Research has found that loneliness is associated with mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, and physical conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease. However, often when people feel lonely, they are unable to see and embrace the love that is actually present in their lives. Yes, I understand, friend and family love is not the same as intimate love. But when we discount the presence of love that does exist, we rob ourselves of its comfort.
Don’t let loneliness cloud judgment.
Despite wanting the perfect relationship, time after time we can find ourselves choosing the wrong person. We fall into the trap of the charmer or the ladies’ man, flattered by the attention and convincing ourselves that we’re the one they’ll settle down with. In turn, we become frustrated as we try to adjust ourselves, or force them to change, in order for the relationship to work.
We pick the person who “looks good on paper,” but we don’t have the chemistry or emotional connection that we need. We pick the person who’s not bringing that much to the table, leaving us to pick up the slack, because being next to a warm body beats being alone.
Then there can be the pressure of the biological clock if we want to have children, which can lead us to make additional sacrifices and concessions in our selection of a mate.
We play mind games with ourselves, exaggerating the positives and minimizing the negatives in order to rationalize the dubious choices that we make. Having a partner can be seen as a badge of honor, and when we don’t have one, well, we’ve lost. All the while we are trying to meet the pressure-filled expectations of what we believe our lives are supposed to look like.
What to consider before getting into a new relationship.
When you are looking for a relationship, it is important to take the time to really get to know yourself, your strengths, your vulnerabilities, and behavioral patterns—and a therapist can help with this. This crucial first step, which often comes after a significant period of self-reflection while not in a relationship, helps you to be able to see yourself more clearly.
While doing this, also take a look at the things that are present (or not present) in your life that positively affirm who you are. It could be spending time with friends, going to church, taking walks, volunteering, or participating in hobbies. When you’re single, claim your time to pour into yourself and develop your own interests. This is your chance to do you! It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that a partner will complete your life and bring you joy. But what are you doing, or could you be doing, on your own to foster your expansive wholeness?
3 questions to ask yourself:
- What aspects of myself do I feel good about?
- What parts of my life fill me up?
- How are the effects of historical or direct trauma showing up in me?
Question 1 will help you to identify your positive attributes or strengths.
Question 2 will uncover the spaces in which you feel enriched.
Question 3 will help you to identify your vulnerabilities or hot spots. By identifying these hot spots, which are rooted in past trauma, you are able to see when trauma shows up in the present.
Once you’ve done the self-work, consider what you want in a partner.
After you’ve done some self-work, think about what you want in a relationship. You should do this before you’ve even met someone in order to prevent your memory from becoming fuzzy when you meet someone who’s really “fine” but isn’t looking for the same things in a relationship that you are.
Whether you want just sex, casual dating, an exclusive or open companionship, or marriage, identify it. Then list the characteristics that are most important to you in a person.
Some common things that people name are spiritual, attractive, and no baby momma drama. Or intelligent, comes from a good family, is successful and ambitious, has a sense of humor, and likes to travel.
Don’t forget the red flags, or deal breakers, which might be things like substance use, doesn’t take care of his kids, or is in another relationship. When considering partners, always ask yourself what, if any, of your red flags are present.
Engage in this process early, before becoming attached to someone, which makes it more difficult to walk away.
Adapted excerpt from Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen: The Emotional Lives of Black Women by Inger Burnett-Zeigler.