Facing Life Alone
THE fifty-year-old widower explained to his friends who kept trying to find a mate for him: “I appreciate your wanting to help me, but I don’t want to get married again. . . . My life isn’t all roses, but I’m discovering a lot of advantages in being single.”
Similarly, Janice, who had never married, told her parents: “I know you would like me to be married, but I don’t want it. Being single is a happy way of life for me.”
You may feel quite differently, though. Maybe you also face life alone—being widowed, divorced, separated or never having married. And you may genuinely suffer from loneliness, stress and frustration. What can you do to make your life fuller, happier?
What you face may not be pleasant, as millions of persons can well testify. In many lands there are more persons who are single, divorced or widowed than those who are married. Especially are many women affected. It has been estimated that in the United States one out of six women over the age of twenty-one is a widow. And elsewhere the problem is even greater. There are areas where “by age 40 more than half of all women are widowed.” In addition to the millions of widows and widowers, there are all the men and women who are now alone as a result of divorce.
From your own experience and observation in life, you may realize that the loneliness a person suffers is made worse by the ordeal that brought on the situation. Dr. Thomas Holmes and his colleagues studied “43 life events that are associated with varying amounts of disruption in the average person’s life.” Which were found
to be the most disruptive? They are: (1) death of one’s mate, (2) divorce, and (3) marital separation. Then, after having gone through one of these wrenching experiences, a person is confronted with the difficulties of those who face life alone. One widow put it in this way: “Being a widow is like living in a country where nobody speaks your language. A country that considers you an untouchable.”
Whatever the circumstances that led to your now facing life alone, you know how difficult it can be. But so as to see what you can do to find more contentment and satisfaction in life, let us isolate some of the problems that you may face. Then we can better appreciate the steps to take so that you can cope successfully.
Is loneliness the problem that comes first to your mind? It is for many who face life alone. It seems to be an ever-stalking monster. That is so even with persons who might seem to be best qualified to meet the challenge. For instance, when her husband died, British social worker Lily Pincus found that ‘despite her work, family and many loving friends, she often was depressed and lonely.’ And divorced persons? Even when divorce brings an end to a troubled marriage, a person can fall prey to loneliness. You may have noticed that this is especially so since a divorced person may be under the malaise of failure from the breakup of his or her marriage. Truly, loneliness can be a problem.
‘I recognize the problem of loneliness,’ you may think, ‘but what can I do about it?’ One suggestion is to try to determine just what sparks your loneliness. Maybe you feel it most when eating breakfast or supper alone, on rainy days or on Saturday evenings, if you used to have pleasant companionship at those times. Whatever it is, by isolating the thing that triggers your loneliness, you can then make some adjustment to lessen its frequency and severity. One divorced man discovered that what brought on his feelings of loneliness was coming home to a dark, dreary apartment. What did he do? “I painted the entrance hall a warm color and hung some of my favorite pictures there. Then I bought a lamp, which I leave on when I go out. I find it makes all the difference in my mood.” Of course, in your case it may be something else that you need to adjust. Perhaps you will decide to put away some pictures or mementos that you link with happy times in the past but that leave you feeling lonely when you now see them.
It will also help if you recognize the difference between being alone and being lonely. Have you not, many times in your life, enjoyed solitude, periods when you were alone and able to think, read or simply “unwind”? You were alone, but you were not lonely, were you? True, that was by choice and was not a regular thing. Still, it shows that there is a positive side of your present life alone that you should not overlook. On one hand, being married does offer the blessings of being wanted and feeling a loved one’s presence. But, on the other hand, being single—by choice or by circumstances—offers the blessings of being able to think and spend your time with fewer distractions. (Compare 1 Corinthians 7:32-35.) Recognizing this may help you to avoid feeling that there is no green grass on your side of the fence, so to speak.
Ella, a thirty-four-year-old divorced woman in New York, commented that one difficulty is “the feeling of being rejected, that nobody wants me.” Do such thoughts weigh you down at times? Or perhaps you feel that you are no longer useful. For instance, Monika, a thirty-one-year-old widow in Maryland, had in her kitchen a small sign that read “I Hate Cooking.” A couple who visited her thought it was because she did not know how to prepare meals. But they later said: “We sure had our minds changed. She is an excellent cook. The underlying reason for losing her zest for cooking is the loss of her husband. It just wasn’t the same.”
In combating such feelings it is helpful to do something for someone else. Realize the truthfulness of Jesus’ words: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) Illustrating this, the Bible mentions Dorcas, who apparently was unmarried at the time. What did she do that undoubtedly helped her to combat loneliness? Acts 9:36-42 says that “she abounded in good deeds and gifts of mercy.” She made clothing for Christian widows and others in need. Why not read the account? See if you know of persons whom you could likewise help.
