May 26, 2020

We are All Together in our Loneliness.

Several weeks ago, I sat in a Sunday morning service prepared for a message about faith.

Instead, in a departure from the regularly scheduled program, I got an open forum on mental health and the effects our relationships have on it.

The statistics are sobering:

>> More than 25 percent of adults feel they don’t have a close friend they can trust or talk to.

>> 30 percent of adults suffer from feelings of loneliness.

>> 45 percent of adults say they find it difficult to make new friends.

I find it painfully ironic that we are “the most connected we’ve ever been,” and many of us can’t find a single person to share a feeling of community with—the most fundamentally human component of existence. The discussion prompted me to look at my friendships and how I could shape a healthy, socially satisfying life in the future.

Are you feeling lonely? If so, I hope you’ll do the same.

As I write this, I have been quarantined for 63 days. It has been said that we shouldn’t use this time to test our friendships or measure their value—that it’s unfair and selfish to do so. I beg to differ. 

It’s easy to call someone “friend” when we’re in a social environment, but what about when we’re home alone? Do we feel comfortable picking up the phone to catch up? Do we feel seen and remembered? 

A community only counts if we’re communicating! When it fails, the quiet is what whispers the truth about our relationships. The realities we try to avoid. Lean into that. I did, and I learned a few things. I realized that I have high expectations for my friends. I should. These are the people we choose to have in our lives. And if we truly are the average of the five people we’re closest to, what does that say about us?

A few months ago, a good friend of mine gave me a hard time because I was expecting great service from a waitress. I’m not sorry. High expectations are a form of flattery—it says that I hold that person in high enough esteem to meet specific standards. I don’t go to a restaurant expecting second-rate food or a movie expecting poor audio.

We have to stop protecting ourselves by setting expectations too low, and instead, aim higher. What we accept is what we will get, and we were not designed to live a life of mediocrity. We deserve the best. And yes, it exists.

“Deserving the best.” We often limit this thinking to romantic relationships, but considering how few friends the average American has, perhaps it’s time to broaden our parameters. I need a friend that I know I can call at three in the morning to pick me up from the airport when Uber is glitching. It’s simple but wildly significant.

Hear me loud and clear: not every friend will serve the same purpose. However, I’ve learned it’s healthy to evaluate friendships, and it’s okay to replace dead ones. Like we form new opinions as new information is introduced, we can generate new relationships. Create a circle that nurtures and nurture that circle.

Not surprisingly, the statistics above show that a large percentage of the data is comprised of men and people who are self-employed. Men are conditioned to have superficial conversations restricted to balls and boobs, so I’m not shocked by our inability to develop honest, meaningful relationships. 

But I want to explore the self-employed category. I’ve been self-employed for three years now. I can confirm that it gets lonely. But I’ve also grown accustomed to it. I have become incredibly comfortable with my own company. I am no stranger to sitting at a restaurant or bar solo (shout-out to the bartender I met after the aforementioned church service who confirmed she was a part of these statistics).

Since we’re all sharing the quarantine experience, we are all getting a glimpse into what it looks and feels like to be self-employed (lonely). 

How can we be better for our friends? For ourselves? If we’re in a room of friends and still feel isolated, it’s not selfish to start making changes. 

This probably looks different for everyone, but I think quarantine has taught us that “real-ationships” matter. This is a call to have an honest conversation with ourselves about what we have versus what we want and need—and being intentional about getting it. 

Life is hard enough. Please share it with people who make it a little easier.

For some people, there may be no takeaways from this piece. For others, it’s what needed to be heard. For everyone, it’s a reminder that we all want the same things. Good friends are hard to find, especially in adulthood. 

We tend to doubt our ability to find them and settle for substandard relationships and social media prisons. You are not alone. But I want you to find them. Don’t stop until you find them.


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