Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Your Turn: What’s the Difference Between Loneliness and Missing Someone Specific?

I got the following letter a few weeks ago and thought it would make for an interesting conversation. So, in a new feature I’m calling “Your Turn,” which you, the readers, get to answer the question, I’m presenting the letter without commentary from me:

How do you know the difference between missing an ex versus missing being in a relationship? I thought I just felt lonely but now I’m not sure if I still have feelings for my ex. — Love or Lonely


Readers, your thoughts?

31 comments… add one
  • Chicago-Dude

    Chicago_Dan February 9, 2011, 3:10 pm

    I think; loneliness is when one is without “company” – the lonely person is physically and mentally not occupied and hence, alone.
    Contrast loneliness to “missing someone specifically”, the person is more than “lonely” – as in, the person is ALSO, emotionally feeling a void left by a specific person.

    Thus, I may be lonely when I work from home (sans office mates to break the monotony) but come 5:30pm, I am beyond lonely and missing my fiance.

    (I think i botched this one and may have not even answered the posed question, but i wanted to be the first to comment so… There!)

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    • Chicago-Dude

      Chicago_Dan February 9, 2011, 3:12 pm

      …and missing my fiance – who has left this gianormous void since 8:17am!
      DAMN YOU, CHICAGO TRAFFIC!

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      • LK7889

        LK7889 February 9, 2011, 3:59 pm

        Hopefully you are going home to your fiancee though! I would be damning the traffic too if it was keeping me from seeing my fiancee.

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    Steeze February 9, 2011, 3:20 pm

    i wish i knew the answer to this… i guess the only way to know is if you start a new relationship and you forget about the ex? but if you dont forget about them, you miss that specific person?

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  • avatar

    Mainer February 9, 2011, 3:21 pm

    I think loneliness suggests a certain isolation. Like a person who doesn’t have a lot of friends or social interactions, exacerbated by the fact that they now no longer have a significant other either.

    Missing someone specific boils down to a reminiscence, lamenting over a better time with a better person. You are not necessarily lonely – your friends, family, and co-workers could be around you 20 hours a day. But this specific person is always on your mind.

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    Amy February 9, 2011, 3:24 pm

    I’m recently divorced so have had both feelings in the last few months. I specifically miss my exhusband when I think of the first five years of our marriage – how much fun we had together, the nice things we did for each other, the dreams we shared, etc. I still have a hard time with those feelings. When I feel like that – I miss the husband I had 3 years ago. Usually I’m not lonely – I like coming home to my new house and having it be MY place and not having to worry about whether someone is going to be mean to me, so I don’t often miss being in a relationship. The times when I do feel lonely – it’s because there isn’t someone at home to visit with about my day or find out about his day or discuss the news, cook dinner with, etc. I think both feelings are typical in a breakup. When I miss my exhusband – I let myself cry for a bit about those good times – then I think back to the last few years and remind myself that if we’d have been clicking and our marriage working – we wouldn’t have ended up divorced. It’s hard… but I think it’s a mistake to spend too much time pining for a lost love.

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    • Chicago-Dude

      Chicago_Dan February 9, 2011, 3:29 pm

      Hang in there, Amy!
      I like your last line, “…I think it’s a mistake to spend too much time pining for a lost love.”

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      • Chicago-Dude

        Chicago_Dan February 9, 2011, 3:30 pm

        meant to add…

        It sounds like your head is in the right place. Keep it up!

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      • avatar

        Amy February 9, 2011, 3:44 pm

        Thanks!

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        HM February 10, 2011, 2:45 pm

        How can someone thumbs down the word “Thanks!”?

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        sarolabelle February 10, 2011, 5:12 pm

        I think there are people out there just going around hitting the thumbs down.

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      Wolvie_girl February 9, 2011, 4:38 pm

      Agree 100% Amy. If you read my comment below, I’m not nearly as eloquent though 😉

      If you miss someone that you are no longer with, you’re missing the good times with that person. But like you said, you think back to the end and you remember WHY you aren’t together anymore!

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    • avatar

      cdj0815 February 10, 2011, 11:56 am

      I understand where you are coming from Amy. I have seven sisters and brothers, quite a few very good people in my life who I spend a lot of quality time with weekly. Pretty much respected and well liked by most people in my life and on my job. The love of my life died eleven years ago, but I am finally at a point where it doesn’t hurt so much any more. I do not give my heart freely nor easily

      I have a pretty active life, and have always been someone who is basically content (sometimes happy) with the life I have. I have always supported my family and friends spiritually, mentally, and sometimes financially through the ups and downs in their life.

