On loneliness and getting over it

And dealing with it. I apologize in advance if this reads too much like a whiny livejournal post–I do think that, at least, loneliness is something universal.

See, this week, there’s a 3-day weekend–which means I don’t have any school on Monday, and also that I’ve got 3 long days to fill up with something, anything, to do. I hate 3-day weekends.

My friend canceled our lunch tomorrow, so now I have no plans for either Sunday or Monday. I don’t even know if I’ll want to get up tomorrow. I will lie in bed tomorrow morning frantically wondering how I can stave off that loneliness just a little bit longer. If there’s anyone I can call, and convince to hang out with me. And yet if I had plans to do something I would be up and about, no problem. That’s unhealthy, surely. It’s got to be. And no friend is going to want to be burdened by that kind of need. I know that perfectly well. But I don’t know how to change myself.

For a long time when I was younger, I didn’t really have any friends–and I was OK with it. I dropped out of high school and started going to college and I was pretty out of place. But I lived with my family, who were very loving, and I had my computer and my books and so on. I wasn’t unhappy. Sure, I was sad sometimes, I was lonely sometimes, but on the whole, I was a pretty happy person.

Now, I’ve got friends, I live half a world away from my family and that quiet bookish house, and I’m a pretty social person, in general. I just went out to the movies last night with 2 friends, and I was planning to hang out with another friend tomorrow. I will have lunch with various people next week and I doubtless could have gone clubbing or out to a bar with someone tonight, had I had the motivation and the money available.

So why do I feel so terrible?

These days, whenever I’m not doing something with someone else, I feel like a worthless human being. I’m not comfortable with myself anymore–me, who used to need nothing more than a book to stay entertained! Now I feel dissatisfied and scared, like I’m going to lose all my friends, if I have just one day without some kind of social engagement. I get desperate and needy and pathetic. I start imagining that all my friends are actually only just putting up with me, see my texts and roll their eyes about it. I start calculating all the times that I ask people to go out and do something, versus the times that they actually ask me to go out and do something, and wonder if I’m just fundamentally unlikeable, or uninteresting.

Man, does everyone feel like this?

I can blame it on a lot of things, like living in a foreign country, far away from my family and support network, or living in a new place in that country (I just moved here 3 months ago), or the fact that one of my few friends (who I also happened to be sleeping with) just lost interest in talking to me one day. Or I could blame it on that old classic, the fact that I don’t have a boyfriend right now, or maybe I could just blame it on the winter weather (although it’s bright and sunny in Tokyo right now.) But I’m afraid it’s something inside of me. Maybe it’s something inside of all of us, to some extent. Maybe I just have to get used to it. Maybe that’s what my mother meant when she said life is hard, and it just gets harder.

So how about the rest of you? Do you feel lonely? How often? And how do you deal with it?

Nothing to apologize for, Tanaqui. It happens to everyone. Loneliness can be crushing. I used to think that anger was far and away, bar none, the most destructive emotion out there. Fifteen years later, I still feel that it’s the worst, but I’ve come to realize that loneliness is a not-too-distant second.

Now thinking about your other threads, I seem to remember that “here” is South Korea, right? Based on what you’ve written, you seem to be undergoing that unique set of emotions that my army buddies and I used to call The Korean Experience, not to be confused with The Soju Experience, which I would heartily recommend against in view of your feelings at the moment. The Korean experience is pretty much how you’ve described your feelings, loneliness, alienation, and a vague sense of being aggravated by something you are unable to define.

You’ve mentioned that you’ve spent time in Japan; by now, you have almost certainly realized that in spite of their proximity to one another, Korea and Japan are different worlds. It can be hard in Korea; believe me, I have spent my share of time there, I speak the language, and goddammit, I have gotten rudely shocked and pissed off at Korea, Koreans, and my own reactions to that weirdly alluring but essentially fucked-up peninsula. The last time I got pissed off, in fact, it cost me my job. That’s OK, I have no real regrets. It was a fucked-up hakwon with fucked-up people running it, and anyway, I missed my wife.

In Korea–especially to a newcomer like you–minor social slights, changes of plans, or arguments can seem quite a bit more severe than they really are, especially if you’re the introspective type. Believe me, it’s not just you. Put that thought right out of your mind. You’re just caught up in circumstances. I’ve read some of your other posts, and you seem decent enough.

Korea, like its Kimchi, is an acquired taste, and everyone goes through some heartache in acquiring it. Still, once you have it, it never really leaves you. I find Korea to be a fascinating place, with wonderful people for the most part. It’s history is incredible; I defy anyone to produce a work of fiction more compelling, complex, and tragic than Korean history. Once you get a bit of insight, its museums and attractions are amazing. And the scenery is beautiful, especially once you get to the countryside.

Now, enough of that. You were asking for advice, and here is mine:

  1. Again, stop blaming yourself. It’s not you. Not by a long shot.
  2. Stay away from drinking alone, at least until you feel better. That way lies trouble. Drink only with friends.
  3. Working out in the mornings before work proved to be a big help. Find a park and walk or jog. Or find a gym.
  4. Learn a bit about your environment. Find someone to teach you the hangul alphabet, and then get a textbook or two. Even if you don’t know the language, knowing the alphabet will help you out quite a bit when getting around.
  5. I know it can be hard to be on your own, but seeing as how you are anyway, why not get to Seoul and go sightseeing. I remember the War Memorial, and can definitely recommend that, but there are many, many others.
  6. Remember that the worst thing you can do is just sit at home. That will only make things worse. I know you’re feeling depressed, and I know that depression makes people just want to sit in one place and do nothing, but that’s a vicious circle waiting to happen. Get out there and see what’s going on. Your friends are not going to be gone forever, and you will make new ones as you go through your time there.

