How do I cope with being a lesbian and single?

Lily
asks:
I feel like my loneliness is eating me alive. Every time I wake up, I expect someone to be sleeping next to me. However, no one ends up being there and it's rather devastating to me. I am not in the place in my life where I have time for a relationship. Also, I am paranoid that I will never meet anyone and that I will die alone. I'm going off to college in a year, will I meet other people there? I am a lesbian and that only adds to my fear, because I think about how many LGBT people there are in the world and that I will just be gay and single forever? How do I cope with these fears?
s.e. smith replies:

Hi Lily,

Loneliness can be a real bummer, can't it? Especially when you're in a stage of transition — getting ready to go to college, leaving your old life behind — it's easy to get a little anxious about what might lie ahead in the future. Take a deep breath, pour yourself a cup of tea, and let's talk through some things.

So, first of all: One of the weird things about wanting relationships and being in a transition period is being aware that it's not a great time to date, even if that goes against your heart. I commend you for being self-aware with that, and feeling like you can't take on a romantic relationship right now. That's a smart move for you, and one that's also respectful of other humans.

But if you're feeling lonely, don't forget that romance isn't the only kind of relationship out there.

While you may only have a year left on ye olde homestead, there's still time to make other kinds of connections with people in your community. Something like volunteering for a local organization or attending organizing community events could help you get some socialization and companionship in a structured environment. (Take it from one isolated, lonely person to another: Volunteering at the Humane Society two days a week has totally enriched my life!)

And, if you have ideas in mind about where you want to go to school, you might be able to get a jump start socializing with current and other prospective students, some of whom may be nearby; check out online groups, or ask the admissions office for more information.

Secondly: Heck yeah, you are going to meet people in college. Whether your college is a tiny undergraduate liberal arts school with 500 students or a university with a sprawling series of campuses and 50,000 students, you are going to meet all kinds of cool people in college, including, FOR SURE, some lesbians. (And queers, and pansexuals, and bisexuals, and lots of other ladies who are into ladies.) Plus, colleges are frequently surrounded by metropolitan areas, which opens up a whole pool of other people to meet, including people attending other regional college and universities.

Some people happily jump right into the college landscape and find themselves surrounded by new friends immediately. Maybe that's not how you roll, but it doesn't mean you're going to be isolated by default. There are a lot of ways you can make social connections on and around campus.

Many campuses have a gay and lesbian center or similar campus association, which can be a fast way to meet like-minded people. These groups hold all kinds of social events like movie nights, group trips, lectures, and dating mixers. You may find a person to date there, and you will almost certainly make some friends as well, building the start of a network of supportive, excellent people who will make the world better. (And, who knows, maybe introduce you to that special lady.)

There are also tons of other campus groups built around various interests and shared backgrounds. As you're applying to colleges, you may want to check out their student life and look for groups that spark your interests. Socializing will help you get to know people on campus, increase your confidence, and, yes, hopefully lead to some dates.

Thirdly, the coping strategies: Having had some long, dark nights of the soul myself, I empathize with your experience. While working to build up some social community around you can be a great step when it comes to keeping the darkness at bay, knowing that you have a kayaking trip/queer studies reading group/kitten socializing sesh tomorrow doesn't help when it's 2am and you're staring at the ceiling.

Here are some things that might:

The LGBQT community's visibility is increasing all the time. So are the number of people who are out and proud about their identities, building community for each other. You might not instantly find your people right when you set foot on campus, but you will in time. They are out there, and some of them are probably lying awake right now wondering if they are destined to be alone forever.

I don't advise hiding from your fears, but acknowledging them and letting them know that they're not driving can be a powerful coping tool. If you snap awake in the middle of the night and feel stricken with dread, try getting out of bed, grabbing a book, and reading for a while. If you're doing homework and you keep getting distracted by thoughts of spinsterhood, try taking a walk, or picking up a craft project. Acknowledge that your fears are there, and move through them.

Something else I really love doing: Consuming some queer media. There's a ton of amazing lesbian-centric YA out there, like the work of Malinda Lo (Ash is one of my all-time faves). There's also Far From You (Tess Sharpe), Everything Leads to You (Nina LaCour), Not Otherwise Specified (Hannah Moskowitz), and if that's not enough for you, here's a list of 100 lesbian and bi books. And while lesbians aren't as well represented as they should be on television, there are a lot of webseries with vibrant, amazing lesbian characters. It's a way to feel more connected to the larger lesbian community, no matter where you are and how you're feeling.

But hey: If you're finding yourself overwhelmed, it's possible you have something deeper at work, and you might benefit from some counseling. You could ask your school counselor or parents for help with a referral, if you want, and if you don't think either will be helpful, a local teen center may be able to hook you up. A lot of young adults have some intense emotional experiences as their bodies and lives enter new stages of existence, and it's super common and totally okay to get some help from a pro.

What I mean by overwhelmed: You're having trouble sleeping night after night; you're losing focus on homework and other tasks, perhaps to the point that people have commented; you're feeling physical symptoms like a racing heart, dry mouth, or tremors; you're feeling weepy, or weirdly angry, for no apparent reason; you're losing interest in the things and events around you; and/or you're feeling anxious or restless. Again: There's absolutely nothing wrong with these feelings, but getting help to manage them may make you feel more ready to take on the world.

The bottom line: You're not alone if you feel alone...but that doesn't mean you're stuck in isolation forever. There are lots of avenues for socializing and dating open to you in the future, and the next chapter of your life could be a great adventure, so hang in there. (And meanwhile, consider checking out some safer sex resources so you're prepared for what lies ahead.)