang on to it, the less you are able to keep it.
A life of super highs can bring with it super lows. Most of us who have healthy brains and emotions can achieve a gentle ebb and flow of good times and not so good times. We want to laugh more than we cry. Doesn’t it seem a bit psychotic to be laughing all the time?
Every month or two, I tend to have these fantastic experiences with someone, and then I have to go back to real life. Last month, I was breaking crabs open with a wooden hammer with a new friend. Before that, I was watching a play with a partner and her group of friends, where none other than Ruth Bader Ginsberg was attending! A couple of weeks ago, I was playing with a partner and her son in a pool.
And after each of these things, I had to go back to “normal life,” and the emotions in me dropped down further than they would have if I’d done nothing.
Had I avoided these fun times, I’d probably be overall depressed because there would have been no exciting times in my life. The high points then become like curtain rings to my emotional wellbeing, pulling them up overall, but hanging lower in between.
We sometimes hate that emotional drop and think avoiding the good will make the lows seem not so low. But without the curtain rings, the curtain falls to the floor.
Life is about moving from mountain peak to mountain peak. But having all mountain peaks or no mountain peaks is the same result: a flat, featureless plain of absolute boredom. Without variety and the variation of novelty, our lives can start to lose definition and meaning.
We Are Social Creatures
Second, consider that we are social creatures. Loneliness is an instinctual drive to seek out others. No matter how much we complain about other people, other drivers, coworkers, and the lousy dating scene, we seek to spend time with others.
Loneliness, then, is a bit like hunger in terms of needs. It is something that we fight against in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We find safety and security in numbers, in a community.
Think about the times you feel lonely because you miss that one particular person that gets you. It’s that time when you experience something that a specific person would laugh with you about. Their face pops up in your mind’s eye when you encounter this thing.
This is an individual level of loneliness. This is what is meant by being lonely in a crowd. You feel alone because you feel a draw to a particular person.
I have an ex-wife who was all about ladybugs. She had ladybug accessories in her car. She had pillows. She had fridge magnets. She had kitchen accessories. To this day, every time I see something with a ladybug theme, she pops up into my mind, and I have a desire to share it with her.
This is a long dead relationship, and yet, I will feel the missing interaction that I cannot have.
These days, every time I see something that has to do with Yoda, I have a partner who is “all about it” as well. And I instantly want to share it with her. If she is not there, I might take a picture or send a text, and I feel a little less lonely because of it.
The difference is being able to reestablish a connection that is on my mind.
Now think about the times when you experience the dreaded FOMO, or fear of missing out. These days, you are likely feeling it when you look on facebook, and you see people who aren’t quite your friends out having a good time. You are seeing pictures of a party, photos of smiles and laughs, videos of dancing or a fair or a fun time at the park.
This is community loneliness. You miss a particular group of people. You may not want to be out there with the rest of the world, but you want to be with these people.
A while back, I went to a party of people in a small community I belong to. It was many hours away from me, but I attended with a partner, and we had a good time because we could more freely be ourselves when we were there.
The party went well enough that another was planned to occur just one month later!
Unfortunately, because I cannot take my partner, because I’m busy that weekend, and because of the distance, there’s no way I can attend.
My immediate reaction was that I didn’t want even to see updates from the party. I didn’t want to see pictures, posts, or hear funny stories about what happened. I had full on FOMO and shunned these updates because they would give me a sense of community loneliness.
I feel the same when I miss a monthly polyamory meetup in Baltimore. Baltimore is a very happening kind of place. You can literally do anything you can imagine with at least ten other people into your particular tastes.
But I really like this one group and have several friends that I only meet when going there. So, when I miss it because of work or other engagements, I feel this little pull inside me. It’s not the intense form of FOMO we usually think of, but a softer, gentler sense of having missed connections.
Que the theme to the TV show Cheers.
People Aren’t Puppets
Third, consider that your partners do not exist to cure your loneliness, nor are you theirs.
When we are happy with a special someone in our life, we forget that there ever was a thing called loneliness. And sometimes, this turns into a drug that can manifest itself in many ways.
For the monogamous, this often manifests itself as codependence. For the polyamorous, it can also form codependence, especially in a cohabitating relationship.
