Women Are Often More Lonely Than We Let On
I’ve struggled with loneliness as a woman and looking back, those feelings may well have been eased simply by talking about it.
Hindsight is always 20/20.
There’s a common (and sexist) joke that “women talk too much,” but the truth is that we’re often conditioned to keep our negative feelings — including loneliness — to ourselves.
After all, it isn’t ladylike to discuss such things in polite conversation. Now get back to the kitchen, put on your apron, and make someone a sammich.
All sarcasm aside, getting stood up for a date, missing out on a great job after what seemed like a promising interview, or just noticing that everyone else seems happier than we do — all of these can lead to feelings of loneliness in women.
When we realize that we’ve felt lonely, unhappy, and generally unfulfilled for weeks, months, or longer — it may be time to do something about it. But what?
As it turns out, the solution begins with recognizing how we experience loneliness, and why.
In this article, I’ll cover:
How Women Experience Loneliness — And The Reasons Why
Societal expectations, gender conditioning, and internalized sexism can all have a profound impact on how women experience loneliness.
In particular, women who have been taught “not to be a burden” might find themselves reluctant to reach out to those around them when they’re feeling lonely.
One study found that women report loneliness at a rate greater than that of men, partly due to having “higher risks for widowhood, living alone, chronic illness, disability, and functional limitations” but also because they are more likely to recognize that they are, in fact, dealing with loneliness.
Even if they’re facing it alone.
Common causes of female loneliness include:
- Not having friends or meaningful connections with others
- Living away from family
- Spending too much time on social media
- Dealing with mental illness, including depression, autism, or social anxiety
- Suffering from PTSD or trauma-related hurts
- Domestic abuse
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- The death of a loved one — and yes, that includes pets
- Suffering a miscarriage
- Struggling with chronic health issues, cancer, or disability
- Living alone
- Feeling scared to live alone, particularly if you worry that it may come to pass
- Struggling with gender identity or being transgender
- Not having your romantic needs met
- Living in a sexless marriage
- Going through a breakup, divorce, or dealing with custody issues
- Being single
- Being a parent
- Raising children alone
- Being pregnant or becoming a mother
- Being a caregiver for someone else
- Feeling like an outsider at work or in social situations
- Being considered “too pretty” and having few female friends because of it
- Being the only single (or married, or childless) friend or sibling in your peer group
- Navigating the loss of a relationship or a change in living situation
- Struggles with self-confidence, self-esteem, or self-worth
- Struggles with disordered eating or body image
At the time, I had no idea how common this was, or that people I knew were going through the same thing.
It wasn’t something that came up in conversation. I kept it to myself.
Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, that bout of situational loneliness could have been far less painful and damaging if I had only been able to reach out — or if I felt like I could.
Women are often socialized not to complain or share too much — or say anything — that might make others uncomfortable.
This is particularly common in Black women who feel an obligation to shoulder the weight of everything while remaining strong in the face of even the most difficult challenges.
Following these dictates can lead to feelings of isolation, even worthlessness.
Societal pressure can also make us feel like everyone else is doing better than we are — they have better jobs, more fulfilling relationships, happier marriages, more perfect children, higher income levels.
These factors — whether they’re real or imagined — can make us feel like we’re missing out on something everyone else has.
Today’s women are “expected” to have it all, and when we don’t feel like we’ve even got some, it’s easy to feel like you’re less-than.
You’re doing something wrong. You’re not getting it done like those other women who seem to have it all figured out.
That’s a lonely feeling — and the worst part? It’s not something you can openly admit to other people in casual conversation.
As I mentioned earlier, women are often socialized to keep those thoughts and feelings to themselves. After all, complaining isn’t ladylike.
So the cycle just continues.
Although statistics show that loneliness is more common than ever, particularly among millennials or seniors during retirement, lonely middle-aged women may feel as if life has passed them by — or it’s just about to.
Regardless of your age or your position in life, loneliness can strike at any time and the signs of loneliness in women can vary from person to person.
It’s important to talk about it, however. We may be dealing with loneliness for many different reasons, but it’s a struggle we’re facing together.
What Can Help Lonely Women Feel More Connected?
Sometimes, life circumstances will change and loneliness will dissipate on its own in short order.
A woman who is living alone may discover how to overcome loneliness as a single woman in any number of ways that don’t require specific effort, simply by way of adjusting to her situation.
For the rest of us though — overcoming female loneliness requires a little more effort.
And that’s okay.
- Use social media to connect — but with the right intention:
Social media can be a double-edged sword for lonely women.
