When did we get so lonely?
It’s not to say we don’t have friends. We do. And many of them are kind, caring, good people. But there are so many things that shout for our attention throughout the day. I personally can hardly maintain the few close friendships I do have, let alone have the capacity to make new friends, something I wish I had now that I’ve moved away from my hometown. I read a poem titled friendship nostalgia recently by the poet Rupi Kaur. As I absorbed the words, I choked up as I felt myself transported to another time, when I was a child, fully immersed in friendships at the deepest level. The poem reads:
i miss the days my friends
knew every mundane detail of my life
and i knew every ordinary detail about theirs
adulthood has starved me of that consistency
the walks around the block
the long conversations when we were
too lost in the moment to care what time it was
when we won and celebrated
when we lost and celebrated harder
when we were just kids
now that we have our very important jobs
that fill up our very busy schedules
we compare calendars just to plan coffee dates
that one of us eventually cancels
cause adulthood is being too exhausted
to leave the apartments most days
i miss knowing i once belonged
to a group of people bigger than myself
that belonging made life easier to live
We have our friends, but for the most part, the majority of our interactions on a daily basis are surface level. We talk to people about work or our kids, we talk to our partners about tasks or what’s for dinner.
We want more, but deep meaningful conversations and interactions can be a double-edged sword. They are fulfilling but tiring and time consuming. They can also have a way of opening a pandora’s box of thoughts and emotions about our true selves that we may be trying to hide or to keep at bay to get through another day. Being open leaves us vulnerable, especially if we have been conditioned over time that openness equals hurt. And we are afraid. Afraid what others would think if they really saw what was going on under the surface of our polite Hellos and How are yous? And more than that, we’re afraid of what we would have to deal with if we stepped past the surface of ourselves into the hidden depths below.
I believe that’s the core of it. We often avoid authentic connection, not only because we believe we don’t have the time. We avoid it because it has the capacity to unearth the veils we wear to keep from falling apart. Because who has time for that? Yet this self-inflicted emotional and physical isolation is like a slow-burning death: one that haunts us incessantly- like a scratchy tag in a shirt that we can’t be bothered to remove- rather than a fast, deep, uncontrollable purging of who we thought we were in order to become who we were meant to be.
So we stay lonely. And this pandemic had further isolated us, further verified our need to keep to ourselves, be wary and cover up what we fear the most: ourselves. That is until we can’t take it anymore. We yearn for deep connection not only with ourselves but with each other as well.
We need each other’s openness and honestly and vulnerability to remind us that we aren’t alone. And we need each other to lean on as we embark on the long, journey back to ourselves. Ultimately we are all here for our own Hero’s Journey, one that looks different for all of us. Yet the one tie that binds us all is that every path is wrought with often unimaginable pain. Having people around us during those moments of darkness who are willing to be by our side and remind us of our strength, can be what propels us to the other side. And having people with us to share in the good has a way of expanding it into something great.
So what do we do? How do we reconcile the way we once were with the reality we currently face?
We make the decision to prioritize authentic connection. Because here’s the thing: we get caught in a vicious loop. We need authentic connection to be reminded of who we really are, but we need to remember who we really are to feel inspired to reach out to connect in ways that feel good and authentic. So if you’re struggling, make a move and the rest will follow.
Think of the friends or people in your life that make you feel lighter, more energized, more yourself when you’re around them. Push through all the stuff taking up your time to find an opportunity to connect- in person, over the phone, online. And when you do connect, make the most of your time. Open up. Say what’s really in your heart if you feel like you need to, even if it carries you into unchartered waters. Sometimes you won’t even have to. It’s not to say that every moment of every interaction has to be full of depth and vulnerability. You’ll feel a sense of lightness just being around someone who really understands you and reminds you of your essence. That feeling in itself, like a ray of warm sunlight in the fog of loneliness, will be something you can hold on to, and build upon.
We might not get back to that place of childhood connection, but we can create something better. Because now we understand the importance of relationships and take nothing for granted.