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Coaching Conversation: Loneliness

Guy: Hey Coach, I went on a date this weekend.

Coach: Nice bro! How’d it go?

Guy: It was great, actually. But I have to confess: After the date, I went right back to feeling lonely.

Coach: I see. What do you make of that?

Guy: Well… I guess that she might not be the one.

Coach: That could be.

Guy: What do you think?

Coach: When you say that you were feeling lonely, what is it that you perceive yourself to be missing in that moment?

Guy: A wife, maybe? Kids? Companionship. It would be nice to have someone. You know?

Coach: I do. But I also know that many of my clients are fathers, and some of them feel lonely at times, as well. This may strike you as paradoxical, but some of the fathers I’ve worked with seem to be capable of feeling a loneliness even more acute than bachelors.

Guy: Um. What?

Coach: What do you think would happen if we “solved” your loneliness problem by finding you the “perfect woman,” and the two of you cranked out a couple of little ones? What if–hypothetically–after solving that problem, you woke up in the middle of the night, while your family slept, and you were struck by those same feelings of loneliness.

Guy: Does that happen?

Coach: To some people, yes. And it could–dare I say, would–happen to you if we “solved” your loneliness in that manner. It is possible to feel lonely in a room full of people and it is possible to be alone and have peace.

I have read a few accounts of formerly incarcerated people describing extended periods of solitary confinement. One of them was American Sidney Rittenberg, who served Chaiman Mao as a foreign liaison, but was incarcerated for six years under suspicion of espionage. While in solitary confinement, he repeated a verse from a poem ad infinitum:

They drew a circle that shut me out

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout

But love and I had the wit to win;

We drew a circle that took them in.

-Edward Markham

Guy: Wow.

Coach: I’ll say. Does that sound familiar to you?

Guy: Well, yes. It sounds like the “mental discipline” you’ve spoken about.

Coach: Yes. I have no time for the cartoonish mental discipline you hear announcers talk about in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. That’s fantasy. High performers are winning all the time. Performance in the Super Bowl is downstream from the mental discipline demonstrated on the other 364 days of the year.

Guy: What does that have to do with loneliness?

Coach: Well, you are certainly welcome to continue to entertain the attack thoughts of loneliness: Regret for “the one that got away,” lamentations of your wasted life, projections of a preposterous imaginary future of pain and sadness.

Guy: Sounds about right.

Coach: Or alternatively, you could exercise some discipline. Allow me to share a quote with you from James Clavell’s novel Shogun:

To think bad thoughts is really the easiest thing in the world. If you leave your mind to itself it will spiral down into ever increasing unhappiness. To think good thoughts, however, requires effort. This is one of the things that discipline and training is all about.

Guy: It really is the easiest thing in the world to think bad thoughts. But coach, say I was able to put away the loneliness narrative and I became this enlightened “zen” guy, full of joyful and loving thoughts all the time. Wouldn’t I then stop looking for a woman?

Coach: A good observation.

Guy: Because I’d be cool just hanging out, you know?.

Coach: Or you’d be cool while meditating or while incarcerated.

Guy: But what if I don’t find a woman then?

Coach: What if you don’t?

Guy: I’d be wasting my life!

Coach: It appears you have not yet reached enlightenment. Cool–neither have I. You’re not the first guy to hold his relationship to women as a “sticking point.” It might be the hardest thing there is. Guys are happy to give up booze, games, television, ice cream, whatever. But ask them to give up dating?

I mean, consider the Prayer of Saint Augustine: “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” And he was a saint. And here we are, just a couple of guys trying our best.

Guy: I didn’t sign up to be a saint.

Coach: Nobody’s asking you to be a saint. As you develop peace in solitude and love for yourself, it is possible that you will choose the life of a recluse. But it is also possible that you choose the life of a family man. It is a very natural thing for a man to have a family, after all.

If you develop an abundance of love, you will be a very attractive person. Do you know who wants to hang out with someone who is a fount of love and validation? Everyone. Women included.

As you develop that peace and love in silence and meditation, you will carry it with you into your life’s creative process.

Perhaps you start a business, write a novel, volunteer, buy a boat. Or perhaps you learn the piano, and the piano leads you to open mic nights, and the open mic nights lead you to gigs. I’ve heard–don’t quote me–that gigging musicians do pretty well.

Guy: I see what you’re getting at.

Coach: But let’s go back to earth now. Because after the piano and the open mics and the gigs, after the first dates with the “love of your life,” after all of that… She might leave you. On her own volition, or by divine intervention, or something else. You may well find yourself alone again.

Guy: That’s depressing.

Coach: It’s the most common thing there is. It’s Abraham and Isaac. It’s The Old Man and the Sea. It’s–

Guy: I think I need a break.

Coach: I love you man, you earned it.


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