Dear Therapist: I recently got out of a long relationship that I thought would lead to marriage, and I am now single at 33. I am grateful for my life and I have amazing family and friends, but I can’t help but think that there is something wrong with me. I never thought I would be single at my age, and I am feeling lost. Do you have any advice on how I can snap out of this feeling of loneliness?
Frame Therapist Marina Braff weighs in…
Ugh, that is the worst feeling. I can only imagine how disappointing and shocking this all must feel-- the sense that you're starting over when I'm guessing a lot of people around you are settling down. This only exacerbates those feelings of loneliness. I get it. While I wish there was a magic cure to all of this, unfortunately the only reliable one that I can come up with is time. I know- you're probably rolling your eyes wishing someone would tell you something else.
The new perspective and challenge I can provide you with during this time is to think of ways in which you can assess and evaluate the end of this relationship. Instead of jumping to the belief that it must be because of something you're doing, I would encourage you to reflect on your ex:
- What were some of the issues you had with them?
- Were there any values of theirs that were not aligned with yours?
- Perhaps there were some yellow or red flags that you overlooked due to the excitement of new relationship beginnings.
- Take inventory of even the small things that upset you- sometimes those little annoyances can turn into big resentments.
From there, I would capture this data. Write it down and share it with the people closest to you. As you do this, pay close attention to any memories of past relationships. You may start to see a pattern of the type of person that you're drawn to. This isn't meant to demonize the exes. Instead, it is meant to create an opportunity for you to think about what it is about these types that you're drawn to.
Perhaps you like a project; maybe you're drawn to the strong, silent, emotionally unavailable type. The options here are endless :) Regardless of what comes up- whether there is a pattern with your most recent ex or those of the past, I encourage you to write and think about how these downfalls impacted you and potentially prevented the relationship from going farther. The hope here is that in thinking about this in greater detail, it reduces the risk of repeating any pattern again.
In contrast, you are welcome to also think about the things you enjoyed about this last relationship and any relationships in the past. Capture this information too. The metaphor I share with my clients is to start a "relationship backpack." Put all the goodness and yumminess from past relationships in there, zip it up, throw it on your back and move ahead. When your next person comes along- and they will- unzip the backpack to make sure you're not losing any qualities you know that you enjoy. And those things you didn't like-- keep them far away from that beautiful backpack.
While this doesn't immediately take away the feelings of loneliness, it can provide you with a sense of being proactive and doing something. Oftentimes, doing nothing and wallowing can lead us to feeling worse. This does not mean that you have to neglect your Ben & Jerry nights on the couch. Feel the feelings and then make some moves.
- Talk with the people who know you best. Ask for their honest opinion of what they think might have happened. Note: only do this if you're actually ready for their honest opinion.
- Recognize how much of your emotions are stemming from your beliefs of where you "should," be by now versus what society tells you.
- Lastly, continue to relish in the great relationships you have with your friends and family. The fact that you have these can provide additional confidence in your ability to have wonderful, loving relationships.
Breakups are rough- no doubt about that and I have full confidence that as you do the deeper work you will uncover some big, super helpful truths about yourself that will only help you in future relationships.
About the author: Marina Braff, M.S., LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist based in Redondo Beach, California. Marina specializes in working with women dealing with anxiety, eating disorders, relationship difficulties and all the struggles that come with early adulthood. Explore her Frame profile here to learn more about her approach and to schedule a free intro call.