Good luck with all this. Again, I’ve been there. The Korean Experience is not a lot of fun, but you can beat it, and once you beat it, you’ve got a whole new world to consider. Please let us know how it goes. I’ve got a special place in my heart for Korea and its expats, and I’d love to see how you’re doing. Just take care, and don’t take Korea too seriously. It’s nothing personal. It’s just . . . Korea.

I believe your feelings of alienation and social uncertainty are extremely common to the type of culture shock that begins once you’ve been in a place long enough to feel like you should be fitting in (at first, there is lots of confusion, but you aren’t expecting any differently)

1. Stages of Culture Shock

2. Stages of Culture Shock

I wouldn’t say I have quite the same extremity of feeling, but I am the kind of person that needs people around a lot in order to be happy, and I end up feeling like I need my friends more than they need me, roll their eyes at texts, etc.

My solution? Roommates. Lots of 'em. There’s always people around in a really low-pressure way.

One of the things I recently had an epiphany about was the discrepancy of my idea of fellowship and friendship, versus my chosen behavior.

I realized that, BY CHOICE, I stay home, don’t go to bars, don’t seek out new company, don’t go out for various activities. So BY CHOICE, I am choosing to be alone. Since I am choosing this, it must therefore be my desired behavior, and I should worry a lot less about not having things I’m not choosing to do. That if I wanted those other things, I could just as easily choose to do them, but I don’t, and for the most part when I’m thinking about it, I don’t want to do them.
On the other end of the scale, I have known a lot of people who feel empty if no one else is around. Personally, I don’t understand it. Why do you feel worthless if you’re not surrounded by other people?

Oddly, while I don’t feel the least bit lonely, I do feel alone, if that distinction makes any sense. While I am perfectly comfortable being by myself, always able to find something to amuse myself with, I do miss not having anything close to a kindred spirit to just hash things out with on say a weekly basis or so.

That is at least partly culture shock. It’s not like culture shock only lasts a couple of weeks–it’s a long process. It’s tiring, it’s hard work, your brain is constantly a bit foggy and nervous.

I thought you were in Japan, but if you’ve moved from Japan to Korea, that’s something of a double whammy. If you are still in Japan, and it’s only been 3 months, it’s still a strong case of culture shock. 3 months is just enough time to feel like you ought to be doing just fine, but really you’re getting tired and overwhelmed with the complete strangeness of everything and it isn’t fun any more.

You need to stop thinking of what you lack and start appreciating what you have.

This starts by doing something. Honestly, you have the entire world at your fingertips through the Internet.

How about going out and volunteering. I know opportunities for volunteers are limited now but maybe you can find one. What about a second job? Perhaps you could get a part time job and either buy something you want or donate the money from a second job to charity.

How about learning HTML and making a webpage. There are lots of free sites online to teach you things.

How about learning something you always wanted to know.

Finally you could always clean your flat. Walls need washing, desks need dusting and reorganizing. There’s always something to do if look even half hearted.

You can sit and feel sorry for yourself or you can actually DO something about it.

There are a lot of people in the world worse off than you and once you start appreciating this you will feel a lot better

Thanks for the responses, everyone. It does help to know that there are other people out there.

First, just to clear up a misconception or two, I live in Japan right now. (Those are still really good tips, though, Linty Fresh–thanks!)Although I do plan on going on vacation to Korea in a few months… I’ve been living in Japan for 2 years and 3 months, so it’s a bit late for culture shock. Although it does rear its ugly head on a cyclical basis… and the way I feel now is quite similar to how I felt when I first moved to Japan. The comment I made about 3 months actually referred to where I live now–I just moved to Tokyo 3 months ago, but before that I was living in rural Japan. So it is a new place, but same country.

I think that these feelings have also been set off by the fact that 2 of my closest friends are both leaving the area… and it was hard making those friends, damnit! That’s part of living in Japan, though–people are always coming and going. It’s hard. I’m a university student right now, but a bit older than most, and supporting myself, so I have to work quite a lot. There are events and international clubs and so on at my university but most are during the weekdays (my busiest times for work), plus I missed the golden time for meeting people (the beginning of term), on account of being so busy with looking for work.

Now, people are settled in their little cliques and that impulse is even stronger in Japan than in most other countries–if you’re not in the “circle” already (and that’s literally what clubs are called in Japan), it’s pretty hard to get in. Most of the other students in my class, furthermore, live in a dormitory together, but I’m a private student (didn’t come through a university) and was not allowed to live in those dorms. So it’s doubly isolating. Plus, I’m dreading the vacation coming up–we get 2 whole months of vacation time in February and March. What in the world am I going to do with myself? My 2 aforementioned friends are leaving at that time, too. I know I just have to try harder to make more friends, but man, it’s so hard…. I work for myself, too, teaching English, so I have no co-workers–both a blessing and a curse. I am going to try to get another job for that time, though, at least.

Half the friends I have actually managed to make live outside central Tokyo and half live in my previous rural village. It’s difficult to see them. To add to it all, I’m still pining after my ex. I need to get over it and get out and meet more people, I know. But it’s so expensive, in this country! There are no house parties, for example. And I have almost no money–which is another problem.

OK, whining is over now. Again, thanks for the tips and sympathy, everyone.

How about looking for a language exchange partner?