A Different Kind of Lonely

Holiday time. Crowds of people milling about – yes, even in 2020, when it’s not the smartest thing to do. Some folks still holding or planning to hold dinners for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and any other holiday they may be celebrating as 2020 ends and we come to 2021 – in just over a month!

It’s a time when my friends usually invite me to their celebrations, and I always appreciate their caring about me. But I often don’t want to go – even in safe times.

The idea that I must be lonely because I live alone is one that they often voice, even though I know we all enjoy each other’s company. But even after all these years, some still don’t quite believe that a woman living on her own can be quite content, and rarely lonely, at least not any lonelier than she might have been in relationships.

Been there. Done that. Twice.

And I was lonelier in each marriage than I have been the last 25 years on my own.

For some, that’ll be hard to believe. For others? I’ll bet I’m not the only one.

There were issues in both marriages, and much of my loneliness in each was due to my expectations … I know I thought we were more aligned than we proved to be, and that was hard to deal with. Not accusing my husbands or myself in each marriage, because each of us played a part.

But I was terribly lonely throughout most of those years. It seemed as though I was always playing a part on a stage, one that just didn’t fit.

Daughter. Wife. Mother. All good roles, but that’s what they were. Labels that just didn’t quite fit. There was always something missing, something I couldn’t have articulated if my life had depended on it.

Whoever Susan really was meant to be stayed hidden, just out of reach.

The second divorce came in 1999. I had been working internationally as a seminar leader for five years, and that killed the marriage. Can’t argue with that; he never imagined I wouldn’t be there 24/7 to take care of his needs. Actually, neither did I.

But the woman I wanted to be started showing up during those years, as I realized what I could do on my own. Although I was terrified at the first trip away from home (in the U.S. in the first few months), I managed to get most things done right. And I learned that I could handle a few tough things – all on my own.

I could travel around the world and lead 200-person workshops that largely brought glowing reviews from the attendees.

When a meeting hall hadn’t been booked (OOPS!) in Malaysia, something I didn’t know until I got there at 7:30 a.m., I coped. Materials obviously hadn’t been sent from the home office, so I had to cancel the workshop for 300+ attendees. Wasn’t easy. Wasn’t fun for anyone. Lots of angry folks who expected something quite different.

I could and did decide immediately that of course I would stay a little longer in Australia and fly from Melbourne to Perth and then to Paraburdoo and do a seminar that the company had just booked. I had NO idea that one trip would make my whole year in terms of happiness! (For those who are curious: International Trips See the picture of the “sperm suit” I wore there.)

My support staff never showed up at a workshop in Hong Kong, but I was able to find a couple of folks who volunteered to check the other attendees in for me. And afterwards, I was able to get their workshop fee canceled.

Thanks to the many adventures I had during those years – remember, this was long before cell phones here (1995-1999) – I began to realize I could make it on my own. Not just manage, but thrive. And suddenly I really wanted to.

I finally felt as though my skin fit me. I finally felt like I knew who I was. I finally felt like a whole person. Not perfect, but ME.

So does lonely still happen? Sure. I’m human.

But it’s a cleaner kind of feeling, one that simply goes with the territory. It’s still often about expectations, but they’re usually ones I put on myself, not anyone else.

All in all, I know who I am. I like who I am. I like who I’ve become. I love the way I’m living, making my own decisions, holding myself accountable when I need to. Cutting myself some slack occasionally, too.

I’m living, growing, learning, loving – and enjoying nearly every minute of the time I have while I have it.

So, I’ll just head back to my Kindle and continue reading a so-so mystery, have a glass (or two) of wine, hug my dogs, and thoroughly love this life I’ve been lucky enough to have.


