What’s the Word for the State of Missing Someone?

Everyone knows that being alone and being lonely are not the same. Alone is a fun treat where you have the whole house to yourself: you can listen to your podcasts without headphones, eat ice cream for dinner, and not worry about someone else’s schedule. Lonely is when you start to putter. Putter around the house unable to enjoy your activities, putter around work because the days are bleeding together, and putter around at three-ish in the morning because you can’t sleep.

The loneliness inflicted from the absence of your Very Important Person is something for which the English language does not have word. What is the word for when you miss someone? Loneliness isn’t exactly right because while we’re all familiar with “feeling alone in a crowded room.” That’s different than the state of deeply missing someone that should be and usually is with you. The Portuguese saudade is defined by Wikipedia as, “profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one cares for and/or loves.” If your person isn’t dead, this probably sounds dramatic. I’ve been lucky enough to never truly experience a state of missing someone so powerfully your entire soul feels eclipsed, the kind of pain about which books are written. That type of lonely nostalgic sadness is something I can imagine, but have only glimpsed.

Saudade (1899), by Almeida Júnior

These are my techniques for keeping the saudade at bay:

Invest in a do-it-alone hobby (and don’t turn it into a gig). I could consider writing my hobby, but I want to pursue it seriously. I love it but I also treat it like work with a schedule and goals. (This post, for example, was written to reach a writing goal.) The hobby I look forward to when I have alone time is crafting. Specifically, I find contentment and fulfillment while listening to audiobooks or podcasts while embroidering. Find something that makes you feel mentally well that you can do at home, by yourself.

Diversify your afterwork activities. It takes about three days of work-sleep-work-sleep cycle for the days to absolutely blend together. I’ve even noticed that I start to mutter to myself more at home when the cat is the only one to hear me. I don’t always feel like being social after work, but I’m really grateful for and rely on my friends that I can invite over without needing to be On. Even a small change of schedule will make you feel more human. People come out of the woodwork when you’re lonely but you need to be able to see them. If that means balancing your brain with store bought chemicals or simply paying attention, find what works for you and force yourself to reach out to those people.

Drink less. This one is just science. When I’m sad and lonely, I feel like drinking. To literally no one’s surprise, I have found that I actually feel a lot better if I just don’t drink when I’m going home to Empty House, Empty Bed.

Remember your VIP is coming back. I’m one of the lucky ones who can rest as assured as anyone else in America in 2019 that my VIP is coming home. When they do an ostensibly more dangerous job, are visiting a supposedly dangerous place, or are going to literal war, the loneliness starts to get compounded with fear. Missing and worry are a toxic combination. Even though we know it’s a little illogical, if our VIP is with us, we know they’re safe.

These habits help me stay on this side of saudade. You have to cultivate habits and these might be especially obvious to you. Nevertheless, I hope that if you’re currently missing your VIP or searching for that word in English to match the yawning sense of absence growing inside your mind, chest, and belly, you feel a little better knowing we’re all out here looking for it with you.


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