August 24, 2018
One worry I heard many times when I told people about my intentions to move abroad was about being alone and consequently being lonely, so I want to address that for others who are considering cutting ties and setting off to places unknown. Even if you have a partner or kids with you, loneliness can strike without proper preparation.
Alone Versus Lonely
There’s a huge difference between being alone and being lonely. Alone is a perfectly natural state and can be quite enjoyable. I’ve become used to my restorative solitariness, and I look forward to my quiet times of reflection. There’s something empowering about going to do and see exactly what I want, when I want, and if I’m faced with a difficult task, solving it all by myself is incredible!
Loneliness, however, is an insidious beast that can creep in when I’m not looking or avalanche me in a tidal wave of grief. The triggers are many—seeing something that reminds me of a distant loved one, hearing sad news and having no one to turn to right then, or an approaching holiday or event for which I have no plans. It’s at times like these I feel hopeless, insignificant, and ready to cry, so I’ve learned to have a coping strategy. I want to share it with you.
The key to avoiding loneliness is a sense of community, and it’s especially important to establish well prior to that first triggering episode. Expatriating to New Zealand created a massive rent in my community, tearing me away from all my connections, friends, and family. Being able to call, text, video chat, social media contact, and email them helps immensely, but it’s not the same as seeing them in person. Nothing can replace in-person human connection.
So, I need to be social, which is always hard. Making new friends takes time, and not everyone I engage with is going to work out as a friend. I’ve been fortunate this time because of Twitter. My virtual friends on there know people here, and they’ve introduced me to them, for which I’m immensely grateful. I’ve also made the rounds at work, speaking to people individually, inviting people to join me for coffee or lunch, and participating in any group activities that have been offered. And I’ve taken a deep dive into Meetup to find local groups that share my interests.
It’s important to accept all invitations, even when I’m tired or feel uninterested, as it’s not about the activity. It’s about the connection. I’ve been to coffee, lunch, and dinner. I’ve been to the movies and out to the pub. I’ve watched rugby matches, participated in trivia quiz nights, and gone for hikes, and I’ve even gone to a knitting group.
When I’m out by myself, I interact with the people I meet, commenting on something that we’re both experiencing, whatever that may be. I ask questions and gather information about other fun adventures that might be nearby. And I try new things, especially new foods, but also anything that catches my eye—like hop on/off bus tours or interesting buildings that seem open to go inside for a look.
I’m not naïve, and I know that first hit of loneliness will come. Perhaps it will be a calendar date that sets me adrift, maybe it will be nostalgia over a left behind friend. Whatever the cause, I’ll have a better chance of coming through it quickly because of the investments I’ve made in my network of community today.
To all you would be adventurers, it’s going to be fine. Just go forth and be social! 🙂
Read all of the Kiwi Diary entries on my website, Deborah Munro, Author.com.