Making connections that work can be a daunting experience as you get older. Here are 7 ways to stop feeling lonely.
Sometimes it can be embarrassing to admit it, but a lot of us really struggle to make new friends as our lives are changing and we’re getting older. Loneliness is one of the most prevalent problems across our world today. Mother Teresa famously said that the greatest poverty is the feeling of being unloved, unwanted, or uncared for. For all the money we have, all the interconnectivity, all the first world privilege, all the information access we have, it’s still amazing how so many of us still feel so isolated or cut out.
I posted something on my personal Facebook page the other week, saying that being surrounded by hundreds of people and not being able to find friends is like getting locked in your local supermarket and dying of starvation. It wasn’t intended to be a jab at anybody, but just to highlight the tragedy of how sad our condition really is. I think that’s half our frustration most of the time – we can see the paradox of the situation. We are surrounded by so many people – it shouldn’t be possible for us to feel the way we do at times. Alone in a crowd.
And yet, we are still able to feel isolated, cut off, like no one else knows or understands.
This isn’t to put down anybody or for us to go around in circles about the feelings we may feel. These can be very real, and sometimes it’s scary or embarrassing to ask for help in these areas. Here are 7 ways to stop feeling lonely.
#1: Broaden your interests
Have you ever had a conversation and then at the end thought, “Well, that was awkward, we have nothing in common”. This is actually a fairly common line we pop out when we’re exploring new relationships or meeting new people. Or even talking to people who are in our peripherals at this point. They say it’s opposites that attract, but in truth it’s our similarities that keep us together. Common ground is a powerful foundation for feeling heard and valued. It’s kinda lonely when you don’t have anyone who shares the ground with you, so to speak.
So instead of throwing this line around, what if we solved this problem by simply developing things that are in common? If our whole conversations are based on having something we can share between us, then we should give a whole lot more focus to building or finding that common ground.
Something I always find helpful is to bombard people I’ve just met with different aspects of who I am and things I enjoy while asking them what they enjoy, and I decide not to give up until I’ve found at least one thing. And if I still can’t find anything, I decide to broaden my interests by finding out all about this unique interest this person has. We limit our relationship potential by keeping our list of topics small.
People are interesting when you’re actually interested.
#2: Don’t worry about being cool
It’s amazing that even so many years after high school, we’re still worried about the clothes we wear, the hobbies we have, and about sitting at the cool kids table. As I’m writing this, I’m wearing a Mobile Suit Gundam t-shirt I picked up at a store in Osaka. When I wore this in Japan, I had so many people come up to me and tell me how much they love Gundam, because it’s one of the biggest franchises there. Back in Australia, sometimes people look at me like I’m wearing some Transformers shirt from something geeky.
I’m just using my shirt as an example of a lot of our attitude that we still employ into our adulthood that severely cuts us off from people. Ironically in trying to fit in, we shut down others for their unique interests or hobbies. They’re too nerdy, too sporty, too outgoing, too this too that for us to talk to. Conversely, we’re seeing ourselves in a similar light, worrying that we don’t have the right attributes to make it with the cool people.
As I get older, the more I realize how uncool every single person really is. Everyone is actually really weird. Even the coolest, most popular people who everyone wants to be like have so many interests or habits that make them feel like they don’t fit anywhere. Maybe the trick is to learn to appreciate yourself for your quirks, and to learn to appreciate others for theirs.
You’re not cool. Real people aren’t cool either. Get over it. Takes so much pressure off developing meaningful relationships.
#3: Realize only one person is expecting you to be fake
I’m going to blow your mind here.
So many people come up to me and tell me they struggle with making friends. They say all their current friends are super fake, and they say that everyone else they seem to contact with just expect them to be something they’re not. But I’ve worked it out. I’ve found out there’s only one person who is actually expecting you to be fake. Are you ready?
If you’re feeling this way in your relationships, chances are you are the one who puts the pressure on yourself to not be real. To not talking about what’s really. To putting on a smiling face to hide a sorrowful heart. No one else is expecting you to fake it. Only you.
If “no one” is ever talking about the topics that really matter, keep in mind that means you’re not either.
#4: Keep your contact regular and real
There’s something to be said for regular contact. People post about how they have friends they can go months or years without seeing and then still be able to hit it off next they see each other. I actually have quite a few friends like that myself.
That said, I also need people making regular contact in my life. Otherwise I feel like I’m only really valued or seen on the random months or years that I catch up with one of those older, special types of friends.
Like a driving car that requires petrol every week, so too do we require regular opportunities where people are able to put into us, and we are able to do the same for them.
#5: Go out more
Here’s a simple one. If you looked at our relationships based purely on our time expenditure during a week, a lot of us would be guilty of having our screens as our best friends. It’s pretty hard to make meaningful connections if literally all your time is spent watching Netflix, playing video games or staying in the house without any outside contact. And hey, that’s not hating on any of those things in and of themselves – I love me a good long video game, or a movie marathon, or a night in to relax. But we have to get the balance right.
Do you give more time to your screens or to your friends?
Screens can’t love us back. They can’t listen to us. And they won’t alleviate loneliness when they’re the only things in our lives.
#6: Make yourself available
In a similar vein, here’s a reality check that we’d do well to regularly audit ourselves on:
Am I too busy for people?
Are you? Are people ever able to get a spare moment with you? Is there space in your life for others? Are you interruptible? Can a friend call out of the blue and ask for your help? Do you pick up your phone?
How about this one – how quickly do you get back to people? Do you just let people wait for days or weeks without response? Imagine trying to have a conversation with someone where all your responses were based on yesterday’s information. You wouldn’t know the person’s reality today. You aren’t even giving yourself an opportunity to find out.
If you’re too busy for people, the only thing you’ll be sharing your heart with is your busy schedule.
#7: Don’t forget your current friends and family
There are times when it’s a good time to develop new friendships and meet people we hadn’t met before. However, I think one of the greatest new friends you can make sometimes is an old one.
I saw a video recently where a homeless man was being interviewed about regrets in his life, and something brutally real he confessed to was the fact that if he had just treated his family better, he wouldn’t be homeless now. He would have a place he could go back to. But because he’d cut his ties and deeply hurt some people without trying to set things right again, his choices were leaving him on the streets. This isn’t true of every homeless person of course, but he was just sharing his particular story.
Sometimes we’re just not treating our current friends or our families very well. We’re not regular with them. We’re not real with them. We don’t tell them what’s up. We’re always dumping on them without caring for them ourselves.
They say you never know what you’ve got til it’s gone. That’s sad. Maybe we should give greater attention to the people we actually do have in our lives today. Maybe we’re missing one of the best friendships we could ever have simply because we’re not giving it the attention or the intention it requires to grow.
Take a look at yourself from the perspective of one of your friends or family members. What is the experience of you like? Is it someone who you’re able to connect with easily? If not, maybe it’s time to take stock and make some changes.
There are many factors affecting loneliness in our lives, but I think sometimes it’s the small practical things that actually make the difference overall. He puts the solitary in families. Families – how great. The place of vulnerable reality. The place where you are hopefully seen and accepted as you are. The original answer to man’s loneliness.
The strength and potential for home is amazing. Do you have home in your life? With your family or friends? Do you foster home for others?