      I enjoy being “alone” so I very, very seldom feel “lonely”. But recently, I am at point in my life where I would like to meet someone who would “want” me just for me and not require so much of my energy.

      I admire your strength, honesty and openess in discussing your emotions in this blog. You are definitely in a good space in your life. You are looking inward. Where most things should begin when reflecting on the pass and future.

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  • avatar

    Annie February 9, 2011, 3:27 pm

    I agree with Mainer above that lonliness is being more isolated from everybody including your friends and family, but also including the void some people feel of not having a significant other. If I’m feeling general lonliness, it usually helps me a lot to do something with friends or go to one of my crazy family’s big get-togethers. Missing someone specific would be different because I could be at a big crazy family get-together having fun, but still wishing that person were there.

    I think I’ve been through kind of this same thing. One of my exes had a really great sense of humor, and I had to make the distinction after we broke up of missing him versus missing the fun that came from his sense of humor.

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    Emma February 9, 2011, 3:29 pm

    I think loneliness is when you crave a certain sort of personal contact from just about anyone; you want to let someone into your life, so long as they can provide what you need.

    Longing for a certain person (or persons) is a bit difficult to differentiate in certain situations, but it breaks down to this: you can be surrounded by people you generally like, and can provide you with most of what you need, but there is still a gap where that other person used to be, and you can’t help but feel melancholy, even in the most joyous of situations, because they aren’t there to enjoy it with you. You think about them all the time, because if they were there, you’d be doing the same thing. You want to reach out to them at every opportunity, just to let them know you’re still there, and you want to know if they’re okay. I think it’s a little more like depression, in that nothing else interests you nearly as much because they aren’t there.

    Can you tell I miss my beau?

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    cdj0815 February 9, 2011, 3:30 pm

    I have been through this before as well.

    Sometimes we miss the idea of being in a relationship or having a significant other in our life. What is the saying, “Miss the idea of being in love”. When you are willing to settle for anything that anyone do to you, no matter how bad, you are “lonely” and probably scrared of being “alone”.

    You are “missing” the ex-boyfriend or girl-friend when, no matter who you are dating (whether fine, cute nice, etc), and no matter how good of a time you are having at that moment, thoughts of your ex keep poping up. You know that this new person may be good for you, but the person is not who you want (also you may have some issues to work through:)).

    This is why my friens and I discuss this question: “Would you like to be needed or wanted”. Most of the ones over 40 said, “wanted”. The younger ones said “needed” or they were not sure. All the women said “wanted”. Interesting?

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    • LK7889

      LK7889 February 9, 2011, 3:40 pm

      Of all the responses thus far, I think you hit the nail on the head.

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      Amy February 9, 2011, 4:00 pm

      Yep – you are spot on with this one!

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  • avatar

    Beckaleigh February 9, 2011, 3:30 pm

    I truly believe that the distinction between being lonely and missing someone specific boils down to when you feel “lonely.” I feel that if you are feeling lonely in a crowded room or even with your best friends in the whole world, then you are either super depressed, or you are longing for someone specific.

    I agree that this is a fine line to draw in the sand, but being lonely is nothing compared to missing someone special who you feel you can’t be without.

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  • Betsy

    Betsy February 9, 2011, 3:55 pm

    I’ve found that a good test for this is being honest with myself about whether or not I am idealizing my memories of my past relationship. When I actually miss my ex, it stems from specific memories and details exclusive to him and our relationship, including the flaws. However, when I have moved on and I am just missing having ANYONE I am reminiscing about perfectly being in love. My fantasies have always proved better than any reality, ha!

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  • beenice

    Savannah February 9, 2011, 4:04 pm

    Being in a long distance relationship makes this distinction pretty clear. I don’t just miss being able to hug and kiss, I miss hugging and kissing HIM! If you find yourself missing general perks of being in a relationship such as frequent intimacy, etc., you may just be lonely. But if you find yourself missing certain traits of that person or things that only he would do, you are probably missing him. Both are normal, of course.

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  • avatar

    ReginaSavage February 9, 2011, 4:22 pm

    The difference is lonelyness can happen to anyone at any time. I’ve been very, very lonely when I was surrounded by people and had a very active social life. These were often transitional times, when I started and finished university for instance. I felt lonely even when I had a boyfriend because I knew the relationship was basically done, I didn’t feel the connection I needed to with him.

    Missing someone in particular is often more specific; something triggers a memory or a certain fondness you felt that was related to your ex.

