Why does my loneliness seem to fuel a sense of desperation to reconnect?

In my pastoral ministry with divorced Cathofics over the years, I have met many persons like two I’ll call Kevin and Sue. They were both middle-aged and divorced within the past year or so. Both claimed that their divorces had been unexpected and thus devastating. They had both been married 20+ years. When the youngest children in both marriages had graduated from high school and been basically on their own, both marriages had seemed to quickly unravel. In the aftermath of their divorce, both Kevin and Sue were not surprised at their deep loneliness, painful as it was, after being part of a couple for so many years. What had blind-sided them was an almost overwhelming sense of desperation to get back into a new intimate relationship.

Kevin had fairly soon found a new love at his neighborhood tavern. He had known the woman by name but that was about all. It turned out that she was also divorced within the past year, and to Kevin seemed like everything he wished his former wife had been. The ensuing whirlwind relationship seemed to fill up all of his post-divorce emptiness. But as they came to know each other better over the course of several months, Kevin painfully discovered that their individual differences were just unbridgeable. He said he had ended up feeling almost worse after their break-up than after his divorce. He had had so many hopes!

Sue, on the other hand, had quickly discovered her new love through an internet dating service. She found a divorced man near her age who claimed to have all the qualities she had treasured in her ex-husband when they had first met. This new intense relationship has also been on the fast track, but had also slowly turned out to be a train wreck. This experience had left her more discouraged than hurt. She worried that she might never meet the “right” one for her.

It not surprising that people who feel like “road-kill” after a devastating divorce find themselves feeling achingly lonely. Loneliness, which at times can be crushing, is normal for anyone who is newly single after the painful end of a long-term relationship such as marriage, especially if that marriage seemed relatively happy. (It goes without saying that all human beings, even those currently in intimate couple relationships, experience periodic feelings of personal loneliness.) But more often than one might think, the loneliness following the break-up of a long-term relationship manifests itself in an almost overwhelming desperation to quickly seek a new close and intimate couple relationship.

Usually, feelings of intense loneliness lessen over time, but there may well be a life-long residual ache in the heart which misses the long-term closeness and intimacy of the relationship which has now irreversibly ended.

What about when one discovers within herself or himself a sense of desperation to seek a new close partner relationship? A newly-single person can be very vulnerable to the possibility of a quick intense “rebound” relationship. The deep-felt urge to be in an intimate relationship can seem overwhelming. Of course, the desire to be closely connected in interpersonal relationships is the deepest yearning of the human heart which draws every one of us (unless there has been some sort of traumatic personal relationship in one’s past) to be linked closely as family members, friends, lovers, and couples. So the desire to be intimately connected is quite normal. The difficulty is that anyone who has recently experienced the painful end of a marriage can be particularly vulnerable at the level of feelings and emotions. Such a more or less highly emotional state is obviously a risky time to be quickly seeking a new close intimate relationship, or to be seeking to quickly take a previous long-term acquaintance to a more intimate level. The highway of life is littered with the wreckage of such desperate seeking!

I tried to reassure both Kevin and Sue that the main thing to keep in mind is that feelings of intense loneliness and even a sense of desperation to seek a new close relationship are both normal after the painful break-up of a long close intimate relationship. I pointed out that, in my experience, such feelings both usually diminish in time. Meanwhile, reaching out to stay connected to close family members and long-time friends, getting involved in volunteering in the community, or investing time and energy in personal hobbies can be helpful. Obviously, there is no “quick fix”! On the other hand, as they discovered, choosing to act on a sense of desperation by seeking a quick intense couple relationship can be risky at best, and devastating at worst. Kevin and Sue both sadly agreed.