The Loneliness Epidemic: back to the basics of Friendship 101.
In March of 2018 Psychology Today featured a cover story on the topic of loneliness. “A problem of epidemic proportions,” they claim. This magazine isn't the only one to point out the fact that there is a growing number of people who would admit to feeling deep loneliness in their lives. There are layers to the problem. Over the last few years a handful of studies have revealed this level of loneliness for Americans. Cigna did an extensive study in 2018. After surveying 20,000 Americans 18 years old and older, their website reports the findings:
Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
Likewise, YouGov, a research/polling firm, recently asked 1,254 adults 18 and older about their friendships. 22 percent actually claim to have no friends. None. 27 percent said they have no “close friends.” Many Americans have become accustomed to going through life isolated. And yet, we are wired, created by God to be known, wanted, and enjoyed. We are crafted to walk with one another and help carry the difficult loads of life. All it takes is one tragedy with no friend support and the outcome is dire. The truth is, though we have trouble believing it, a human can have a 7,000 square foot house, a $40,000 car, the best clothes to wear, the finest of wines to drink and a boat for the weekends, and yet if he has no close friendships, he will be an empty, lonely soul. There are too many stories to prove it.
As most people would assume, loneliness is not about being alone. Introverts are no more lonely than extroverts. Rather, the sorrow comes from feeling there is no one to count on, no one who knows us, there is a lack of connection and attachment, we feel untethered. Therefore, most people attempt to surround themselves with more people. They stay connected digitally, and keep busy with less gaps of quiet so as to not feel the void. But it is there, and though we can keep it at bay for a time, we can’t make our need for meaningful friendships go away. Introvert or extrovert, we are made to have companionship and community.
The sting of loneliness can be so sharp that we will do whatever we can to quell it. Be warned, there are a number of choices that DON’T solve the loneliness issue:
Joining a meet-up
Becoming a member at a church
Starting a bookclub
Adding friends to one’s social media following
Going out with co-workers for happy hour
What we are lacking is not people. The problem is that we don’t know what it means to be a friend and to build healthy friendships. For those who have deep friendships, it may be difficult to understand how complex building friendships can actually be for most individuals. Maybe it was never witnessed it in parents or anyone else around us. Without a doubt, technology has compounded the problem. So let’s get practical. Here are a few basics about how to genuinely build meaningful relationships:
Ask questions and actively listen-in our self-focused and self-promoting culture, we need to ask others about their lives. When we do, others will do the same.
Follow-up with people-when people share things they are going through, we get so busy we forget to circle back. This is basic, they need to know we heard it, remember it and care about it.
Don’t ignore the hard stuff-some trials people are going through are difficult to bring up, but ignoring those things can leave a person feeling more alone and less known. Ultimately, they want to know we will acknowledge it even if it is a little awkward at first.
Be willing to confront and receive confrontation-This reveals the strength and sturdiness of a friendship. True love will disagree at times, it will be free to call each other out on concerning behavior or decisions. Love wants more for each other. It reveals it’s strength when it is tested by honesty. Not easy, but true.
Mutual vulnerability makes both people feel safe-if we don’t share our hurts, weaknesses and pain, if we never confess our sin and brokenness, we relate in a fabricated and inauthentic way. This blocks attachment. A shallow relationship is exhausting.
Question your social media posts—shallow people attract shallow people. An edited version of life, or a habit of self-absorbed pictures makes others feel less able to connect to the real person behind the Instagram. Social Media should be the last place we learn about each other and our lives.
Learn to be alone-if we never or rarely sit alone and pray, contemplate, muse, imagine, or dream, we have nothing to bring to those around us. Deep friendships require growing our own deep wells.
Laugh-enough said. We need this.
Be cautious if you are co-dependent-from personal experience, be cautious that you don’t NEED to be NEEDED. This never ends well. These relationships can FEEL satisfying when all the while they are leave everyone depleted. The root is not life-giving friendship, it is dependency and control.
For those who are growing up in a time where technology is hijacking the face-to-face, real life, in person, vulnerable connections, pay attention to what is missing. Your loneliness can only be solved as you genuinely attach to other people. Attachment requires risk, sacrifice and some serious social skills. What could you do a better job at with those people who you respect and feel drawn to in your life? What do you need to work on? What can you ask the Spirit of God to help you with? Be a good friend and you will attract good friends. It’s worth the risk.