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Feeling Lonely? Find the Friendships You Want

Strategies for prioritizing quality connections over quantity.

Key points

  • Loneliness is feeling an absence of emotional connection and meaningful relationships.
  • This is bigger than an individual issue: Many people have a hard time connecting with others because of the way our culture is structured.
  • However, there are things you can do to prioritize making meaningful connections with new friends.
 Alex Ivashenko/Unsplash
Source: Alex Ivashenko/Unsplash

Prior to the pandemic, loneliness was a significant problem among Americans. Following over a year of quarantine and isolation, loneliness has become its own epidemic. As we grow into adulthood, and we form our routines of going to work, coming home, and starting all over again, there isn’t much time left to socialize during the week. And if we don’t have families or partners, the time between Friday evening and Monday morning can feel like an eternity. So, being at home for months on end, only leaving for important appointments and short errands, has taken its toll on many people.

I don’t want to limit our discussion of loneliness, however, to those who live alone. It’s possible to live in a house with other humans and feel very lonely. Loneliness is a state of mind, an emotion that makes us feel left out, rejected, and longing for connection. This blog is a discussion about how to combat loneliness by finding connection, whatever our lives look like in terms of physical living conditions.

Dealing with loneliness

The first thing to understand about loneliness is that no one is immune to it. People can look like they have it all together, perhaps they are even in a relationship or seem to be surrounded by friends, and still be lonely. Loneliness is broadly defined as feeling the absence of emotional connection and meaningful relationships.

Feeling lonely originates from being disconnected from others, not feeling heard or understood, longing for others to invite them or include them, and the desire to be missed when they’re not around. This means that simply being in the presence of others will not take away feelings of loneliness. Instead, we have to cultivate meaningful connections.

Many people have a hard time connecting with others. For some, it stems from social anxiety: not knowing what to say or how to sustain conversations. For others, it’s about avoiding the possibility of rejection. Still others have a hard time meeting new people. Here are some suggestions that can help no matter what your struggle to find connection may be.

1. Think about how you most enjoy and appreciate connecting with others.

The key is to develop friendships with people who not only share your interests but who have similar values about friendship. For instance, if you are an introvert who enjoys meaningful conversations, going to happy hours might not help you feel connected. But if you’re an extrovert who loves being around people with a high energy level, you may want to pursue group gatherings so that you have a lot of choices with whom to converse.

2. Although connecting with people in person has its advantages, sometimes it’s not practical.

In that case, calling friends on the phone to have a conversation may feel more emotionally rewarding than simply texting or messaging through social media. All of these formats have their own advantages, so mixing up the forms of communication may help you feel more connected.

3. Don’t put pressure on yourself to find connection the way that other people do.

Going to parties and group gatherings is not everyone’s forte. Often, people say they leave larger gatherings feeling lonelier than when they arrived. So, if that describes you, choose ways of connecting that improve your mood rather than those that make you feel like you’re missing out on something.

4. If you feel like you don’t know where to meet friends, you’re not alone.

It’s hard to make friends as a working adult. Recognize that it isn’t just about you and that it is a larger problem with the way our culture is structured. Then, think about joining a community that matches your interests.

Churches or religious communities, book clubs, exercise classes, or other types of clubs may be a good start. Conversations in these spaces originate around common interests, which can feel less intimidating. Even though we know that having common interests isn’t enough to develop a strong connection to others, it’s a good start.

5. Do things that you enjoy, even if you do them alone.

Feeling good and enjoying life can put you in a good place to recognize potential friendships. If you’re feeling down and you have lower energy, it might be harder to recognize opportunities when they arise. So, do what you love, and share your interests and passions with others.

6. Consider volunteering.

If there’s an interest or call that excites you, taking the opportunity to join others who share it may spark meaningful conversation and connection. Helping others can feel rewarding in its own right, and it provides a sense of purpose that can give us energy.

The key to managing loneliness is to understand that it’s a bigger problem than our individual feelings. Then, we can feel less ashamed, and we can feel more confident in finding a community and companionship that we genuinely love.