We live in a time when becoming "friends" with someone means clicking the Accept button. I don't think we've completely lost the ability to interact with one another, but we've certainly become lazy at it.
Most people battle weight throughout their lives, I battle loneliness. You wouldn't know it to look at me. I have a great job with amazing co-workers, good friends and a loving family. Okay, I do have a cat and I do live alone, but other than that, I don't fit the stereotype of a lonely person, and yet I'd say it's been the one constant in my life.
It's not something I ever shared with people. Admitting that you're lonely is embarrassing. It's like admitting that you've failed at life somehow. But nowadays my secret shame isn't so unusual.
We live in a time when becoming "friends" with someone means clicking the Accept button. I don't think we've completely lost the ability to interact with one another, but we've certainly become lazy at it. We've learned to exist on a reduced amount of connection. Substituting tweets and emails for conversations and actual face time, we're pruning away the things that keep us engaged with the world until we find ourselves alone on the couch night after night.
All loneliness stems from a deficiency of meaningful connections. At times this can be the result of a move or the ending of a relationship, but many times it can be the consequence of forgetting to make meaningful human interaction a part of our daily routine.
During the day it's quite easy to ignore the symptoms loneliness. In my case I have an amazing day job that puts me in the middle of people I adore. I have my yoga classes after work to keep me in shape. Community, check. Fitness, check. Yet at night I find myself -- toned and two pounds away from my goal weight -- by myself and lonely.
Being single isn't the problem. Anyone who's been in a bad relationship will tell you that some of your loneliest times can be spent in the company of another person. No, the problem is that once again, I've managed to let the emotional connections in my life run shallow or dry. I picked up weights instead of the phone. My body might have been fit but my relationships got out of shape.
The good thing about battling loneliness for as long as I have is that I've learned to correct the imbalance when it crops up, a pretty handy talent in a time when walking loneliness is becoming more and more common.
The following list is a kind of safety check list I use to keep myself out of the danger zone.
1. Be Proactive
I'm always convinced my friends know how alone I am and have chosen not to include me in their plans. I know it sounds paranoid but that's where my mind goes. Trust me, your friends have no idea you're lonely. Chances are they think you're having a wonderful time without them. Case in point: A few years ago I was alone on Valentine's Day. I'd just ended a relationship at the time and the last thing I wanted to do was be by myself. A new friend of mine was going through a divorce but I was too embarrassed to call figuring she had to have made plans for the night. A couple of weeks later at lunch we were exchanging Valentine's stories and it turns out she was alone on the couch eating ice cream too embarrassed to call me! Both of us had a miserable evening alone because we were too chicken to reach out. So pick up the phone and call. Your friends aren't mind readers and they'd love to see you.
2. Stretch The Hours Of Your Friendships
Many of us have acquaintances we see at a set time in a set place that we never think to reach out to. Every morning for years my best friend would briefly chat with a group of fellow moms while they all dropped their children off at school. It wasn't until going through her own bout of loneliness recently, that she thought to reach out to these women and invite them with their children over for a weekend pool party. It seems like such a simple solution but you'd be surprised how often we create boundaries on friendships that don't need to be there. The pool party was a huge success for my friend and I'm certain there are friendships in your life that can be move from one context to another as well.
3. Turn Off The Damn Tv/Hulu/Netflix/Facebook
This one is pretty obvious but bears repeating. Sitting on the couch or at the computer is a horrible time suck. I can personally testify that I just lost two hours to the internet just trying to write this piece. As much as I love that you're reading this article, do yourself a favor, turn off the computer (after this article) and talk to a live person. You can not create the kinds of connections you need to cure loneliness through your computer or television.
4. Get Out Of The House And Stay There
With only a limited amount of time after work each night it sometimes feels like I'm racing against the clock to get everything done (errands, workouts). I tend to develop a get in and get out mentality -- So basically I'm in a race with myself to get home to the couch as soon as possible. Don't make the same mistake. Hover. Mingle. Especially if you're at the gym or the market. Make it a goal to be present and enjoy yourself. Better yet, make it a goal to connect with at least one person. You don't have to become best friends or have an hour long conversation, just genuinely connect with one other person. Compliment their yoga mat if you're at the gym, smile and look someone in the eye as you pass, if you're in the checkout line ask them if the the salad dressing/cake/cookies they're buying is any good. Be present to your surroundings and the people sharing it with you.
It's common knowledge but true, one of the best shortcuts to get out of our own way is to become more concerned with the welfare of others. It's very easy to feel defeated by our loneliness, to see it as an unsurmountable obstacle. Volunteering allows us to forget about ourselves for awhile and focus on being part of the solution for someone or something else. It automatically makes you part of a community and addresses the more compassionate, giving sides of our natures which is the perfect mindset for forging new connections.
6. Realize You're Not Alone -- No Pun Intended
In this day of hyper connectivity we are all more alone than ever. Chances are, you suffering from a bout of loneliness makes you the norm rather than the exception. Rather than feeling embarrassed realize that it's a symptom of modern life and start taking steps to overcome it. Climbing out of loneliness isn't hard it just requires vigilance and a willingness to step out of our old habits.