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Why Many People Are Lonely These Days

By: Brian Kim - August 21, 2007

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For the most part, the true impact of loneliness doesn’t really hit people until they leave the confines of school.

School was the ultimate breeding ground for friendships. You were with people of the same age, who most likely had the same interests, and you met with each other consistently over a long period of time. All these factors put together helped lay the foundation that facilitated the forging of strong friendships.

But then after high school and college, most people started to go their own separate ways. They moved on to new cities and jobs, some to other countries, while others got married and started their own families, and all those factors that helped make friends in the past were seemingly pulled out from under the rug.

And then the full impact of loneliness started to sink in.

Even though you were surrounded by so many people, you still felt lonely in the sense that you didn’t have many people you could truly confide in. For most people, the only person they could truly confide in was their spouse.

The funny thing here is that everybody assumes and has the impression that everyone else has a huge number of great friends that they go out and party with every weekend, but that’s not really the case for the most part.

Most people are very lonely. They are socially isolated despite the huge number of people that surround them. They crave true friendships.

The usual suspects that people point to in order to explain this growing phenomenon of social isolation is the advancement in technology.

Television is the easiest target to pick among all advancements in technology. It’s become our number one source of entertainment whereas in the past, when television wasn’t very available, people had to turn to socializing with others as their primary form of entertainment.

Couple this with the fact that more people have longer commutes and work longer hours, and it’s easy to see why most people don’t have the time or energy to socialize after coming back from work. It’s much easier to sit back, pop a beer open and watch an episode of Lost on the tube.

Then when the weekend rolls around, since no attempt was made to make new friends during the week, people find that there’s nobody to go out and do things with on the weekend so the TV becomes the solution once again. Then the week starts over again and the same story repeats and lends itself to a very viscous cycle.

But some may argue that technology has facilitated socialization by helping keep people in touch with each other, but more often that not, that kind of technology is used to do just that - to touch base with others, whereas in the old days, that would’ve been done face to face. Most people just use the advancements in technology for the sake of talking, in an effort to distract themselves from their loneliness rather than take their relationships with other people to higher levels.

Technology has also provided us with our own personal entertainment which allows us to easily trap ourselves in own little bubbles, oblivious to the world around us. Walk down any urban city and you’ll see the all too familiar white earphones in people’s ears as they nod their head to the beat of the music on their Ipod.

Technology has kept us occupied with ourselves outside the house and inside as well.

Add to that, technology and the advancement in society has improved to the point where we have more options in our lives than we did before, so the life of living in the same “community” you grew up in is no longer the norm. Life was very simple back in the day. You grew up and stayed in the same town, held the same job for many years, everyone was your neighbor, and everybody knew everybody else and helped one another out whenever they needed it. Loneliness wasn’t really an issue in rural towns because everybody was so close with one another because they were all that they had. Venturing outside of town was very rare.

Now that there are so many opportunities out there, people choose to venture out and live in the cities.

What makes this even harder is that when people travel to a new city and find that everybody lives in their own little world, the “charm” of the friendliness of a small town is lost in the big city, and it becomes hard to start over and make new friends.

And there’s always seems to be an invisible wall that people put up when going out, which can be partly due to the influence of the media and all the reports of kidnappings, strangers, murders, rapists, etc., which has conditioned us to be very wary of any advancement made by strangers.

So people begin to withdraw into their own world and when they try to get out, it seems impossible because everywhere they look, people seem to be in their own respective cliques and everyone knows it’s not easy trying to break into an established group.

You roll this all up and you can see why so many people fee lonely nowadays.

So how do you stop this lonely spiral?

Part of the reason why it’s so hard to make friends is that there is no “establishment” like there was with school when you were younger, where you had people of the same age meeting together everyday.

The closest thing you have to that is work now. But that’s a crapshoot because it’s a diverse mix of all ages and backgrounds.

The best bet you have to help with your loneliness is to craft the life you want to live FIRST.

Then you will attract the friends that are well suited for your life, which will essentially fit YOU like a glove.

The truth is, people like people who are like themselves because as narcissistic as it sounds, we all think of ourselves as someone special. So if we like something and we find another person that likes that exact same something, it’s easier to become friends with them simply because you think he/she is special and you have this common platform to work off of. So again, the first thing you should do is craft the life you want to live first.

If you like exercising, then join a gym. If you like martial arts, join a karate class. If you like playing tennis, play at a park.

Once you do this consistently, you’ll find people who like to exercise, who like marital arts, who like playing tennis, which are all the things you like doing, which provides very easy fodder for starting friendships.

If you don’t like exercising or marital arts or playing tennis, then chances are very slim that you’ll actually make friends at those establishments.

And another thing to note here is that if you do this, that important element of consistently which was so important in helping you make friends with school naturally comes into play here.

If you really like working out, playing tennis and martial arts, you will go those respective establishments consistently and you’ll become a friendly face, making the process of making friends with other people who consistently go there that much easier.

But it’s not enough to just show up and do your thing. You have to expand your social skills and the easiest way to do that is simply this:

Start treating everyone you meet as you would a friend.

Don’t view them as strangers because if you view them as such, you will treat them as such.

The clerk at the convenience store is your friend. Your next door neighbor is your friend. The owner of the dry cleaner nearby your house is your friend.