Both Ella and Monika followed a somewhat similar course. Ella began sharing in the Bible educational work of Jehovah’s witnesses. On evenings and weekends when she is off from her secular work she both teaches the Bible to other persons and attends Bible-based meetings at the local Kingdom Hall. She recently said: “Loneliness might be a danger, but it really helps when I go to the Kingdom Hall. It is marvelous that we have meetings three times a week. They are beautifully timed.” Monika, too, was able to increase her share in the Bible-teaching program of Jehovah’s witnesses. This brings her immense satisfaction. She knows that she is not merely filling lonely hours. Rather, she is serving God and at the same time being of real help to many persons whom she meets in her Christian teaching work. About this, she said: “The full-time preaching work has been the one thing that has helped me to overcome the flashes of loneliness that come back occasionally.”
You can also undertake a number of other practical steps that will help you to fight loneliness. Speak with someone who cares. Approach a friend or a relative in whom you have confidence, and explain: ‘I sometimes have a real problem with loneliness. Would you mind if when I feel that way I give you a call on the phone?’ You can use this “hot line” to obtain emotional support when you feel dejected and lonely, as we all do at times. And your friend will likely receive satisfaction from being able to help you. Also, do something interesting or vigorous. Have you been thinking of planting a garden? Get busy and plant it. Go ahead and paint the living room, if you have been wanting to do that. Start working on a hobby or something of special interest, be it learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument, undertaking an exercise program or planning an exotic meal for a few friends. But do it!
Many persons who face life alone report that financial pressure is a real strain. Do you find that to be so? Perhaps a woman never concerned herself with family finances before her husband died. Now she has to earn a living, pay bills and worry about insurance and such matters. It can be a heavy burden.
When it comes to supporting oneself, there is no one solution that would apply to all persons. But in this connection, and as regards other financial matters, do not overlook the help that your friends and relatives might be happy to provide. Approach some persons whose balance and judgment you respect and explain your situation. No, they cannot and should not make your decisions for you. But maybe a married couple could offer practical suggestions about finding work, paying your bills and caring for taxes and insurance. By speaking to a married couple, not just a married man, you will avoid the problem, which some widows have had, of appearing to be “making a play” for someone’s mate. And likely it will be good experience for that couple in the use of their mutual knowledge of these matters.
A word of caution: Do not make hasty financial decisions, or other decisions, for that matter, when you are still numb over the death of a mate. One widow was worried about safety now that her husband was dead. So she sold her home and moved to a trailer in another state. She thus separated herself from friends who had long been close to her and who would have been pleased to help her. Now she realizes that it would have been wiser to discuss the matter first, for, as the Bible says, “In an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Prov. 11:14, Revised Standard Version) Her friends might have been able to help her to find a local apartment in a safer area, or to put her in contact with someone nearby who would appreciate a roomer and companion. A person who faces life alone has the freedom to make decisions, but it is usually wise to go slow and to get advice from persons interested in your good.
There is no denying that sex can trouble an adult who has normal desires but who does not have a mate. Many persons in this situation have been led to believe that the solution rests in having affairs, visiting prostitutes or practicing self-abuse.
But why say, “have been led to believe”? Psychologist M. Edwards pointed out: “Sex is sold like any other product, and you are told that if you’re not consuming your share there’s something wrong with you.” Yes, the sales propaganda about sex abounds in movies, magazines and books. A widely published view is that “human beings are sexual beings and without the constant stimulation of regular and frequent sex they tend to fade.” But, taking strong exception to this view, psychologist Edwards stated: “People can abstain from sexual intercourse for long periods of time and still show no ill effects. Whether you are a man or a woman, it is mostly a matter of adapting to the facts of a situation.”
Ask yourself: Why should I allow this overemphasis on sex, this sales propaganda, to lead to a greedy abuse of my body or to immoral relations? Why should I be “sold” into being exposed to painful emotional experiences, the possibility of unwanted pregnancy, ruinous venereal diseases and a violation of God’s perfect moral standards? (Heb. 13:4) A wiser course is to realize that a single person can keep normal desire in check by exercising self-control. One widow sought sexual satisfaction by immoral affairs. Yet, in time, even though she was not restrained by an interest in having God’s approval, she ceased such immorality. Why? Because it brought, not happiness, but frustrations and disappointments. She said: “I’m not a woman to live happily without sex. But I have learned that I can.”
Mature reasoning and self-discipline can help a person to lessen sex longings by avoiding things that stimulate them. Illustrating this, a divorcée in Brooklyn said that she is very strict with herself in this regard. She keeps far away from romantic or sex-oriented novels and movies. She added: “Sometimes I won’t listen to certain records or songs because they would play on my emotions. When I am feeling sentimental, I turn them off or skip them, for they would only fan romantic longings.”
In facing life alone, do not withdraw into a shell of self-pity. Recognize that even if you would prefer to have a family, you now have certain blessings. These include privacy, time to cultivate talents and fields of interest, freedom to make your own decisions and opportunities to widen the borders of your friendships and to do good for others. Facing life alone is not without problems; you know that. Yet you can meet the challenge by positive effort and thus live a productive life.
Finally, do not forget this: It is clear from the Bible that Jehovah God is interested in widows, those who face life alone. (Deut. 10:17, 18; Isa. 1:17; Mark 12:38-40) You can regularly pray to him and concern yourself with his will, assured of his interest. As one woman whose husband left her said: “I pray to Jehovah to help me out. And it helps. It really helps. Maybe some people think it wouldn’t, but it really does help.”