My Incomplete Guide To Loneliness
Bodysurfing is my main hobby. And this is the only known photo of me doing it. It was taken by a friend who bravely came out for one wave in the notoriously heavy Zicatela surf before heading back in. 99% of the time I bodysurf alone. For some reason I choose a hobby that I have no one to do with.
I live half the year in a country where I don’t speak the language and really only socialise with my wife (who I’m lucky to also have as my best friend). I spend the other half in Tauranga where I’m new to town and don’t really have many friends.
These are all my choices, but I don’t choose loneliness.
Loneliness refers to the discrepancy between the number and quality of the relationships that you desire and those you actually have.
Approximately 33% of people suffer from it and that figure is getting higher. Loneliness is as destructive as smoking or obesity on your physical health as well as your mental health.
I’m a pretty social guy, I have lots of ‘friends’, 3,000 of them on Facebook, lots on Instagram and plenty in real life, but they are actually just acquaintances. People I know. My problem, I feel, is that I don’t have enough of the quality. Apart from my wife, I don’t have a ‘bestie’ or a ‘bff’ or even a regular close group that I hang out with. Without regular, quality social contact I start feeling really lonely.
Now, if you follow me on whatever platform, I assume you’re 25 – 45 years old and, like most, now have a set amount of friends. These are people you have collected over your life from school, work, social engagements etc and you’ve kept them over the years through habit and politeness and them being non-offensive. So, if you’re still feeling lonely then you either need to increase the amount of people or the quality of the friendships that you already have.
The answer is two fold. I’ll start with the easiest first; increase the quantity of your relationships.
This, in theory, is reasonably straightforward – get out there and meet people. Now, in practice, that’s a lot harder, especially for those of us with low mental health to start with, but it really is the only way. Real life friendships are far more beneficial than online ones.
Start saying ‘yes’ to things… Anything. Everything. Events. Parties. Whatever. Just go to it. If you don’t like it you can always just turn around and come home. Also, make it known that you would like to be invited to things. I personally don’t really get invited to much. Seriously. And quite often it makes me sad. I think a major component of me not getting invited is not letting it be known that I would like to be invited. People assume I’m not in the country, I’m too ‘busy’ or that I simply wouldn’t want to come. I turn up to 99% of the things I’m invited to and am available for, but how are people to know that? Let people know that you are available.
Still not getting invited to things? Yeah, me neither… So here’s the next plan; invite yourself.
Generally people aren’t inviting you to things because of reasons like I listed above, if they’re not inviting you because they don’t like you then you shouldn’t want to go anyway. So, if you see something going down that you are interested in, then reach out to those people and say “Hey, I’d be really keen to join in on X, do you think I could come along? I could bring some Y and Z…”
The answer is very rarely ‘no’. So BAM! You’re off to an event… Nice work.
Quantity is the easier part of the equation, you can Google lots of information about ‘making friends’.
Quality is a little harder…
I would like closer, more connected, more enriching relationships than I have right now. It’s that discrepancy that is the definition of loneliness.
Now, I personally have a few hurdles to get over; I have ridiculously high standards. This is not a good thing. I don’t let lots of people get close to me because I don’t deem them ‘worthy’ enough of my time. I’m far too picky of the traits that annoy me in someone and then use those as reasons not to become better friends or get close. This is a serious problem that I’m trying to look at objectively and find out what inside me is driving this behaviour. Maybe that’s you too. Maybe you’re lonely because you’re not letting the right people in.
By being able to objectively identify this behaviour I can now more easily observe it when it happens and then make conscious decisions to stop it. Through this process I am becoming more tolerant and more understanding and therefore a person better able to have a relationship with.
Let’s say that you’ve identified someone that you would like to be closer friends with, how do you make that happen?
A few months back I was at a small event and end up in a discussion with two guys at the end, Nigel and I knew each other and then there was another guy called Mike. We talked for about 10 minutes before Mike suggested we all go across the road and get some lunch. Done. At lunch we started having open and honest discussions (I don’t want anything else) and started talking about friendships. Mike said that he invited me to lunch because he thought I was interesting and that we might be good friends.
This is step #1; Open and honest communication.
How do people know you want to be friends with them unless you articulate the fact?
This is rare in men. And as adults we all assume that everyone’s got their friends now and no one is looking for any more, so in order to break that assumption you have to articulate it. I would like to be friends with you.
How do you create a friendship of quality? Frequency & Depth.
Again, especially as men, the frequency part gets left to chance. ‘I’ll see you when I see you. Maybe at the next party, or on the street or wherever’. You cannot create a better quality friendship with low frequency. Pro-tip: When you have created a quality relationship it can be maintained with low frequency.
I interrupt this paragraph about frequency to talk about ‘onus’. The onus, or duty, or responsibility is on you. This is something that took me a long time to learn. You cannot sit there and wait for people to invite you to things. It may happen, but it probably won’t happen at the frequency that you want. Creating a better relationship is your responsibility, only you control your universe. When you realise that you are the one that has to look out for you, then you can probably see the perspective that it is exactly the same for the person who you are trying to create a relationship with. You creating this quality relationship might be quite high on your priority list but it might only sit in the middle of theirs. They may have children, partners, jobs, other friends all who come to thought far quicker than you do. So their relationship with you doesn’t take priority.
This is not a bad thing. This is just how it is.
So, if you want to consciously create a better relationship with that person then you need to take the initiative and make the frequency happen. You can’t become best friends with someone if you only see them once a year.
Let’s say you’re friends with someone from work. You see them five days a week for eight hours a day. That’s a lot of frequency and a lot of time but it’s not really a ‘quality’ friendship is it. Why? Because it lacks depth.
Depth is usually something that happens over time, but it only happens if you let it. It can also happen much faster if you choose to go real deep, real quick.
Depth is also reciprocal. The deeper you go, the deeper you allow the other person to go. You opening up about something personal gives the other person permission to do with same. This depth is initiated through a Jimi Hunt staple, Brutal Honesty. If you really want to connect deeply with someone you have to share honestly with them. And you have to initiate it.
The caveat to that is don’t go spurting out everything that is wrong with you life on the first meeting because no one wants to hear that, but just be honest about your hopes and dreams, your failures and lessons and the realities of your life.
So that’s it, for now, for my Incomplete Guide to Loneliness.
The equation is simple; Not being lonely = An increase in the quality and/or quantity of your relationships.
The reality is that it will require some brutally honest introspection and a whole bunch of effort on your part to create those new relationships.
But it’s worth it…