Alone vs. Lonely

By: Nancy Travers, LCSW

Question: Now that it’s the holiday season, I see happy couples all around me. I really want to be in a relationship, but I’ve noticed a pattern: it seems that whenever I like someone, he doesn’t like me; and whenever someone likes me, I don’t like him. I was totally into my last boyfriend, but he kept talking about his ex. The boyfriend before that was really into me, but I wasn’t attracted to him. Do I have some kind of issue?

A. I would like to start by saying great question. It is good to take a look at ourselves and do inventory. I admire you for reaching out for a different perspective on some of your own good work and insight. First, with the holiday season rushing up on us it is normal for many people to feel more aware that they are alone or feeling lonely. For some people the holidays can heighten our feelings of loneliness and make us feel more alone. It is normal for all people to experience these emotions, what is important is how we chose to cope these emotions.

We should first take a look at the difference between alone versus lonely. Many people use these words interchangeably and that is not the case. For a lot of people they may be alone and do not feel lonely. They have focused on themselves and are surround by friends and/or family. Lonely can mean you are in a room feel of people and still feel something missing. In fact people can be in relationships and feel lonely for a number of reasons.

Which brings me to relationships in general. Most people are in the pursuit of one, trying to get out of one or unsure of the one they’re in currently. It is normal to want to be in a relationship. However, in the pursuit of that ultimate relationship we often overlook or get lost in what we really want. Is it ok to be alone, for you? You state in your question one of your recent boyfriends was into you but you were not attracted to him, lets look at why date someone you are not attracted to? Were there things that initially attracted you? Did he not meet your idea of a boyfriend compared to the fantasy one you have in your head? Were you focused on negative traits? It is a good idea to be alone for a while to figure at what you want and to avoid serial relationships. Where you jump from relationship to relationship for the sake of saying you have a boyfriend. I would like to talk about core beliefs and figuring out what you want. In your question you state you have noticed a pattern for yourself; such as the people you are choosing for a relationship. First, one of the things I always like to suggest is looking at core beliefs. Core beliefs are beliefs we hold about ourselves and how we view relationships whether we our conscious of them or not. Common problematic negative core beliefs are, “I am not lovable enough”, or “Nobody wants me”. What are your core beliefs? Generally there is a pattern to the type of people we pick to have relationships with and they usually reinforce our core beliefs about ourselves, sometimes are negative core beliefs.

Let’s look at the types of people you are choosing. What do they have in common? How are they different? Are they really different? What types of character traits do they have? What is there physical look like? What first attracted you to them? It is important to figure out what you want and don’t want in a person. Often people tell us who they are by their character traits usually we do not listen or put on rose color glass for a prettier picture. The problem with the above is that whatever we don’t want to see or hear will usually keep resurfacing and maybe in slightly different ways.

For example, you stated in your question your last boyfriend that you were totally into kept talking about his ex, think back were there early warning signs of this? What clues (red flags) did he give you that you may have overlooked on your first couple of dates? Red flags, as I have stated in a previous column, to look for when you are dating are; your date gets drunk, does drugs, or brings their suitcase with them and insists on bringing out their laundry piece by piece. Red flags that happen early, on your first few dates, you should run, quickly. Maybe a pattern for you in the people you are choosing are people who are not emotional available. Would choosing someone who is not emotional available reinforce one of your negative core beliefs?

Finding the right person to be in a relationship with is a process and not always easy. It is a good idea to take some time with yourself and figure out what you want and what is important to you. We often spend more time researching what new car we want to buy or that one great outfit then we do for a long-term partner. A good exercise, I usually always recommend, to try is to describe your ideal partner with paper and pen: What do they look like, how old are they, what kind of job do they have, what type of character traits do they have, what type of values do they, do they like animals, do they have a pet, and what are their strengths and weakness. Remember we all have flaws some you can live with and some you cannot.

Take some time to be alone, focus on yourself and have fun with your friends. There may be some issues in the people you are choosing that some short-term counseling could address. The key steps are to know what you want, look at your core beliefs, listening to what people are telling us about themselves, and then get out there and have some fun. In the meantime be sure to plan some fun group activities through out the holiday season. Good luck and I wish great success.


Nancy Travers is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in all types of relationships; We all want them, We all need them; How to get em and Keep them. Nancy’s office is located at 2212 Dupont Dr., Suite I, Irvine, Ca. 92612.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 949-510- 9423 or contact us.
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As seen in The Blade magazine December 2005.

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