“I believe in the kind of love that doesn’t demand me to prove my worth and sit in anxiety. I crave a natural connection, where my soul is able to recognize a feeling of home in another. Something free-flowing, something simple. Something that allows me to be me without question…” Joey Palermo
As I was getting ready for work this morning, I heard something on TV that caught my attention. It was a Dr.Oz visit to the Today Show where he talked about some specific health concerns of women. The segment probably would not have gotten my attention, except that I heard something I had never heard before. That is, loneliness is now on the list of top health concerns. It affects our immune system, impacts our mental health, and even causes heart disease.
It almost seems unbelievable that in this day and age of “social media,” people could actually be lonely. But, as Dr. Oz points out, social media is the home of “drive-by friendships.” We tend to think that when we “like” a post, or include a comment under a photo, that we are actually keeping in touch. I think the reason I paid such close attention this morning is because I happen to believe that social media does nothing for our feelings of connectedness to one another. In fact, I would argue that technology – as great as it is – is actually helping us forget how to build real relationships.
For a while now, I have been feeling fairly out of touch with people. Certainly, lives are busier than ever and there’s barely a free moment to just breathe. But I have some friends, for example, who refuse to actually talk on the phone. They will text endlessly, but an actual phone call goes to voicemail almost 100 percent of the time, even when it’s made right after a text. There are even those who will tell me not to leave a voicemail because they don’t listen to messages. “Just text me,” has become a mantra. I am guilty of it myself.
I remember being at the theater last year with a friend. Our seats were in the first row of the balcony so we could easily peek over to see the audience below. Shortly before the show began, my friend asked me to take a look below us. What I saw was a sea of blue screens. I estimated that about 75 percent of the people waiting for the show to start were on their smartphones. Despite being seated with friends or loved ones in a beautiful theater (where you actually have to look up instead of down to see the historical architecture), most show-goers chose to check email, Facebook, or an app instead of engaging with those around them. It was a bird’s eye view of how the world operates now in the technology age.
And so how does all of this relate to the idea of being lonely? It’s simple really. I mean, it is a rare and beautiful thing to actually find someone who “gets” you. That kind of relationship takes time and nurturing. It takes conversation that is much deeper than a superficial press of the “like” button, or the designation of an emoji. For centuries, writers and poets have expressed the deep longing of people to find “one of their own,” another soul who matches ours and with whom we can connect. That kind of attachment, that understanding of another, is precious. It doesn’t happen while we are scrolling. Nor is it maintained through casual interactions.
To further complicate my pondering, I googled the antonym of the word “lonely.” I got words like, “accompanied, escorted, together.” But to me, those words are not the opposite of lonely. In fact, I believe you could be all of those words and still, in fact, be lonely. And perhaps that is the deepest loneliness of all.
To be alone is not to be lonely. Loneliness, I believe, is the sadness that comes from not being understood, not being seen, not being known and accepted for who one really is. A thousand friends on Facebook can’t fix that. But one, true, deep, real connection? That makes all the difference. And now we know, it might just save our lives.