Loneliness Part 1: The Problem Exists

Loneliness has been on my mind a lot lately. My oldest son has just started school and as I watched him walk away from me and into a classroom of his peers, his back pack slightly too big for his little body, jaw set and head bowed down in a determined stance to be independent, my biggest fear for him wasn’t that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the academics or that he wasn’t safe without me. My biggest fear for him was that he would be lonely at school away from his family and in a room full of strangers.

My son’s teacher (after I pestered her with yet another e-mail, God bless her) has assured me that my son has dropped his “strong and silent” act and has started playing with kids on the playground and talking to the kids at his table. It took a few weeks, but he’s making new friends. Kids are resilient like that.

I remember being a kid and being so scared that I would be alone. That no one would like me. That they wouldn’t understand my strange sense of humor or wouldn’t be interested in the same things I was interested in. That I would somehow stick out as “other” and be rejected. I think we can all relate to those feelings on some level. I’m not sure if any of us are completely confident about being thrust into new situations without a frame of reference or a buddy.

After some reflection, what I am realizing that I STILL have those same feelings 20 years later. This is not to say that I still run and hide when asked to speak in front of a group of people. I also do not openly sob when someone says they do not want to hang out with me (…most of the time…at least not publicly… 😉 )  I also care a lot less about what people think about my hair or how I dress.

A surprising thing about becoming an adult is that the problem of loneliness, of feeling different and isolated from a group of friends and the desire to be known in a community doesn’t go away. Nor does it fix itself in a few weeks.

What I hear from a lot of other adults, (moms especially, but also dads and child-free adults) is that feelings of loneliness can prevail for months on end. That making friends in your late 20s and beyond is much more difficult than when we were all kids.

I can think of several reasons why making friends is actually harder as an adult: we have less structured, planned “play” time with people our own age; we often live far away from people we have things in common with (or far away from people in general if you’re in a rural area); we fill up our schedules with all of the “must” dos likes working, volunteering, grocery shopping, taking care of our homes and children and spouses and we don’t have the margin for spontaneous lunch dates or feel guilty for getting a babysitter or taking time off work to just meet with a friend. I’m sure we could all add to this list of why adulting makes being a friend hard. There seems to be so much more nuance to finding a friend and so much less time to figure it out all.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to elaborate on these thoughts on loneliness.

I want to talk about where I believe these feelings come from and how they are justified and even purposed (and one might argue “good”?) and I want to talk about some solutions and ways that we can prioritize community and specifically friendships (which are messy) in our lives.

For today, however, I just want you to know that if you feel lonely, if you feel like you’re the only person in the world without a close group of friends. If you feel unknown and that makes you feel uncentered and scared. If you yearn for a friendship where you can depend on people, ask for help, and give help in turn. If you just wish you had someone to eat dinner with, let alone Thanksgiving: you’re not alone. You are not weird. There is nothing “wrong” with you. Your desire for community is part of what makes you a human and it doesn’t have to always be this way.

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