NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, The Healing Project.
About a month ago, my neighbor of 2.5 years was taken to the hospital in the middle of the afternoon. He never returned… I since learned that he has terminal brain cancer and is living out his final days in a local hospital. I had passed him in the hallway many times, but had only uttered a quick “hello” to him before continuing on my way. I never took the time to get to know him, or vice versa.
I don’t really know any of my neighbors. We pass each other on occasion, sometimes smiling, sometimes nodding, but rarely interrupting our busy schedules to take the time to get to know each other. We all have more important things to do, it seems.
How Many Friends Do We Have?
I have close to 200 Facebook friends, but very few people I can honestly call real friends, and even fewer with whom I connect on a deep level. We have more and more ways to connect with others through the advances in technology, but the level of connection that is happening is becoming increasingly superficial. All of the technology in the world can’t change the fact that we are growing more and more socially isolated in our society. Loneliness is becoming the biggest epidemic in our country, even bigger than cancer, AIDS, or heart disease.
No One in Whom to Confide
I’ve wanted to write about the topic of lack of connection for quite some time, but a recent radio broadcast finally spurred me to do it. I enjoy listening to radio talk show host Dennis Prager’s weekly “Happiness Hour” and caught a “Best Of” presentation from 2006 a few days ago. This show was based upon a Washington Post report that a sharply growing number of people say they have no one in whom to confide. In fact, 25% of Americans have no confidants at all! This is double the number who felt similarly isolated in 1985.
Fewer Connections Now Than in 1985
Of those people who do have close confidants, the number has dwindled from an average of three people in 1985 to only two people in 2004. For many people, their spouse is the only person in whom they confide. This makes them increasingly vulnerable should they face difficulties in that key relationship or should their spouse become ill or die.
I learned that I am not alone in not having relationships with my neighbors. Only 8% of those surveyed in the national study on which the Washington Post article was based counted a neighbor among their circle of confidants. It appears that most people aren’t taking the time to get to know their neighbors beyond a casual nod or hello.
I Am Fortunate But…
After listening to Prager’s show and reading the Post article, I realize that I am more fortunate than most in terms of my relationships. Not only can I confide in my husband, but I also have a small group of friends with whom I can share my deep thoughts and concerns. Still, I battle loneliness on a regular basis and I don’t know what to do about it.
I don’t mind spending time alone. In fact, I am quite comfortable in my own company and I enjoy the freedom and ease of working from home. It isn’t merely the lack of the physical presence of others that troubles me. It is the lack of emotional connection with other people that has me feeling isolated and alone. I yearn for the deep and honest communication that I enjoyed so much in my earlier years.
Things Used to Be Different
I recently went through some old boxes in preparation for a local move. I found a shoebox full of cards and letters which I had received from friends during my teens and twenties. I realized that I had many deep friendships at that point in my life. The letters were both poignant and meaningful and although I enjoyed reading them again, I was struck by the dearth of such correspondence in the present time.
In the past few years, I went through several significant life crises and found myself with few people in whom I could confide. I do not feel very close to those in my family and I only have a couple of friends to whom I could possibly see myself reaching out. What happened between my twenties and now that has rendered me so isolated? And more importantly, what can I do about it?
It’s Not Just About Meeting People
It isn’t as simple as just getting out there and meeting new people. I don’t want more acquaintances… I mentioned the 200 Facebook “friends,” many of whom are actually just mere acquaintances. Of course, you have to walk before you can run and a close friendship is not something that materializes overnight. It requires time, effort, and at least a moderate level of risk. One has to put him or herself out there in order to gain closeness with another human being.
I believe that a large reason why people are so isolated is because they don’t allow themselves to be vulnerable with others. They don’t risk sharing their innermost thoughts, for fear of being rejected. So they remain safe and alone. This is what I have done… At some point in the last four or five years, I closed myself off from the world. I did this not only because I feared being hurt, but also because I felt so different from others. I felt that no one understood me or could possibly understand me, so I stopped trying.
Time To Turn It Around
I am now experiencing the consequences of my actions from all those years ago and I don’t like the way it feels. It’s time to turn it around. Starting this blog was a big first step in this effort. At first, my plan was to be completely anonymous in my writing, but my wise husband convinced me otherwise. He told me that I would find it liberating to be open and honest about myself and my efforts to heal that which is broken about my life. He was right.
It’s been scary at times, but I have become less concerned about the judgment of others and more accepting of myself and my life journey. I may not tell everyone I know about my blog, but I do broadcast my posts on Facebook, so it’s not exactly private. Plus, this blog is on the Internet. I accept that anyone and everyone can read my thoughts, come what may.
It’s time to evaluate my existing relationships and decide upon a course of action. There will be some people to whom I would like to reach out more often. There will be others for whom the status quo is the best course of action. Sadly, there may be some relationships which lack any real possibility of increased closeness. I will also need to make more of an effort to cultivate new relationships. That means getting out there more often to meet new people and taking the risk to forge closer bonds to the precious few with whom I feel emotional resonance.
I may get rejected. I may find that some relationships have run out of steam and need to fall by the wayside. But I may also deepen some connections and end up feeling less lonely. It’s all part of my healing project. It’s not just about healing my health, although that is a critical part of my journey. I must always remember that healing is comprised of body, mind and spirit. My spirit yearns for more connection, so connect I will!