And when the person pulls away, we feel affronted by their actions. We take their lack of presence as an attack on us. We might say to them, “You are making me feel lonely!”
But loneliness is an entirely internally generated emotion. Nobody makes you feel lonely. You must sometimes feel inherently lonely because that’s what real people think about at points in their life. It is unavoidable.
A mistake people can make in monogamy when they feel this way is to start becoming connected to other people in unhealthy ways. We form emotional and physical connections with people, not because we care, but because we don’t want to be lonely.
Unhealthy validation seeking can manifest itself as sexual addiction. If we are in a closed relationship, this can cause us to hide this outlet and start lying. Lying is cheating, even if it fulfills our needs and makes us feel better, be it the more familiar physical or what we call “emotional cheating.”
Rather than confronting our own emotions honestly, or discussing them with our partners, we turn to others to replace what we think the other person is denying us.
And when the rush of NRE (new relationship energy) fills us, it’s tough to feel lonely when talking to or being with the new person.
It’s not a stretch then to see how this plays out in polyamory. The partner count starts going up, the length of relationships starts going down, and we become NRE junkies.
This is all a result of not being able to face your own emotions and own them.
Of course, you don’t have to like loneliness, but it is up to you to solve it if that’s what you want to do. And to do that, you need to find what works for you.
Is it ok to solve this with some Netflix and Chill? It sure is! I love nothing more than finding someone who wants a beautiful, romantic night when I want that as well, get together, snuggle up, and have some passionate sex, followed by a great night sleep in each other’s arms.
And then I’m ok if that just becomes a semi-regular thing.
Is it ok to solve this by having a list of partners you run through desperately seeking one good hour a day while you sit around crying the other 23? I would venture a “probably not.”
The key is to find a balance for all of your other needs, and not keep going to the well trying to solve it through one need.
As a male, I’ve learned that vagina is a quite wonderful cure for the blues. But I’ve also learned as a man, that seeking a little control and self-sufficiency has more long-term benefits to my mental health.
That’s what introduced me to writing. I get to dig deep within myself, explore my innermost feelings and thoughts, and share those through something that gives me a sense of community.
Start Low, Aim High
I would say that the best approach for your mental health is to start low and work your way up.
This approach is a bottom up method for building a balanced life with just the right amounts of happiness, excitement, sadness, and loneliness.
Absorb The World
Start with exploring an interest passively. In other words, watching Netflix as your first go-to when you are lonely is a good thing.
If that isn’t working, move up to an active interest, like taking a walk in the woods, visiting a museum, or going to an event alone.
We need to absorb the world around us, let our ego slide away, and just take things in and learn.
Create Your Own World
From there, move up to an active hobby, like writing relationship articles for people who are feeling lonely. This is how people find that they love cooking, painting, sewing, dancing, etc. And these things are translatable into relationship skills. If you discover that you enjoy cooking, you can cook for a partner. If you find you love sewing, you can make them gifts.
It is at this level that you become an “interesting person.” I freely tell new dates that I’m a writer. I’ve been told that this seems like bragging and that I am using my writing to get laid.
But let me ask you this. If you made terrific French pastries, and you met someone who devoured them and genuinely complimented you on your creative skills, wouldn’t you want that as well?
So yes, I say I’m a writer. And if someone likes my writing, I’m more turned on by them. And we have something to talk about. Has my writing ever gotten me laid? Of course, it has!
Find the thing that makes YOU an exciting person to others. I’ve met people who love writing music and playing instruments. Don’t begrudge yourself a way of connecting to others on emotional and creative levels because those sometimes translate into sex.
I don’t write to get laid, and I doubt you make beautiful dresses to get laid. That what you do is appreciated and connects you to people just adds a cherry on top of who you are.
And that’s what makes this a great way to cure your loneliness because of the benefits of that will come later when you are searching for something to talk about on a first date.
Interact With Others
Next, once you have moved up from an active hobby, step up to an active community. Put yourself out there.
I’m a big believer in MeetUp.com. This site helps communities form around interests. I often tell people that this is the best way to meet other polyamorous people in their areas, even if in remote rural areas.
The interests of this site are divergent and can get you out and interested in new things. You can make new friends, and you might even find your soulmate on a hiking trail!