When you start doing this, it becomes really easy to break the ice with other people and that’s something you’ll find that a lot of people can’t do.

But even if you can break the ice really well and turn strangers into friends, if you don't strike while the iron is hot; it can turn out to be one of those “pseudo” friendships.

You know exactly what kind of friendships they are. Everybody has them.

“Hi, how are you.” “Good.” “How are you?” “Good.”

A quick nod and a smile.

And then you each go your respective ways.

And of course there’s always the polite saying of “We should get together and do X activity some time”, but neither one of you will do anything about it.

If you don’t take the initiative to take the friendship to another level, it’s like starting a fire and having the embers slowly die in the campfire.

Take the initiative.

Everybody is always waiting for everyone else to make the first move.

It’s just that everybody is too afraid to make the fist move.

You’ll notice that within every social circle, there are the “planners” of the group. They usually organize the outings and if they don’t organize them, nothing happens.

Don’t wait. Make the plans. Become the planner. Take the initiative. What’s the worst thing that can happen? If they say no several times, take the hint and look elsewhere.

Last, but not least, as simple as it sounds, be a friend.

As hard as it is to make true friends after school, it’s just as hard or probably even harder to maintain friendships afterwards. Ultimately, you want to make true friends, friends that you trust completely, who you can confide in, who you’ll gladly help out in a bind and vice versa.

True friends are extremely hard to come by and the dangerous part about true friendship is that it doesn’t’ take much to ruin it. Everybody knows what I’m talking about. Everybody has had some experience with that.

What you’ll find is that even ONE true friend is 100 times greater than knowing 100 people superficially because how many of those superficial friends will lend you their ear or help you when you need it?

Take the time to build and cultivate great friendships. Be a friend. Give them a hand when they need it. Take them out when they’re feeling down. Listen to them when they need someone to confide in.

There’s nothing like having a true friend that you can count on. It’s one of the best things in life.

Humans are social creatures. We were not meant to be isolated from one another. It’s bad for us, both mentally and physically if we are.

Up to a certain point, you can blame the advancement of society and the media in general for the increase in social isolation. Up to a certain point you can blame technology for the increase in social isolation as well. But it’s always up to you to do something about it. It’s always up to you to do something about your loneliness.

It’s just a matter of realizing that a lot of people, and I mean a lot, are in your exact same position. They feel lonely and socially isolated and crave to make true friends and you have to realize that everybody could use new friends, even though it may seem like they don’t.

It’s just few are willing to make the effort, to break the ice, and to initiate things in order to solidify the friendship.

Craft the life you want to live FIRST. Treat everyone you meet as you would a friend. Take the initiative. Be a true friend.

And you’ll never find yourself lonely ever again.

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7 Responses to “Why Many People Are Lonely These Days”

  1. Sridhar Ratnakumar Says:

    Whenever someone mentions “loneliness,” I always get reminded of this - http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=1833

  2. Priscilla Palmer Says:

    You have been tagged for The Personal Development List. (See my site for details.)

  3. Jean Browman Says:

    Great reference, Sridhar. And great topic, Brian. I do think you’re romanticizing small towns, though. I grew up in one and you really had to fit the norm to be accepted. Forget it if you were different.

    In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal one fellow argued that diversity leads to lack of community. We form communities with people who are like us. That’s harder to do in everyday life now.

    I personally never feel lonely if I write. It connects me to the deepest part of myself. I also think of my favorite books and tapes as dear friends. That doesn’t mean I don’t connect with other people, it just means I don’t do it out of need. The more truly emotionally self-sufficient you are, the fewer demands, often subconscious, you place on other people. So I agree with you, craft your life first, then find a way to share it with others.

  4. Brian Kim Says:

    Sridhar,

    Thanks for the link.

    Priscilla,

    Thanks for the list.

    Jean,

    Thanks for your comments.

    That argument that the Wall Street Journal made certainly seems valid and I can see how diversity does lead to a lack of community. I think it is human nature to form communities with people who are like us.

    You also bring up an interesting point when you say that the more emotionally self sufficient you are, the fewer demands you place on other people. I certainly agree, however just up to a certain point. I think you can do that (I certainly do), but there will always be that something that you get from a friend you can’t get in books or tapes.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  5. Jean Browman Says:

    Brian,
    Certainly there are things you can get from a friend that you can’t get in books or tapes. The point is, you can’t demand it from other people. I agree with Marshall Rosenburg (developer of the non-violent communication method) when he distinguishes between a request and a demand. It’s not how you phrase what you want, it’s whether or not you get upset when the other person says no. If you ask ever-so-nicely and the other person says no and you get upset, it wasn’t a request. It was a demand.

    In my latest post at StressToPower (http://stresstopower.com/blog/2007/09/02/nurturing-friendships/ ) I say I believe nurturing friendships is one of the most important things I can do in life. And I believe that one of the most important parts of that nurturing is to make requests, not demands. The more we are able to do that, the higher the quality of our relationships.

  6. Brian Kim Says:

    Jean,

    Great follow up!

    I couldn’t agree more.

  7. A Long Long Road » 100 Resources To Improve Your Career, Relationships And Money Says:

    […] Why Many People Are Lonely These Days - great tips about stepping out of our inner world, open our heart and get closer to people around us. Open up, have more friends. […]

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