You stand in the room, and you wonder what’s wrong.
Deep down you just hope, desperately, that someone walks up to you to initiate a conversation, so that you don’t look alone.
Unfortunately, no one does.
There’s a stab of loneliness.
Loneliness spreads its dark cloak around you.
How loneliness comes about
Dr Vivek Murthy, the former US Surgeon-General, wrote a beautiful book on loneliness where he describes loneliness as the
absence of emotional connection.
You don’t just feel lonely when you’re alone, physically.
You feel lonely because you don’t feel emotionally connected to others.
Often this comes about because of a few reasons.
We will first look at the internal factors, before we look at the external factors.
You’re constantly comparing your life to that of others
Yes, you don’t have a girlfriend.
And you don’t have that Lamborghini that everyone else is talking about.
You see your friends posting great pictures in cafes, in holiday resorts, with their besties, and you think,
Gosh my life sucks.
I have no friends.
Comparison is the root of dissatisfaction.
The more you do it, the more you will realise how little you have.
You might just want to turn off the dial on comparison for a while.
In 2015, I was always on Instagram. After all, there was nothing better to do in the army.
But one day, I found myself angry and tired of all the great lives friends were living, and how it seemed as if I didn’t have much of a future in the army.
Why am I doing this to myself?
I deleted my social media accounts, and can confidently say that I’m living a much happier life now.
You might not want to do that.
But you can delete the social media apps off your phones. Just use the computer for it.
This will drastically reduce your usage of social media, and help you to be less prone to comparison.
You choose not to share more deeply with others
There are times when you feel that your friends won’t care about what’s concerning you.
Like the time when you have the conflict with your friend.
Or when you’ve quarrelled with your mum over why she didn’t wash the dishes.
You feel no one would really care…
Which is not true.
But you may end up resisting the urge to share, which would leave you feeling even more dislocated from your friendships.
If you’re a guy…
This tends to be more the case for guys, whom we do know are less emotionally attuned to share and listen.
What you need to realise and risk, is to just share, no matter how scary it seems.
Sometimes it will be harder than usual because it is not stereotypically the norm for guys to share.
You must thus take the risk.
You’re not asking
If you look at our traditional places of interactions, there are many places where you can establish deeper connections.
But you do need to pluck up the courage (or balls) to ask.
What’s the worst that could happen?
You could be rejected.
Sure, there are still others you could talk to.
You forget it’s not just connections
It’s easy to stay connected these days. Add someone on LinkedIn, and you’re done.
Get someone’s Instagram handle, and you’re ‘friends’.
It’s not just that.
You know it too.
It’s also the conversation that matters.
You need to take time to find out someone on a messy, spontaneous level through conversation.
It’s there when you feel more deeply understood.
You’re initiating most of the meetups
It can be tiring if you’re the one constantly pushing for the meetups.
You have to coordinate the timings, where to meet, what to do, and after a while, you wonder,
do people actually want to meet me, if it’s always me initiating?
In Singapore, people can be more passive with relationships. They leave relationships like low-maintenance cactus that (they think) don’t need much effort.
It’s not true.
It’s why we say statistics from the likes of Duke-NUS’ CARE report in 2017, which found 34% of adults above 62 years old feeling lonely.
Friendships atrophy when we don’t put effort in them.
It is hard to tell your friends to put more effort in their friendships.
But for you, you might just want to share with a trusted friend about how tired you feel about initiating meetups, and ask them what they think.
Your friends may not care about the same things as you do
Here, the important thing to see is that different friends may serve varying functions.
The first question you should ask yourself is,
What do I need from my friends?
Some friends may be better as someone you talk to on a 1-1 basis, whom you go to for emotional support.
Others may be friends you choose to have fun with. These are the friends you can have a laugh with, joke with, but you don’t often look to them for emotional support.
You might go out with them if you want to watch a comedy, or if you want a great night out.
There are other times when you want to bounce some ideas.
The vital thing is to realise which friends are for which purposes, so you don’t end up being more and more disappointed.
And it’s even more important to spread the time you spend with these friends so your soul is fed in these different areas.
Your friends might be distracted when you meet
Go to a restaurant and you will see this common sight.
People seated around the table, but looking at their phones.
That might be why you feel that your friend isn’t very attentive to what you say.
You might feel that what you say is not as important as what your friend is checking on his phone.
Sure, your friend may not feel that way but it’s implied through his actions.
Nir Eyal, during a recent talk, shared how he overcame this.
Look the person straight in the eye and ask,
“Hey is everything okay?”
99% of the time everything is fine. But sometimes something will come up.
But having the courage to go against the norm and ask can really help to call out this bad behavior of being distracted whilst in a conversation.
Loneliness is never an easy fight
Loneliness, following COVID, has sprung to the forefront of people’s minds, with countries like U.K. and Japan deploying Ministers of Loneliness.
But in your own life, being aware of where you’re lacking and where you need more help, might just be a better way.