In a hyper-individualistic society obsessed with “self-love” and “self-care”, it can be hard to say you are lonely says one young person.
This time of year is not easy for single people and those without close friends at hand. Christmas can be an ordeal and then there are a few weeks before the bells of capitalism ring again. Exhorting us to spend money on cards, flowers, chocolates or cake pops for our partner or close friends (see the newest ‘fake holiday’: Galentine’s) and making the lonely among us feel worse than we did during the weird downtime between Christmas and new year; shredding the remaining tenth of our self-esteem.
According to wedding-inspiration website, ‘The Knot’, Christmas day and Valentine’s Day are the most popular days for people to get engaged. It appears there’s a positive correlation between the cold weather months and human beings deciding who they want to spend the rest of their lives with.
This blog post is certainly not intended to be a Greek chorus of bitterness. Rather it’s a gentle reminder that the gnawing ache of loneliness is something we’re all likely to experience at some point in our lives – and not just in our advanced years. It’s also a hand outstretched to those who dread this time of year.
Connection is what makes us human. It’s about being seen, being heard and being validated.
Perhaps you’re one of them. Perhaps you get goosebumps when a notification pings from your phone. That sonic symbol of someone – something – out there caring about us. Even if it’s just Klarna’s reminder to keep up with our payments or a Whatsapp group that for one reason or another we can’t leave.
You may find this hard to admit. It can be pretty embarrassing to acknowledge this primal yearning of wanting to be wanted. We live in a hyper-individualistic society where buzzwords such as “self-love” and “self-care” reign supreme. The terms are not intrinsically bad but they can feel at odds with a desire for companionship and affection. As though we are not allowed to say (whisper) that our self is not enough.
This shouldn’t be the case. It is normal to want the company of others. Look at how much time is consumed by social media and the popularity of dating apps. It is estimated that 10% of adults in the UK use dating and friendship apps and 32% of couples meet online. Connection is what makes us human. It’s about being seen, being heard and being validated.
Matter of survival
The truth is we need a community to thrive. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that after food, shelter, warmth, our social inclusion needs are the most important because as human beings we are tribal creatures. Our ancestors survived on the premise that everyone within the tribe had a role to play to contribute to the collective survival of the group. If one individual was thrust out of the tribe they were left to face the winter months alone shivering, hungry and their chances of survival were slim to none.
In our modern world, we have the evidence to show that Britney Spears wasn’t being overdramatic when she sang “my loneliness is killing me”. Research has shown that extended periods of loneliness can be highly detrimental to someone’s health. This includes:
- Raised cortisol levels that can lead to cardiovascular issues i.e. cardiac arrest, heart disease etc
- Poor memory retention
- Shorter life-span
Some studies suggest that long-term loneliness is as bad for health as obesity and smoking.
Unlike many things that people usually say will heal with time, loneliness does not diminish.
For many of us, the pandemic has shifted our lives even further online. For this reason there needs to be more encouragement and opportunities to nurture our offline relationships.
- If you work at home and it’s economically feasible, how about getting a membership to a co-working space?
- Use websites such as Eventbrite or Meet-up to search events happening locally that might be of interest to you. In my local area there are ‘sip and paint parties’ and pottery lessons.
- Text friends and see if they would be up for meeting for a catch-up.
These suggestions are not meant to come across as patronising. Unlike many things that people usually say will heal with time, loneliness does not diminish.
When unmet, the aching need for an intimate relationship, either platonic or romantic, can be more than anyone can bear. So let’s acknowledge that we have all gone through another mentally, physically and financially tough year, and reach out.
Catherine Fadashe is a member of the McPin’s Young People’s Network.
You can read more about McPin’s research on loneliness here.
Sign up to our Young People’s Network to get involved with research about children and young people’s mental health. The work is paid and you’ll get to meet new people, including those with similar experiences to yourself.