Denver counselor and coach Gideon Killion shares some ideas about loneliness and what to do about it.
These days, a lot of people — particularly men — struggle with feeling lonely and disconnected. Sometimes loneliness can be a motivator to connect with new people, as when we change jobs or move to a new city. But for many people, loneliness is a chronic problem. We want close friends and meaningful relationships, but we don’t know how to go about finding and building them.
Aside from being a really uncomfortable emotional experience, loneliness also has negative health repercussions. A lack of close friends can contribute to both mental and physical health problems. One study of senior citizens found a tie between loneliness and the likelihood of developing dementia. Chronic feelings of loneliness have also been linked to heart disease and other serious health issues.
Almost everyone experiences periods of loneliness, but it’s helpful to identify the main factors in your particular situation. Which of these statements describe you?
- You have tons of friends, but you still feel lonely or like you don’t truly belong anywhere.
It’s common nowadays to have lots of superficial connections that we call “friends” and yet still be lonely. These friendships lack closeness. They are people who will do stuff with us, but not ones who actually care enough to ask how we’re doing. In the end, it’s the quality of friendships that matters most for your health, not quantity. Without close and meaningful friendships, we are emotionally isolated.
- You had devoted and emotional friendships as a kid, but your adult friendships aren’t as deep.
In the book “Deep Secrets,” Niobe Way explores the emotional intimacy that young boys often experience with peers—a connection we tend to lose in adulthood in favor of friendships that are activity-based but not emotionally significant. Much like the phenomenon of “work friends” that don’t remain friends after changing jobs, these activity-centered friendships tend to fade out when the shared activity is no longer a priority for both men.
- You have several close friends, but none of them are friends with each other.
Most people find that they have lots of one-to-one relationships with people who are not connected to each other. When our key friendships all happen independently, we are more likely to feel lonely. In contrast, when some or most of our closest friends are also friends with each other, we have a greater sense of belonging due to being part of a like-minded group.
- Most of your social interactions happen through social media—online, not in person.
The ubiquitous presence of smartphones in our lives means that we constantly have texts, email, Twitter, and Facebook at our fingertips, giving us the illusion of connection with others but in a very superficial way. We may feel as if we’re “connected” 24/7, but there may not be much substantial connection really happening. Meanwhile, we’re missing out on potential real-world connections all the time by never looking up from our phones.
- You’ve had successful romantic relationships, but you have no idea how to connect emotionally with male friends.
Our culture is incredibly focused on finding a mate, to the point that all of our energy goes into finding and keeping romantic or intimate relationships. This has taught us not to prioritize finding and keeping friends in the same way, so we haven’t really developed the skills it takes to maintain platonic friendships. Our culture has also made this more difficult by offering a limited notion of what it means to be a man. Many men constrain their expression of emotions with other men out of fear that they may be perceived as “unmanly” or gay. Unfortunately, this keeps us from being able to experience significant friendships in which we can support our male friends on an emotional level and receive that support from them in return. (This narrow understanding of manhood or manliness has many other negative effects both on men, whether gay or straight, and on society in general.)
These are some of the factors in modern life that can lead men to feel lonely. Some men are able to get unstuck from this pattern of aloneness on their own. But sometimes a long-term sense of loneliness can only be untangled with the help of a therapist or life coach as a trusted companion on the journey. Click here to learn about counseling and coaching for men in Denver, or here to learn more about all the services LifeCraft Counseling & Coaching offers men and women in Denver.