I have lost count of all the times I have felt lonely while living abroad as an expat. It comes and goes like a wave. For a long time I didn’t know that loneliness is something that every single expat has experienced, is currently experiencing, and will experience (again).
Expat loneliness is so common and yet hardly ever talked about, even though it’s a perfectly normal reaction to a very big change in one’s life.
When we’re trying to settle in in a new country, so much of our focus is often dedicated to getting all the practicalities sorted, learning the language, getting used to how things are done in the country, going to work, taking care of kids, finding friends and so forth.
There is no time to admit – I feel lonely – even if it’s clearly staring you in the face.
Because to admit that you’re lonely could potentially open a can of worms and we simply don’t want to go there.
Besides, it might distract us from all the things we should be doing that would help us feel more settled, right?
Well, let me tell you this.
The more we deny what we feel, the more power it has over us. The more that feeling warps our thinking, brings us down as well as others around us.
If you want to get on with your expat life you must give that loneliness the attention that it demands.
Only then will it leave you alone so you can actually use your energy to find a solution to your loneliness, or a renewed sense of motivation to keep on going.
Feeling lonely as an expat is unbelievably normal
I like to think of expat loneliness as a flu that most of us get in some shape or form every time it’s flu season.
It’s pretty much inevitable. You can wash your hands, stay away from other lonely people, and take prophylactics, but that son of a gun will catch you somehow sooner or later.
You might be out on a walk in your new city and BOOM. The expat loneliness hits you.
You might be excited about having a really nice conversation with someone new, but then you go home and BOOM.
You might be scrolling through Instagram, and BOOM.
Next thing you know, you’re lying in bed, crying because you have no plans for the weekend until your best friend’s wedding back home in 4 months time.
But have you ever heard of anyone trying to hide the fact that they have a cold?
In fact, some people carry their flu around because they’re stubborn and have work to do, inadvertently infecting everyone around them against their will.
Others proudly announce: ‘I have a cold’ and stay home. Everyone tells them to feel better with a whole lot of kindness and consideration. Some might even share a quick trick to getting over it faster.
Not a single person goes: ‘What a freak, you have a cold’.
And yet, regardless of how common expat loneliness is, it is treated like a nasty STD rather than what it is – a common cold.
Feeling lonely gets treated as something to hide. Maybe you talk about it with your doctor (if you’ve managed to find a decent one while living abroad, ha!), and perhaps sheepishly admit to your partner.
Besides that, we try to look fine on the outside while quietly dying on the inside.
If you want to get over feeling lonely, think of your loneliness as a common cold. You’re going to get it no matter what you do or don’t do, it will take some time to get over it, and it requires some home remedies.
But it won’t go away unless you take the time it demands for you to get better.
How to accept expat loneliness and make it go away
Once you’ve accepted that there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling lonely, it’s time to say hello to that bugger.
‘Ehm, hi, loneliness’
‘FINALLY! Hello! I’ve been trying to reach you for so long. I’ve been following you to the supermarket, to the gym, AND the shower. I even paid for targeted ads so I could catch your attention on Instagram. I’m going to be honest, I was about to give up and bring in my friend Depression. He was getting SUPER excited about you. I’m so glad we can finally talk.’
At this point you’re probably as freaked as any normal human would be. What are you supposed to say to your loneliness?
Please go away? Thanks for ruining my day?
You’re going to invite loneliness to watch Netflix with you, read a book, go for a walk, bring out the wine, or have a good cry. And you’re going to let loneliness have the best day of its life. Or maybe the best weekend, week, or even month(s) – if you’ve been avoiding feeling lonely for a while.
Before you think I’m absolutely crazy for suggesting any of this, let me tell you how it needs to get dark before it can get bright again.
No matter where I have lived, there have been periods where I have felt lonely. I’m especially hit hard when people that I have established actual friendships with leave for another country and I find myself having to start from scratch again.
Every time this happens (and it’s been almost an annual thing), I feel completely defeated. Like someone punched me in the stomach until I fell to the ground and then proceeded to drag me by the hair across open gravel.
Sorry for the dramatic mental image, but it’s kind of true.
Having all your efforts amount to nothing, well, there’s nothing quite like it.
In the first few years it happened I tried to hide from feeling devastated, lonely, and defeated.
I’d blame myself and try even harder to immediately make new friends. I reeked of desperation.
Needless to say, it didn’t work in my favor and I found myself even deeper in despair.
It’s not until I told an old friend of mine about how I was feeling that I realized how very sad I was.
After coming to this realization I decided to just honor that I was feeling sad. I took a hiatus for several weeks from seeking new friendships and turned inward.
I made my home even more comfortable and only spent time on activities (mostly on my own) that genuinely comforted me.
I stopped pushing myself to think about what I could do to not feel lonely. I stopped judging myself for being on my own or not having any plans. Instead, I accepted it all.
I feel lonely. I feel lonely. I feel so alone. I am so alone.
It was what I was feeling. Of course, admitting it made it worse at first, but to my great surprise, after giving it permission to exist, I felt better and better with each day.
It’s not that I suddenly had a great solution waiting for me, I simply accepted what I was feeling.
And so over time loneliness left me alone, giving me space and renewed energy to find more, ehm, human friends.
All I had to do was start trusting that just as I had found friends before, if I just allowed myself to go out and explore without expectations, the right people would eventually come my way.
And they did.
What sort of loneliness home remedies have you tried?