If you use social media to compare your real life with the staged, filtered lives of your Facebook connections, you’ll walk away feeling worse for the wear. Every time.
Even if you know how easy it is to fake a smile or capture one moment in the best light possible, it’s easy to let your eyes deceive you into thinking the lives of others on social media really are ideal — and better than yours.
On the other side of the coin, social media can bring people together — from all over the world — in ways that were not possible before the invention of the internet.
It’s a gift when approached the right way.
If you join a group that discusses your favorite crafts, TV shows, or dog breed, for instance, you’ll meet people, and talk about things that are meaningful to you, and probably make some new friends in the process.
You might even have cousins, old classmates, or former coworkers you haven’t thought about in forever who would love to hear from you.
In that way, social media can be good — as long as you don’t let yourself get caught up in the 24/7 reality competition of “Who’s Living The Best Life — Facebook Edition.”
Social media can be an easy, low-pressure way to interact with people on your schedule, for exactly as long as you need or want to — when used wisely, of course.
- Give your time to others:
One of the most reliable ways to curb loneliness is to do something that matters — to others, but also to yourself.
Whether that means volunteering for a community organization or helping your elderly neighbor take care of their lawn, making ourselves useful is a win-win for everyone concerned.
Our local Humane Society needs volunteers to walk dogs and pet kittens. Seriously. You can give some of your time to a worthwhile cause by petting kittens.
Especially if you’re struggling with your own self-worth, giving your time to others is a way to “prove” to yourself that you have worth, that you matter to others, and that what you are doing has meaning.
Even if the most you did to help someone else this week was reaching something off of a high shelf at the grocery store, that has meaning. It mattered to the person you helped.
Don’t forget you can pet kittens. I know I said that already, but providing attention and affection to animals is just good for the soul.
- Maintain your mental and physical health:
Loneliness can coincide with depression, especially over a long period of time.
Studies suggest that self-care in the form of a healthy diet including plenty of B-vitamins helps the body to combat depression.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, however, it’s important to seek treatment.
Yes, there are some ways to cope with it on your own, but often, it means doing those things in tandem with professional help.
- Nurture something else and nurture yourself:
Lots of folks swear by cats and dogs as a sure-fire way to overcome female loneliness. For me, that’s definitely true. My home feels stagnant and lonely without at least one cat in it.
But we know not everyone’s situation is pet appropriate.
In that case, you can nurture other things as a way of having a positive impact on something else — and yourself.
For instance, if you’ve got a green thumb, planting a garden and taking care of it is a way of nurturing life — in more ways than one.
By planting the seeds and helping your garden to grow, you’re supporting life but also providing yourself with emotional, mental, and physical sustenance.
You can also nurture hobbies that make you feel good about yourself and the way you’re spending your time. You deserve to do the things that make you happy, whenever you can.
So right now, ask yourself what they are. Make a list, if you want to. But most importantly, make time for those things, too.
Nurturing yourself is an essential part of good mental health. Try to make it a routine.
Being alone doesn’t have to equate to loneliness.
Fill your time with worthwhile projects, games or sports, or abandoned passions you’ve been meaning to get back to.
With some help from the internet, it’s possible to become fluent in a new language, to discover a new craft, or learn an instrument for free.
Pursuing new skills is a great self-esteem booster too!
- What you should NEVER do when depressed or deeply lonely:
For lonely women, what we don’t do is just as important as what we do.
Mental health professionals advise the following:
- Do not get married until/unless you’re on solid emotional footing. Remember that marriage alone doesn’t make people happier, and it also doesn’t mean that you’ll never feel lonely.
- Do not make any major life decision without discussing it with at least one trusted friend.
- Do not stay in a toxic relationship because it’s “better than being alone.” It isn’t.
- Most of us enjoy a legal intoxicant from time to time, but if your use is daily, prolonged, extreme, or leads to difficulties in life — it’s time to self-examine. Do not use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate for loneliness.
- Do not ignore safety precautions to attend in-person gatherings during times of pandemic, such as during COVID-19. It isn’t worth the risk to your health — or that of others.
Women can feel lonely for a long list of reasons but there are steps that can be taken in the short and long term that can help you overcome female loneliness.
Start by avoiding pitfalls. Fill your time with activities that leave you feeling accomplished and happy. Reach out to others in whatever way you’re comfortable with.
If you experience symptoms of depression, seek the advice of a mental health professional.
But most importantly, don’t give up on yourself. Women are stronger than that they give themselves credit for, and that includes you, too.