Friends And Lovers
If you are still feeling lonely, you just might need to get laid. Let’s break the stigma on this because I am a physical touch person (See: The Five Love Languages).
I can write all the books and articles in the world, watch every Netflix documentary, and go to every mingling party in the world. But without physical touch and affection, I’m always going to have a big, giant, gaping hole of loneliness inside me.
This is quite unconventional, but I’ll seek sex before I attempt a relationship. I like sharing intimacy with lovers, and seeing where that leads.
I used to be one of those “love before sex” types because ultimately I want to share more with a person than just a bed. But I found that the time spent building that relationship first left me feeling unappreciated and unwanted.
When I reversed this forumla and became comfortable with being an Ethical Slut, I found that I could better deal with the emotional connection when I could focus on where that needed to be without confusing in the feelings of wanting sex.
There’s another reason to reverse the formula for polyamorous people.
Relationships take a hell of a lot of energy to build. And the mistake, and I will call it a mistake, is that so many polyamorous people want everyone to be a full-on relationship. It might be pride, it might be telling oneself an emotional lie, or it might be miscommunication.
But those eight people you are seeing are probably not considering you a full-time partner. I’m not saying that eight people can’t be in a relationship with one person. I’m just saying it’s probably bullshit 9 out of 10 times.
See if you can just be friends first. See if you can have a good friendship, and add sex in if that’s ok with you. You don’t have to “partner up” everyone. You might just need a smaller relationship with someone.
In other words, stop asking everyone to marry you or be your partner forever and ever. Take a page from Relationship Anarchists, and just fuck your friend. Seek a new partner or more intimacy from an existing friend, and see where your emotions are.
If you can’t tell already, the guide here is to take baby steps. And I’m telling you that you have permission to a little NSA (no strings attached) sex now and again without having to commit your heart and home to another person for the next 5 years.
For me, sex and friends go hand in hand, but sex is a definite step up from friendship. So feel free to split this in two. No, you don’t have to sleep with all your friends, but there’s nothing wrong with it if you do so that you can share some physical intimacy with someone who is safe and trustworthy.
Build Relationships That Matter
If you still find you are lonely with doing all of that, then yes, you might actually want another full-time relationship to build with someone. I write about how to form these in nearly every other article and book I write, so I’ll leave this here.
Waiting until the end to build relationships means that you will put fewer of your needs on your long term partners, be an interesting partner (read as: you actually have a life of your own), and only enter into relationships that really matter.
I know several monogamous people who jump from boyfriend, to boyfriend, to boyfriend, to boyfriend. They are always talking about taking time for themselves, and then dive in head first being all about that other person.
And they wonder why their relationships are low quality, devoid of real emotions and connection, and flame out quickly.
The reason is simple. They are trying to build a top down life, starting with what they think is their most critical need, a partner.
Building from the bottom up until you find a balance of time for yourself, community, friends, and partners is usually the best approach.
If you follow this example, you’ll actually minimize your partners to the ones most worthy of that status with you, and you’ll be a hell of an interesting person to boot.
If you do the opposite, aka what people usually do, you’ll end up in many full relationships that aren’t as worthy, and you’ll have little time for friends, and no time for yourself.
Choose yourself first, then friends, then partners, not the other way around.
What that ends up looking like, usually, is someone who has no more than three partners, a tiny circle of good friends, a couple communities of casual friends, and a handful of personal interests they can do with others or alone. They also squeeze in time for some guilty pleasures, like popcorn and Marvel shows.
It creates a natural looking tree that is balanced heavily towards self-care first.
And does that cure loneliness?
You will still have periods of loneliness, but you will also have a balanced life that ebbs and flows through good times and bad times. This will not cure loneliness nor depression.
But what it will do is give you a vast support network and tools for handling your emotions.
Your life will start looking more like a healthy, active stream with rocks and waterfalls and small pools for fish. The alternative is a stagnant pond with alligators and leeches.
One acknowledges loneliness and balances it with a healthy lifestyle. The other builds up walls out of fear of loneliness and invites predators and diseased thinking.
Polyamory can be lonely. Loneliness is a human quality we must all experience. You should not seek to use polyamory to cure your loneliness anymore than monogamists should marry someone to avoid being alone.
Court your lovers, not disaster.