Susan Rooks
Susan Rooks
With nearly 30 years’ experience as an international workshop leader, Susan Rooks is uniquely positioned to help people master the communication skills they need to succeed. In 1995, Susan formed Grammar Goddess Communication, creating and leading workshops in three main areas – American grammar, business writing, and interpersonal skills – to help business pros enhance their communication skills. She also leads one-hour LinkedIn workshops (Master the LinkedIn Profile Basics) via Zoom to help business pros anywhere maximize their LinkedIn experience, offering it to Chambers of Commerce and other civic organizations free of charge. As an editor, Susan has worked on business blogs, award-winning children’s books, best-selling business books, website content, and even corporate annual reports (with clients from half a dozen countries), ensuring that all material is professionally presented.

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    • Thanks so much, Larry! I am grateful to be exactly where I am; it suits me completely, and I hope it does for many years to come. Good to know you’re also in the same “boat,” loving where and how you live now as well.

  1. This was a very touching piece, Susan, I felt it resonate. However, I also resonated with Aldo’s “by truly learning to feel good in an autonomous and independent way, we open ourselves to others and open ourselves to the possibility – and to the concrete opportunity – of being happy with others too.”
    I feel grateful that I have been able to work on this within my relationship – and for my husband having room for that there could be more than one loveable version of me he wants to relate to. To me, that is the essence of what love is: Helping each other grow into our potentials, respectively. Or, if that is too big an ask, at least not stand in the way but be curious about and make room for its unfolding.
    I am sorry for your husband that he didn’t have the time and patience for seeing you unfold. He missed out on a lot. But his loss, your gain.

    • Charlotte, it’s wonderful to know that you and your husband are working towards the same goals. That’s something I didn’t have in either marriage … not their fault any more than it was mine. Each time we just didn’t make the right choice. And because being coupled is such an expectation for most of us, being single never seemed like something I could or should do. It’s wonderful to realize my strengths and challenges, and to see more clearly who I am and who I am not.

      Thanks for such a wonderful comment!

    • Thanks, Lynn! I wouldn’t trade my life now for anything, even though I know I made some so-so decisions during the former years. But they led me here, and I am truly content.

  2. Glad to hear that you have found a way to live a truly full life alone.
    Being with others, particularly in pairs, and feeling alone is typical of dysfunctional and dependent relationships. For this it is really useful to find out how to be happy alone. In order to be happy with others. Also.
    The issue is that it is useful to reach the awareness that, by truly learning to feel good in an autonomous and independent way, we open ourselves to others and open ourselves to the possibility – and to the concrete opportunity – of being happy with others too.

    • And that’s probably a large part of my history, Aldo — not feeling right in my own skin, so being paired up with men who didn’t fit with me (and vice versa) was probably inevitable.

    • Wow, coming from you, Darlene! Thank you!

      I’ve just always been the kind of person — even as a kid before the 1950s sensibilities and my adoptive mother smothered me — who leaped first, then looked. My inner self wanted to rebel in my early years, but life just didn’t let it happen. Thank goodness we do grow into adults, and if we’re really lucky, we get a say, a voice, about how we’re going to live. Better late than never, right?

  3. Goodnes me, Susan! You really do have a story to tell and ultimately you found you were comfortable in your own skin. There is so much folk can learn from the graphic descriptions of your life to date. And indeed ‘being lonely’ may not be projected to or recognized by others, as you could be engaged in conversations with lots of people, but the inner-self is aware of loneliness.

    Now you have surpassed that time in your life and have in my personal experience, enlightened the lives of others with your engaging personality and wonderful sense of humor.

    I for one value our friendship. Never to be taken for granted.

    Simon Lever (From across The Pond)
    Championing positivity, empathy and kindness

    • Yes, Simon, life has been fascinating for sure! But you know what? I’m certain we ALL have stories to tell — those of us who grew up maybe 50 years or so ago … life was very different back then. It continues to change. The miracle is that we’re still here, still making a difference, still living vibrant lives, still thriving.

      We may have many decades of live already lived, but from I can see, a whole lot of us don’t plan to stop just because of that!

      Thank you, my friend, for your gifts and your friendship.