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Carolyn Hax: As life opens up for others, a grandparent feels more alone

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I’m fairly introverted and weathered the worst of the pandemic okay, other than missing my grandchildren desperately. Now I can see them again — they’re young, 4 and 9. But as life keeps opening up for others, there’s so little for me. I’m just not close to anyone, despite desperately wanting to be.

I have no siblings, thus no nieces or nephews, nor do I have a best friend. I have a few cousins but all are 3,000 miles away. I have a few friends but none who are really close confidants. All my friends are far more likely to plan activities with others than with me. My husband is low-key and pleasant enough, but he is not loving physically or in any other way — just emotionally constricted.

As friends and cousins start posting travel or just socializing plans with each other, I am developing more and more FOMO anxiety and sadness. Not sure exactly what question I have, maybe more of a comment. Life returning to “normal” isn’t necessarily going to be a panacea for a lot of us.

— “Normal” Is Even More Lonely

“Normal” Is Even More Lonely: I think there is a question in your comment: What to do about this loneliness?

To which the answer is, as always, unsatisfyingly, that you either make peace with what you have or you make changes to what you do.

You obviously can’t put “Get a best friend” on your to-do list, but you can change the ways you circulate among others. You can reach past your second-guessing and out to these friends. You can put new, communal, purpose-based things on your calendar and work your way toward emotional rewards regardless of who you meet.

Again, you can’t completely control what connections you make because they’re 50 percent dependent on the other person, but you can work the 50 percent you control toward feeling useful, present, open, vital. As long as the ways you use your time are productive or rewarding, you’ll need less from the people you’re productive or rewarding with.

Better connections are often a byproduct of cultivating a sense of purpose, but they're not guaranteed and, again, not (as) necessary if you actively feed your craving to matter.

Re: Loneliness: This advice seems really helpful.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: I agree, thank you, it’s such a helpful way to frame the mechanics of connecting. And I especially appreciate the way he explained his qualifications for giving this advice.

Re: Loneliness: Have you thought about being the one to make a plan and invite the others? Maybe being a little more proactive will help them remember that you, too, want to have fun. As a fellow introvert, I know this isn’t all that easy. But give yourself time to think. “I really want to do X, and these are the people I want to do it with.” Then make plans to do it.

— Fellow Introvert

Fellow Introvert: Right, thanks. And don’t quit if you’re turned down on the first try. People actually are busy on any given day, so patterns are much more informative.