By Dr. Terri Orbuch
It’s hard to be single after a long-term relationship or marriage has ended. But during the holidays, when people are celebrating and coming together with their loved ones, being single and lonely feels even worse than usual. Holiday loneliness can quickly turn into depression, grief, and self-loathing. The last thing you feel like doing in this state is dating.
Focusing on loneliness as a problem won’t really help you. It’s much more effective to take small but effective actions and add some positive behaviors to your routine. From a psychological perspective, making small changes relieves the feelings of stagnation and hopelessness that often accompany loneliness.
Based on observations of divorced singles in my long-term study of marriage and divorce, funded by the NIH and ongoing since 1986, here are seven strategies that have been shown to help singles overcome their loneliness–and get back into the dating scene again.
Identify triggers, then avoid them.
It’s normal to reminisce about holidays past, when you and your partner went to Christmas Eve service together or lit the Hanukkah candles. If you’re gripped by loneliness or mourning a lost relationship, do something completely different this year. Don’t go to the same places you went with your ex. Change how you decorate your house. Get rid of mementos that remind you of him or her.
Find a community.
This tip works because when you’re engaged with other people, the ache of loneliness goes away. It’s a bit like keeping your mind busy to stave off hunger. Join a gym that has group exercise or dance classes. Seek the company of friends and family. Invite coworkers out for a drink. Find an organization that interests you and volunteer. Take a class at a local community college. It takes effort, but you’ll instantly feel better.
Flip the negative to neutral.
It’s important to learn strategies that can help you manage your mood and stress level. When you feel lonely, try this. See if you can identify the negative thought in your mind. It’s often something like, “I’m a loser and I feel unattractive. Who’s going to ask me out?” Now consciously restate that thought in a positive way: “I finally have an opportunity to get to know myself and my own interests better.” This is an effective way to change your mood and perspective.
Tune in to your interests.
Perhaps when you were in a relationship, you always wanted to learn golf, but never had the time. Or maybe you wanted to go on that literary tour of Dublin, but your partner wasn’t interested in the least. Being alone gives you time to be selfish in a good way. Pick something that makes you happy and excited–and then write it on your calendar. Guess what? People who are engaged and passionate about something they enjoy are highly attractive to others.
Take baby steps to overcome shyness.
If you were in a long-term relationship that ended, you may feel painfully shy about dating, introducing yourself to strangers, or going to holiday gatherings alone. Shyness makes loneliness worse. As a proactive exercise, practice making small talk to strangers at your local coffee shop. Be a good listener, and when he or she responds to you, ask a question. This is how you start a real conversation and get out of your shell.
Don’t blame yourself.
We all get rejected, and we all feel lonely from time to time. It’s not your fault. When your life isn’t going as you planned, blame the situation, not yourself. Instead of saying, “She didn’t talk to me because I’m not her type,” change it to, “She didn’t talk to me because it was crowded and chaotic at that party.” Loneliness isn’t a disease, and you aren’t a victim. It’s a normal state of mind that you have the power to control.
Test the relationship waters.
Once you feel that you can trust and really care about someone special again, it may be time to take some small steps in the direction of dating again. First, make sure you know what qualities you want in a new partner; jot down 15 specific qualities. Then, join a group activity that meets regularly, ask your friends to fix you up, or dabble in online dating. Look for someone who is similar to you in underlying key life values, such as putting the same importance on religion, or agreeing on how children should be raised. Don’t seek out your opposite.
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Terri Orbuch PhD is a bestselling author, professor, and the director of a landmark, 25-year study of marriage and divorce that’s funded by the NIH. A popular love advisor on TV, radio, and online, she blogs for Huffington Post and Next Avenue, among others, and has a private therapy practice. She is author of a new book, Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship , and a previous book, 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great.
Learn more at http://www.drterrithelovedoctor.com/.