How to Win a Wrestling Match (with Loneliness)
Confession: I stockpile Facebook statuses.
Hey, don’t judge me. My ammo pile of cleverness is for the world’s benefit. My goal always being to educate, inspire, and/or amuse you, and you, and you.
There is, however, one status I was too chicken to post:
“Don’t feel sorry for me, but I’m lonely.”
From time to time, posts like this appear on Facebook. Without fail what results is a beautiful outpouring of love.
As my finger hovered over the SHARE button, I imagined what responses might result. I longed for empathy, a dozen or two “You’re not alone” statements, but feared I’d get pity. So in the end, I never posted my admission.
Honestly, I thought my words might seem like a lie. On Facebook, and to a lesser degree Twitter and Instagram, I socialize like the proverbial butterfly. But:
Chatting on social media is not the same as face-to-face. You know it. I know it. Yes, it’s better than nothing, but still…
Recently when a blogging and writing friend told me her most popular blog post to date was on loneliness, I felt relief. It’s not just me. Googling “loneliness,” cemented this fact.
A nationwide survey by health insurer Cigna, found nearly 50 percent of respondents (in the US) reported that they feel alone or left out always or sometimes.
And it’s not just here in America. In 2018, the Prime Minister of Britain appointed a Minister for Loneliness, saying, “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life.”
“No” is the loneliest word that you’ll ever say.
Part of the loneliness I feel is my own fault. A few years ago, when I pursued an MFA in creative writing, I imposed a rule for myself: No coffee or lunch dates with gal pals until graduation. There were so many books to read, so many papers to write. I occasionally broke my rule, but not often.
After graduation, guess what I discovered? A lot of my friends had moved on. Made new friends. Found full-time jobs. Relocated. So now it was up to me to regroup, literally.
More than once during the last decade my mother said, “I just wish I had one or two good girlfriends, you know?” Yep, Mom. I know.
My husband Tony glanced over my shoulder as I worked on this post. “You’re lonely? I’m sorry! Am I not a good husband?”
I hastened to assure him, I was not speaking of loneliness within our marriage.
What I’m talking about is loneliness outside of marriage, closeness with other women.
When our children were little, these kinds of relationships were easy, organic. They happened at playdates at the park. Or in the Burger King play area. At the children’s playground at the mall.
But now all of my fellow mother friends are busy playing chauffeur to their kids. Or they’ve gone back to work. Or they’re caring for aging parents.
Of course I’m still friends with these gals but lately, many of these connections feel merely surface-level. Who do I know that I can tell EVERYTHING? That’s what I really long for.
Is this just my experience, or in this hustle-bustle society, are close friendships in danger of extinction? I hope they’re not because friendship isn’t just good for the soul. It’s also good for the mind.
One of my mom’s doctors told her:
“Enjoying social interaction is the #1 thing you can do to maintain mental acuity.”
Community also influences longevity. On the Italian island of Sardinia–which has an unusually high number of folks living to be 100 years or more–researchers found that, “Although good genes, diet and exercise are often cited as crucial to living a long life…in this Mediterranean region, social interaction may be just as influential.”
So knowing I needed more lady friends in my life for lots of reasons,
I pursued community.
I hosted a Scruffy Hospitality party for the ladies at my church. That’s a party where you don’t clean your house to the 1000th degree. You simply invite people over for snacks, drinks, and conversation.
The next thing I did was sign up for an all-girl trip to Scotland. Man-oh-man, or should I say woman-oh-woman, was that fun! Going on that trip felt like the first thing I’d done for myself in a long time.
Community shows up in the oddest places.
Earlier this summer, while at the grocery store, I ran into a gal I hadn’t seen in ages. After we caught up on everything our kids are doing, I suggested we get together for coffee. Then I shook my head. “Scratch that. You probably have tons of friends you do coffee and lunch with.”
“No, I don’t. Not really. You’re the one with all the friends.”
And we had this moment where our eyes got big and our words tangled together, both of us sputtering, “But it looks like everyone has tons of friends on social media!”
Why text when you can talk?
A while back I was texting with a friend about some health issues my mom was having. After a few back-and-forths, my friend texted, “Can I call you? This would be way easier over the phone.”
This gal was one of my best friends from high school. We hadn’t talked face-to-face or on the phone in five years. The sound of her voice, with its gentle Southern accent, melted away the years, the decades.
The things I’ve experienced with my siblings are very similar to what she’s been through recently. And what I was going through at the time with my mom, she’d been through as well. As such, she had lots of wisdom to share.
Yes, texting is quicker, but it’s nowhere near as personal.
One of my writer friends has been hosting porch parties in her town.
On multiple occasions, she’s invited ladies, three at a time, to hang out on her porch on summer mornings. She says the resulting conversations have been fun and fascinating.
Not quite ready to host a porch party, I crowd-sourced 10 participants to play team trivia. We had a blast and took third place.
All to say: I think the cure to loneliness is on refrigerator magnets all over America:
Be the change you wish to see in the world.