Growing up, loneliness never had a chance of creeping into my life.
I was surrounded by people who loved me — two parents, one of whom was a dedicated stay-at-home mum; a younger brother; grandparents I watched Hong Kong dramas with; and many aunts, uncles and cousins.
I had close friends I had known all the way from Standard 2 to high school.
We’d talk about boys, copy each other’s homework (sometimes), and go on vacations together with my mum as our chaperone.
So yes, I never felt lonely.
That is, until I was 18.
The Moment I Truly Knew What Loneliness Was
After graduating from high school, my friends and I went our separate ways.
I chose to further my studies in Melbourne.
Two of my friends went to Sydney, one moved to Brisbane and another decided on Uni in Adelaide.
We were all spread out like marbles dropped on the floor and I went to Melbourne without knowing a single person.
The first few months of Uni was tough.
Sure, I joined clubs on campus and tried to make small talk with people, but I still didn’t quite have friends I was close to.
A group I belonged to.
There was no one waiting for me at home and no one I could eat dinner with. No family and no friends. Not even a distant cousin.
For the first time, I was not surrounded by love.
I was on my own.
I would wander the streets at night, after buying some instant noodles and snacks from the supermarket, and look in envy at the clusters of friends laughing as they walked by.
I hated that feeling of knowing that if something were to happen to me, no one on the streets, or in the city for that matter, would care.
So I kept to myself, and when I could no longer bear it, I’d call mum with tears streaming down my face.
“Should I just give up and go home to my family?” I would wonder.
Learning to Be Happy Alone
It was my first year at Uni when my Creative Writing tutor said I should try eating out alone.
I remember thinking, “Uh yeah, no way I’m going to do that.”
But, after one month in this new city and having barely made one friend, I found myself having brunch at a cafe with an empty seat across from me.
That was the first time I ever ate out alone.
But the thing is, I felt free.
Alone, and free.
So I did it again, and again, and again. Until dining alone became normal for me.
I expanded my range: I went to the cinema alone, I visited art museums alone, I got lost in the little laneways, yes, alone.
This time I spent with myself became special to me.
I could have just as much, if not more, fun on my own.
Making an Effort to Build Friendships
As much as I enjoyed my own company, I still needed people — a support system.
So, with difficulty, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and talked to more of my coursemates.
I consciously smiled more to make myself seem more approachable (I have Resting Bitch Face problems).
When I found someone I felt I could potentially become friends with, I started asking her out for lunch — almost every day.
At times, I thought I was being too forward. But hey, she’s still my friend today… so I guess it worked!
It also helps when someone has common interests. There was a girl I used to go running with every week, and from that, we expanded to swimming and dinners.
Working out together strengthened our bond and over time, we became close friends.
One very important thing, however, is simply, saying “yes”.
One night after my Marketing class, some of the girls invited me out for dinner. Despite being worried I’d feel out of place because I didn’t know them well, I went for it.
From that “yes”, I met more of their friends and slowly, I became part of a tight-knit group. We’d hang out almost every week, going for dinners, studying together and laughing over silly jokes with fancy cocktails in our hands.
Being Thankful for the People I Do Have
Just as my support system in Melbourne was becoming stronger, my degree came to an end.
I had to leave it all to come home.
You see, when I came back to KL, all my friends from school here had moved away. And I had left behind everyone in Melbourne.
This meant starting over.
So I did. (At least, I tried.)
I got out of the house and explored more of KL on my own, walking from Petaling Street to the MRT, and to the Perdana Botanical Gardens.
But, on the friendship front, it’s been four years since returning to KL and I still barely have one close friend in this city.
Sure, I did meet people I could connect with on a personal level at my first job, but as soon as I left the company, our friendships fizzled out.
It takes time and effort to build and maintain new friendships, which sad to say, as an adult with responsibilities, I do not have an abundance of.
But on the flip side, I’m thankful for the people I do have in my life — my boyfriend (whom I met on Tinder), his friends, my workmates, my friends who visit during the holidays, and my family.
Fact: Loneliness Will Never Go Away
Perhaps you were expecting a magical cure-all for that crippling feeling of loneliness.
I’m sorry I don’t have it.
But I do have this:
Winning the battle with loneliness doesn’t mean you have killed it for good.
It simply means you have learned to accept and embrace it when and as it comes, without letting it consume you and keep you prisoner in its dark den.
It means deciding to take action and making a change in your life.
So this week, why not start by trying one of these?
Do something fun on your own — dine out, explore the city or even go on a mini trip. I went to Genting alone recently, and I loved it.
Speak to someone new — you could even download a friendship app such as Hey! VINA (for the ladies) and Bumble BFF.
Ask someone who is already in your life out for a meal — could be your workmate, a cousin you don’t often see, or even your grandma.
Do you have any tips to fight loneliness? Tell us in the comments!
For more articles on loneliness, read Alone But Not Lonely – The Trend of Single Young Adults and The Art Of Being Alone — How It Makes Us Better People.