There are few negative feelings that are comparable to intense loneliness, and even fewer that are on par to the feeling of loneliness when you’re surrounded by friends but still feel that deep disconnect.
The feeling is almost paradoxical: to feel as if you’re in your own little bubble while having a completely normal conversation with someone you’d refer to as a friend.
So, what the hell? Isn’t the feeling of sitting alone at home isolating enough? Why does this feeling also creep up into our social lives when we’re out with people?
“I’ve found, through much research and introspection, that most of us who struggle with loneliness are not lacking access to other people. That’s not the source of the pain. The source of the pain is the lack of a certain feeling in our relationships. And that feeling is closeness.”
The worst feeling of loneliness, then, comes from having lots of friends or acquaintances but never really getting past the getting-to-know-you phase. We all have at least one or two of these relationships. Maybe it’s that one friend who always wants to go out and grab drinks Saturday afternoon, but conversation never goes farther than reminiscing on last Saturday when you had drinks or shallow gossip.
You can name what this person’s favorite beer and what tv shows they’re obsessed with, but you have no idea who they really are. And you know for a fact that they can’t name a single detail about you outside of your normal topics of conversation.
It’s in these types of friendships that we find ourselves feeling lonely – mainly because we’re desperate for a connection that doesn’t seem to be there.
“When a relationship lacks closeness, you’ll sense that the other person doesn’t really know you and/or doesn’t really care about you. Loneliness is essentially sadness caused by a lack of closeness, also known as sadness caused by distance. This is why it doesn’t work to simply surround yourself with people. You must actually feel close to them,” Kira writes in her book.
We know the reason why we feel lonely after hanging out with friends who we don’t feel a close connection to, so what are we to do?
Really you have two options:
- Play the numbers game, and make as many acquaintances as possible in order to hope that some of those naturally blossom into friendships that have close connections (Not advised for people who are introverted as lots of small talk and meeting new people drains the energy)
- Learn how to take the friendships you already have and begin to create and cultivate that closeness yourself (The option that Kira advocates)
Kira explains how to create closeness in the friendships you already have in a 2-step process:
1. Begin to try to see how your friend sees him/herself as an individual.
Just because you’ve spent a lot of time with someone doesn’t mean you know how your friend sees him/herself.
2. Begin to communicate that you care about the real them.
This is not the same thing as being concerned about them, which is actually just condescending if you’re worried about them out of nowhere. What it does mean is to become interested in their well-being and engaged in their lives. Call to say congratulations when they got the big promotion they were hoping to get. Ask if they need any help setting up that big dinner party they’re throwing. Little initiatives go a long way to show someone that you care about them.
When doing these steps, if the person wants to feel close to you, they’ll reciprocate, and this is how deep and close connections are formed. Mutual understanding and genuine caring seem easy enough to cultivate, but you’d be surprised how many people settle for shallow friendships. If you’re tired of feeling lonely after hanging out with friends, start creating closeness first. That lonely feeling can stop today, and it all starts with you.
1. Have you ever felt lonely even though you had friends?
2. What did you do to help the situation?