A guide to navigating your loneliness

1. At first, it will be difficult. The bed will look so warm and so safe. There will be emails to respond to and dishes to wash, but you will curl up in one corner of your mattress and make yourself as small as you can. The walls of your room will tremble as if they are trying to decide if it is safer for you to keep the world outside, or safer for the world to keep you inside. You will feel disinterested in most things. You will just want to go to sleep, and that is okay – go to sleep.

2. Some days, it will come easy. On those days you will cook with just your underwear on with music blasting from the speakers. Ooh woo, I’m a rebel just for kicks, you sing with a dramatic wave of your spatula. Your love is an abyss for my heart to eclipse, you croon to your refrigerator. You will arrange your dinner on your plate as if you are a restaurant cook, even if no one will see it but yourself. You will even open a new bottle of wine, and by the third glass you will feel immensely pleased with how your sophisticated night has turned out. As you should.

3. Other days, the lights in your apartment will remain off until dinner time has already passed. Alone, in the darkness, just shhh forgive yourself.

4. You will feel vulnerable on a Tuesday night at 8:21pm and find yourself swiping through endless profiles on a dating app. This will be exhilarating, at first, and you will even hang out with The Musician and The Undergrad and The Golfer (who was not very good at golf). You will be excited before every first date, disappointed after every first date, and rarely go on a second date. This will make you feel as if loveisimpossibleandunattainable and you will frantically download new dating apps, until you realize how much they have brought out the worst in you. Please do not feel horrified at yourself. Please understand that we are all caught in between being too afraid to commit, but too lonely to stay alone, and that this conflict inside our little human hearts can make us unrecognizable to ourselves. You will find yourself again – just remember that you cannot find yourself in other people.

5. You will feel restless. You will feel like you need to get out, even if you do not know what you are getting out of. Your work will offer you the opportunity to go to conferences in places like New Orleans and San Diego and you will seize these chances as if they are your lifeline. You will love every moment of it, from the lectures and the networking to the jazz clubs and the beaches. You will meet people with fresh ideas and accents you’ve never heard before. You will feel more alive and more inspired than you have in a long time. Remember this feeling. When you are unhappy with your life and your small corner of the world, remember that there is a whole universe for you to discover.

6. Every once in a while, you will be overcome by the desire to cry – but of course, you never actually do. Stop acting like youdon’tgiveafuck. Try to be okay with being not okay, for once. Be soft…be vulnerable... show your weakness to the world. It will only make you more a part of it.

7. You will flip yourself inside out, dump out your contents, and wait to see who might fill it again. You will feel like your worth can only come from external things like a text from a certain someone or praise from your boss. You will know that this insecurity is senseless, but for some reason you will not know how to give yourself worth. Take a look at your life. Zoom out as far back as you can and look at how much you have changed. It is easy to overlook your own progress when you have been with yourself all along, but look back far enough and you will see that you have grown much, much more than you are giving yourself credit for.

8. You will hang out with your best friends one weekend. It’s been a while since you’ve had the time to all get together, and you will realize how much they mean to you. You will realize how much you care about them, and how much they care about you, and this will make you feel so thankful that you think you might burst. Don’t ever take these people for granted.

9. You will be getting ready for work one morning when you suddenly remember you had been meaning to delete those dating apps. You will pull out your phone, rid them of the apps forever, and go out the front door. As you walk to your office, you will marvel at how light-hearted you feel. It is a relief not to look for love anymore. You will wait patiently for it to arrive.

10. You will stop comparing yourself to other people. You will learn that everyone has their highs and their lows, and that even the happy people on your social media feeds have their insecurities and fears. You will realize that the people you look up to have felt loneliness too. This whole time, you thought you had no one to turn to – when in fact, it was you who would not turn to anyone. Embrace that you are just as human as everyone else.

11. You will inevitably have a relapse, and drink whiskey and write dark poetry and spam your older brother with a series of deplorable text messages. He will tell you to call him, and listen to your tales of woe until even you are tired of listening to yourself, and you will realize that you are never actually alone because you always, always have family.

12. Most days, you will be calm. Your apartment will still feel too quiet sometimes, but you will be in less of a hurry to fill up the silence. The walls will not tremble anymore. You will curl up in a corner of your mattress and tug your fleece blanket up to your chin. You will toss and turn a little bit, and you might even wish there was someone there with you. A shoulder to rest your head against. Soft breathing in sync with your own. You will close your eyes and drift off into a gentle sleep, alone. Dream that you are free…because you are.