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  • avatar

    Wolvie_girl February 9, 2011, 4:27 pm

    When you break up with someone, and you get over the initial shock and sadness (if you were the one dumped) or releif of freedom from a bad relationship (if you did the dumping) it is only natural to feel lonely, and nostalgic for the person you used to spend your time and intimacy with. Does this mean you miss them, sure, but mostly, you’re just lonely. I am a firm believer in this one little credo: “You broke up for a reason!” Either it was your reasoning or your SO’s reasoning, but either way, there WAS a reason. You two didn’t work together then, why would you work together now?

    This doesn’t mean you should *never* get back together with an ex, and I’m sure about five hundred fellow commenters will proceed to tell me how they are now back with their ex and it’s wonderful, or thier parents broke up, got back together and have been happily married for years…but I still insist…You broke up for a reason!

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    ladiejoy February 9, 2011, 4:33 pm

    OK I’m posting this before reading all the comments…

    I think when you’re generally lonely, you crave action. Perhaps you’ve been shopping more, or hanging out with your girlfriends more, or spending a lot more time chatting with strangers on the internet. These are time-fillers, things to make you forget about your sense of being alone, and can give you a false sense of security and community – though all the while you still feel sort of empty. Cute guys may still catch your eye, even though you don’t want to pursue them.

    When you’re missing someone specific, you tend to isolate yourself more. This is when you are a month past a break up and still sitting on your couch at night, alone, with a box of tissues, Ben & Jerry, and watching Sleepless in Seattle for the hundredth time. You have no desire to socialize with anyone, you don’t want to talk on the phone, and all you can think about is his smile, or how his eyes had these adorable little crinkles at the sides. You couldn’t even fathom finding someone else attractive, much less think about actually dating anyone again. This person typically will start to remember the things about that person that were at first endearing and quirky, then turned annoying and bothersome, and is now back to being endearing and quirky.

    There is a very fine line between the two, and they are not mutually exclusive… but I believe there IS a difference.

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  • avatar

    Heather Girl February 9, 2011, 5:28 pm

    I think the difference is when you miss specific things about a person. Like you miss how they fold the paper when they are finished reading it, or you miss how they leave the TV on for their dog when they are gone.

    But give it a few weeks/months, and if you no longer miss the small things and you just miss having someone to go to dinner with or send a text to, then you probably have your answer.

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    • avatar

      Wolvie_girl February 11, 2011, 11:41 am

      My BF leaves the TV on for the dogs!! It’s so sweet, he leaves it on Animal Planet 😉

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    Maracuya February 9, 2011, 6:10 pm

    I can tell you. When filling your time with friends and family is wonderful, makes you happy, but it’s not enough. When see something at the store, you think about picking it up for them because you know it’s their favorite. When you scan the list of movies at the theater and your mind goes to which one they’d want to see.

    I think though, that it’s hard to tell whether you’re idealizing it because you’re so close to the situation. If you date a new person, Love or Lonely, and the feelings start to fade or you remember why you broke up with them, then you may have missed the relationship you wish you had and not the one that was.

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  • avatar

    JennyTalia February 10, 2011, 11:15 am

    For me, I know it’s just loneliness when the void can easily be filled with someone new. I know I’m missing someone when I’m constantly comparing that “new someone” with him.

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  • avatar

    cdj0815 February 10, 2011, 12:01 pm

    It sometimes seems like being lonely and missing someone is more of a state of mind, than actually being.

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    elisabeth February 10, 2011, 4:18 pm

    HeatherGirl got the closest to my conceptions of loneliness vs. missing an individual. I know that all the reasons I broke up with my ex were very good ones, and the choice was better for the both of us, but I still find myself longing for company – it’s easy to fill that longing with memories of him, because he was my most recent and my longest relationship. But my longing isn’t for him specifically, it’s for all the good things that come in a relationship.

    Are you missing the feeling of being held, or are you missing the way *his* arms fit so perfectly around you? Are you missing the benefits of having someone who’s interested in your day, or are you missing the way *she* laughed at your work story? Are you missing having someone, or are you missing something particular about an individual?

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  • fast eddie

    fast eddie February 11, 2011, 11:28 am

    While I was sailing up and down the west coast (San Francisco to Mexico) there were 3-4 days at a stretch with no other living thing on the boat. This called “single handing”. At day 3 the seagulls started talking to me and the next day I answered them. OK, I’m kidding but the loneliness was very real. The only human contact I had was via the HAM radio for a few minutes a day. That situation is different then being in the work-a-day world where you can go to a coffee shop and strike up a conversation 24/7.

    Living alone is a skill and I was good at it. The decor was my taste and the menu my choice. Now being married everything’s a compromise but when she’s gone for a few days the walls start to move inward. I don’t know if it’s specifically her or just human company that I miss during those times.

    Decades ago I was in a relationship with a wonderful woman who died while I was holding her hand. I still miss her very specifically and likely always will.

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