Everybody feels lonely at times, even in a relationship.
But what if you are really just with someone because you are trying to escape a deeper feeling of loneliness? How would you know?
Check out these red flags to see if this fits you, or someone in your life, and read on till the end for some helpful suggestions on what to do next.
1) You’re afraid to be single
Does the thought of being single frighten you? Making you cling onto any person or connection, regardless of genuine depth?
Perhaps you’ve just got out of a long term relationship and you can’t face being single, so you seek out anyone just to fill the ex-shaped hole in your life
Being single can be scary but it can also be very rewarding.
Being in a relationship can cause us to lose friends and become more lonely, according to research by Professor Robin Dunbar, of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University.
Professor Dunbar and his colleagues found that both men and women were equally likely to lose an average of two friends from being in a relationship, and that having less (quality) relationships with friends leads to lower levels of wellbeing.
2) Spending time with them makes you feel good, temporarily…
You find short term solace in the company of your partner, but deep down, an enduring sense of loneliness persists. Maybe you don’t feel truly heard or understood by them, or you really don’t have much that binds you.
Perhaps your emotional bond lacks a sense of depth, leaving you yearning for a more profound connection. Or your conversations feel as though your goal is more about filling the silence rather than truly connecting and sharing meaningful experiences.
Do you find yourself feeling good while you watch Netflix or a movie together?
But then a sinking bored and lonely feeling returning in the breaks between shows or the silence at dinner?
Here’s why: It’s like consuming empty calories found in candy, a short-term high followed by a crash.
This is a major red flag that this person probably isn’t for you.
3) You’re settling for less
If you feel bored or unstimulated in a relationship, with fleeting amounts of comfort and a lack of depth, it might be because you compromised on your values and desires.
Do you have the feeling that you are accepting a less than ideal connection because it feels better than being alone?
Obviously there is a balance here, since no one is perfect, and expecting someone to live up to all your ideals is another path to loneliness. But there should be a feeling of genuine connection between you.
4) Fantasizing about an idealized relationship
If you are settling for less you might also start to do this:
Daydreaming about finding the perfect partner who will miraculously erase your feelings of loneliness and bring eternal happiness.
This can also show up in the form of idealizing someone you know, or perhaps an actor, singer, or other celebrity.
When I felt most alone, (because I was stuck in an abusive relationship), I became obsessed with Aragorn from Lord of The Rings (yes, a fictional character!) and also the actor who played him in the movie.
I would think about him and the actor every day, imagining how great my life would be if only we could meet.
As soon as I was out of the relationship, while I still found (and still do find!) Aragorn to be dreamy, he ceased to occupy my mind and thoughts.
5) You don’t feel that you can really be yourself
Another red flag that tells you you are settling for less, is if you realize that you keep your true self hidden around your lover.
This is because you change your identity to match your partner’s expectations, scared that revealing your authentic self may lead to rejection and isolation.
And in turn, by keeping your true self hidden, your feelings of loneliness increase, leading to a downward spiral which can make you feel more dependent on your partner.
6) You avoid self reflection
Maybe you haven’t even considered before that you don’t feel authentically you.
This can be because instead of focusing on personal growth and self-discovery, you seek distraction within the relationship to evade confronting your inner void.
You push down unpleasant feelings and thoughts by either being with your partner, or staying constantly busy.
Instead of seeing moments of solitude and self-reflection as opportunities, you feel discomfort and unease when you’re left alone with your thoughts.
You might also notice that you fill your time with social activities and events, or music, TV and films, to avoid facing the emptiness within.
You use these things as a shield against loneliness and to stop you from having time to consider the real truth about your relationship.
7) You ignore the warning signs about your partner
Worse still, you may find that you ignore red flags about the person you are with, overlooking incompatibilities, and dismissing danger signs. All because the fear of loneliness outweighs the importance of finding genuine compatibility.
This can lead to you walking on eggshells to avoid doing or saying something that you feel will trigger an argument or doing something that your partner doesn’t like. This in turn leads to anxiety and even depression.
You may also find that you consistently prioritize the relationship over your personal goals, dreams, and aspirations.
Simply put, you’re neglecting your own happiness to avoid their anger and rejection, increasing your sense of loneliness.
8) You depend on their opinion of you
If your self-worth hinges on your partner’s presence, and their absence amplifies feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, it can be a sign that the relationship is simply there to distract you, and that you are seeking validation through them.
If your partner doesn’t give you constant reassurance, you start to feel worthless.
You may resort to eating disorders, excessive exercise or cosmetic surgery to feel better about yourself and more in control of your life.
The problem with this is that it doesn’t address the root cause of loneliness.
How to change things up if you recognize these 8 red flags
It’s normal to feel lonely at times, and it’s also natural to seek a partner to share life’s joys with.
Connection and the desire for it, is a part of the human condition. However, if you find that you resonate with these red flags, it may be time to rethink your relationship.
Though loneliness can be painful, it can also be an amazing tool for self growth.
For instance, like many people, I spent a lot of time alone in the pandemic. But I used the time to reevaluate my life and what things gave me meaning.
So, I was able to come out feeling much stronger and with a renewed sense of life purpose, and a new set of life skills.
As New York Times bestselling author Mandy Hale says: “A season of loneliness and isolation is when the caterpillar gets its wings. Remember that next time you feel alone.”
If you feel that you are only in a relationship because you are lonely, consider all the new things that you could try and do:
- Sign up to a new class
- Get involved in a community project or volunteering
- Go to a place you’ve never been to stimulate your mind
- Connect to people with similar interests or hobbies, in person or even online
- Deepen your bonds with good friends
These things might seem difficult if they require you to step out of your comfort zone, but they can change your life for the better.
Science has shown that doing things for other people increases feelings of wellbeing, so volunteering with people or animals, or taking care of a pet (or even a plant!) can be a great way to kickstart your journey to wellness.
What if I can’t do those things right now?
If you aren’t able to make human contact in person for a while, try flipping the script and see your time alone as welcome solitude rather than loneliness.
In solitude, we can achieve so many things that we may have only dreamt of, such as:
- Mastering an instrument
- Immersing ourselves in the world of literature
- Spending time in nature with animals or plants
- Learning to be with ourselves and have personal adventures
- Connecting to and understanding our inner wisdom
If you really want to make the changes but don’t feel able to right now, don’t worry, you are not alone!
Consider contacting a counselor, therapist or coach, or even an online/in person support group or subreddit to find like-minded or caring people, to accompany you on the journey.
Related article: 7 signs you’re in love with someone you can’t have