In the age of Social Media, some important words have become diluted. We click on pages or swipe our way into apps, and there see impressively long lists of "friends" and "connections" showing us what a robust community we supposedly have. And yet loneliness persists. How many of the hundreds (thousands?) of relationships represented on that "friends" list would you honestly categorize as a true friendship? Are we truly connecting with each other?
Social media offers a convenient example but the fact is that, for a long time, people have struggled with the isolation that we find--often unexpectedly--even in a sea of people.
It's easy to ignore most days, but then something happens. An unexpected scenario comes along and strikes one of those painful chords and you suddenly feel like there's no one to talk to. Is there anyone who really knows you well enough to understand exactly what this means to you?
As researchers look closely at the loneliness more and more people are describing, we find common threads. One is the quality of our relationships. In an age where it's easy to become impressed with the quantity of supposed connections in our lives, it's the people who enjoy more authenticity, vulnerability, and commitment in relationships who report less loneliness. Even just a small number of friendships that have these qualities is likely to be much more beneficial to mental and emotional health than being "plugged in" with a large number of people who don't know us that well.
But people often are mystified by how hard it is to find those genuine, quality connections. You might find it difficult to even feel like it's possible. It's not uncommon for people to shrink back from relationship. Take the temporary satisfaction of false connection, and stop searching for that elusive intimacy. If that seems like the less painful route to you, (ironically enough) you're not alone.
I believe we are all made for connection. Honest, vulnerable, loving relationships that we can count on. And I believe it's possible to find those opportunities and engage when we're willing to risk. Pain, betrayal, disappointment--they come into the picture and convince us it's not worth it. But your heart won't stop needing and longing for relationship.
If you want to start exploring your relationship story, identify and address those barriers to fulfilling, quality connection with others, I've got a safe and authentic place for you to start.
Mike Ensley is a Nationally Board-Certified Professional Counselor