“I’m fine, just tired”: 5 phrases that subtly hint at loneliness

Loneliness is a human condition few of us have managed to avoid. Many a poet throughout history has penned words centered on loneliness. Mystics have meditated on it, sometimes referring to a period of loneliness as a “dark night of the soul.”

We all go through periods in our lives that are plagued by loneliness. No one is spared—not even the stars.  

In the past, even Beyoncè has shared how lonely she felt when her girls’ band, Destiny’s Child, broke up back in 2006. 

“I stayed in my room,” she told CBS in an interview. “I was in a bad place in life, going through that lonely period: ‘Who am I? Who are my friends?’ My life changed.”

Some of your friends and family might be going through their own periods of loneliness and you may not even realize it. 

Here are five phrases they might use that can be very telling when it comes to experiencing loneliness. You might even catch yourself saying them. 

1) “I’m bored.”

Loneliness and boredom are two different things but a lonely person can certainly feel bored because they lack social connections and the pursuit of anything purposeful.  

So if a friend or loved one tells you that they’re bored, it could be an indirect request for you to suggest something you can do together that would distract them from their loneliness and help them feel better.

Boredom, loneliness, and emptiness are “the triad of troubling emotions in the modern age,” says Richard Nicastro, PhD.

“In loneliness, a lack of connection to oneself or a meaningful other may be the cause of distress.”

Boredom ensues when there is a lack of stimulation or interest or meaningful goals. “If left unchecked, these feelings can interfere with relationships and erode self-esteem,” adds Nicastro. 

2) “Are you doing anything today?”

Similar to the above, “Are you doing anything today?” can often be an indirect way asking you to spend time with them as a way to help alleviate some of their loneliness—especially if it’s a question that is asked regularly. 

Some similar phrases to this effect include: “I can tag along if you want” and “I was just in the neighborhood and wanted to stop by and see you.”

Again, these phrases point to loneliness if they are asked kind of repeatedly. 

If the other person apologizes and says they can’t hang out with them that day, the ensuing response from the lonely person can be a downtrodden reply like: “It’s okay. I had a hunch you’d be busy.”

3) “I just want to be on my own right now.”

Paradoxically, lonely people can also be prone to pushing others away as well.

A couple of years ago, I interviewed Indian actor Priyanka Chopra Jonas when she was about to release her memoir entitled, Unfinished. 

Chopra Jonas talked about how, when her father passed away from cancer some years before, her modus operandi was to throw herself into her work so that she wouldn’t have to face the debilitating grief.

A few years later, she was wrapping up her show Quantico. Around the same time, a romantic relationship also came to an end (this was before she met husband Nick Jonas). 

The two situations instigated a depression and loneliness that made her realize that she hadn’t faced her father’s passing. 

“I thought I had moved past it,” she told me during our interview in 2021. She said work was her salvation and that when she wasn’t on set or on location, she was mostly alone. She didn’t go out with friends despite the fact that they reached out to her regularly to help get her out of her shell. 

“I would eat alone, watch TV alone, I got very little sleep, and I put on about 20 pounds,” she wrote in her memoir. She did this for about three years and called the period “a never-ending slump, a long sigh of sadness, and a sort of pause on life.”

4) “I’m feeling a bit blue.”

life is boring say goodbye behaviors "I'm fine, just tired": 5 phrases that subtly hint at loneliness

Loneliness is often coupled with feeling sad or down. 

This one can be code for “I’m depressed,” or “I’m really down in the dumps.”

While it’s normal to feel sad from time to time, people who are lonely and feeling down might have a tendency to minimize their emotions so that they don’t make other people feel uncomfortable. 

This phrase doesn’t necessarily mean they are indirectly asking you to spend time with them (although this can also be the case), rather it can be that they are simply stating how they feel.

The fact that they are voicing their emotions means that they’re reaching out and want their feelings to be validated

5) “People are never there when you need them.”

This one is tinged with resentment and it can be a cry for help. 

People who say this phrase are not only lonely, but they also feel let down by those close to them. 

It could be that their expectations of people are too high and this is why this statement often yields the opposite reaction of what they want. 

Loneliness can be expressed in anger or bitterness which often ends up resulting in others pulling away from them, says Karyn Hall, PhD

“They may make negative statements and start to blame others if someone criticizes them,” she says. 

At the end of the day, the “cure” for loneliness has to come from us. Of course, we can reach out to others for support, but we also can’t expect them to drop their lives and come on demand either. 

Loneliness has nothing to do with how many friends you have or don’t have 

Loneliness is a state of mind. It’s how you feel inside. 

“Some people who feel lonely may rarely interact with people and others are surrounded by people, but don’t feel connected,” says Hall. “In general, those who feel lonely actually spend no more time alone than do those who feel more connected.”

Loneliness can make people feel empty, alone, and unwanted. People who are lonely crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it more difficult for them to form meaningful connections with others.

Hall emphasizes that feeling lonely doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t have any social skills, but feeling lonely can make people less likely or able to use the skills they have, says Hall. 

“People who feel lonely are likely to perceive themselves as doing all they can to make friends and to feel like they belong and believe that no is responding,” she says. 

Sometimes people who are lonely have difficulty because they have a low self-concept. Shame about who they are can hinder them from making connections with others. 

Take loneliness as a sign to try something different 

image 11.22 3 "I'm fine, just tired": 5 phrases that subtly hint at loneliness

Maybe see your loneliness as a positive nudge and motivation to do something purposeful. Figure out what you are passionate about and start taking steps towards that. You’ll also meet people who are like-minded and who can become lasting friends. 

Travel is also a fantastic way to shake things up, not focus on being lonely, and to meet new and different people. 

I remember my brother telling me that his first trip to India was eye-opening. He saw so many homeless people and many approached him for any change that he could spare. He said the trip made him look at his own life differently and how we can often get in our own way in life.

Of course, if you feel your loneliness is tied to depression or anxiety, then seeing a licensed therapist is the best way to get help. 

If you’re not the one who’s lonely but you know someone who is…

If someone in your life is lonely, therapist Patricia Morgan from Solutions for Resilience says there are a number of things you can do to support them. 

  • Affirm their reality: remind them that they aren’t alone and that you too have had periods of loneliness in your life. 
  • When you feel the moment is right, gently ask them if they are lonely. While we might think this is strange, Morgan says asking can provide a sense of relief to accepting the reality of loneliness which can lead to a desire to change things.
  • Invite them to join one of your groups, clubs, classes, or events, or even a volunteer cause that you do. Morgan says a “helper’s high” can work wonders on loneliness.
  • Invite them to go for a walk or a cup of coffee.
  • Call, text, FaceTime, or Zoom with them. 
  • Refer to them as your friend. Saying something simple like “It was wonderful seeing you, my friend” can be so meaningful to them. 

As one Reddit user so eloquently puts it: the idea that loneliness is a bad thing is merely a social construct. That doesn’t mean it’s true. 

One of the greatest benefits of spending time alone is that it can help you develop a better understanding of who you are, says the team at the Jed Foundation

“The better you know yourself, the more likely you are to do things you love, learn things that interest you, and spend time with people who make you feel good.”

The loneliness will recede when you learn to like living with yourself. 




Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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