This Is How You Love a Lonely Person
Spoiler alert: love is action.
Back when I was in high school, I saw Anna and the King in the theater. When I returned home, I jotted down a note to myself that said,
Love in its purest form is a choice.
I have held onto that thought for more than 20 years; I have never doubted it. Through those same years, I have also struggled with heartbreaking loneliness.
Yet, once I became the single mom of a young daughter, I knew I had to put my love into action. Regardless of my personal feelings of loneliness or the depth of my struggle with isolation, my daughter needed me--and still needs me--to choose her first.
As such, I’ve had to recall that love is not only a choice, but love is action. A repeated choice, and repeated action. There’s a reason why we say good love doesn’t come easy.
It takes work.
For the most part, we know this. Most of us probably do know what love is on its most basic level. But we still wring our hands when it comes to loving the lonely. As if it’s so mysterious.
Neighbors, old friends, estranged relatives, jaded coworkers, and complete strangers--loneliness is all around us. And we know that it’s an epidemic. That it kills. We know that loneliness is the antithesis to love and life, yet we still get stuck.
“Oh, that’s so sad,” we think, whenever the loneliness of another crosses our path. We can even feel their pain. But all of the empathetic thoughts in the world do absolutely nothing.
Well-meaning thoughts and even love is useless if we take no action. We have to make a decision to make a difference.
Find out what they need.
It’s no mystery--lonely people are lonely for a reason. There is typically something standing in the way of their reaching out to make new friends or finding the strong support system they need. Fear, great loss, a change in circumstances… Ask them about their life and try to find out when the loneliness first took hold. Look for what’s missing now.
Help fill their needs.
What needs do they have that your own support system would fill for you? Do they lack transportation? Invite them into your life and offer rides. Do they need help around the house? Someone to simply listen? Enlist the help of your own friends and family as needed. The hardest thing about helping lonely people is simply that it takes time and effort and choice.
Obviously, lonely people need genuine friends. They need to know that people do care. To love a lonely person, you’ve got to befriend them and show them that you mean it. Find out who they really are. It’s so easy to write off outsiders before you even know them. Let yourself be surprised and stop making assumptions about who they might be. Make space for them in your world.
Lonely people often struggle to maintain new connections because they can’t be sure the other person is for real. They’re not often used to having someone on their side and may easily slip back into reclusive habits when you stop making an effort. Make a note on your calendar to check in with them regularly instead of waiting for them to talk to you. Choose to be a constant in their life.
Choose love over convenience.
Loving a lonely person isn’t much different from loving any other family member or friend. You choose to love the people in your circle, and you can choose to expand your circle and love someone new. No, it’s not often going to be convenient. That’s the point. Good love and friendship have never been about what’s easy.
If you have a circle of friends and family who have long been there for you, and have never known deep loneliness, count yourself lucky. If you used to be lonely, give yourself moments to remember just how painful those days were. It helps to keep in mind where this person hasn’t had the same privileges as you.
If you really want to fight the loneliness epidemic all around us, you must first decide that lonely people deserve love too. That we are worthy. You’ve got to take action and love people rather than waiting on someone else to step up in your place.
Fighting an epidemic like loneliness starts with you and me. It starts with empathy and doing whatever it is that we can do--without whining about the cost of love.