Chronic loneliness is a modern-day epidemic, and a sad one at that. We live in such a busy time, and it’s all too common to sacrifice relationships for more work, more money, more stuff. But as a species, humans don’t do well by themselves. We survive best in groups where we can look to others for support and empathy.
Despite the instinctual need for others, the percentage of Americans who say they frequently feel alone is at an all time high. In the 1970s and 1980s, the percentage was around 11% and 20%, respectively. Yet in 2010, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) repeated a similar study and the percentage was as high as 45%.1
When feelings of loneliness seem to overwhelm us, the instinctual fix is to make more friends; to socialize. But all this really accomplishes is a more intense realization of loneliness.
Loneliness Exists Even with Physical Company
Feeling alone is not the same as truly being alone. Think about this common situation: in a family gathering, a handful of relatives are sitting at the table with others, but they are scrolling through Facebook on their phone or texting people who are not present. None of the people in this scenario are truly alone, but they do create loneliness. Through being more interested in their phone than physical company, they miss out on true human connection through company.
Another relatable example is patients in hospitals. While these ill people are quite literally surrounded with support, they often feel lonely and forgotten if their relatives do not stop by frequently. Any type of separation, be it literal or emotional makes us (and even animals) feel very alone and cut off.2
In animals, it’s not separating a monkey from any companion, it’s separating them from a preferred companion. When we do that, we see the same effects in those monkeys that we see in humans; they feel lonely.
Connecting Is Easy, Deepening Is Not
Part of the problem with being hyper-social or making new “friends” to fill a void comes from the fact that those connections are actually empty. This is due to how simple it is to connect with new people.
Any time you open an app like Facebook or SnapChat, you’re making connections with people. They could be long-time friends, acquaintances or even strangers, but the attention makes the line blur between true companion and internet stranger. A person can have thousands of friends on Facebook but only truly know 50 of them. The high number doesn’t mean loneliness is an impossibility.
Another trend in the loneliness quick-fix is dating apps. If you need a mood booster or just want someone to compliment you and keep you company, any dating app can do the trick within minutes. There are often no strings attached, but along with being dangerous, this is also emotionally detrimental; while you may not feel alone for the hour you spend with a new person, as soon as they leave (most likely to never be heard from again), you feel even more alone than before.
Promiscuity Is a Loner’s Drug
When you make new friends because of loneliness, you’re being promiscuous. While this word is typically associated with dating a lot or being intimate very casually, the alternate definition is more about being indiscriminate or casual when it comes to who you surround yourself with.
Sure, it can feel good to connect with a lot of people, but new connections don’t always lead to strong relationships. The more shallow relationships you build, the more lonely you feel.
Think back to the last time you realized you were ravenously hungry. You probably raided the pantry and ate whatever you could get your hands on, even if it was pure junk food. Making empty connections to try to fill a void is the same thing; When you’re not being selective about who to connect with, you make plenty of shallow connections.
Beating the Loneliness-Free Addiction
Deep relationships connect people on an intimate level. When you truly connect with someone, you trust them. That trust allows you to exchange thoughts and feelings in order to truly grow as a person.
Shallow relationships, however, make people feel distant because thoughts and feelings are not exchanged and shared. Why would you share intimate thoughts and ideas with someone if you don’t know you can trust them to keep it between you?
Shallow connections lead you back to the original problem – “a separation from a preferred companion”, which leads to loneliness.
It’s a vicious cycle: you feel lonely, you try to meet more people, you connect with even more unsuitable people, and those people leaving you more lonely. It’s why wise people often say they would rather have two really close friends than 20 acquaintances.
So what are you supposed to do? Stop being a friendly person? No.
Stop Aiming for Making More Friends
Aim to connect with a few who you can share your mind with. The goal is to build real relationships on a solid foundation. If you were in love with a diamond bracelet but you couldn’t afford it, wouldn’t it be better to do without than to waste money on a cheap knock off that turned your wrist green? Knock-off friends are no different.
It’s also important to note that friendship and connections with people should be done for you and your happiness, not to impress others or seem popular. Someone can be physically with a lot of people but still feel lonely. It doesn’t matter how many people are impressed by your friend group; if you don’t consider any of those people real friends, you’ve accomplished nothing.
When the people are the right ones, making friends with just a few of them is enough to give you the warmth and connection. When you find yourself physically alone, just sending a quick text to a real friend or two can make you feel better long-term. The real friends are the ones who will make you happy and challenge you to grow.
Find out the types of friends you need here: The Purpose Of Friendship: The Only 4 Types Of Friends You Need In Life
If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed as to how to go about making real connections, start with understanding others’ values to form a deepermore values you share with each other, the more likely the relationship will be a deep one. Read this article about knowing more about your values: Knowing My Values Has Filled up the Long-Existed Missing Gap in My Life
A Deep Connection Is More Worthwhile Than Hundreds of Shallow Ones
It’s not a bad thing to make friends, it only becomes a problem when you don’t pay attention to who you connect with and those so-called connections are vapid and empty.
Don’t let your “hunger” for going loneliness-free blind you. Be selective about who you connect with. Develop deep connections and ditch the shallow ones. You’re way too good for that anyway.