Less "Me Time," more "We Time"
October 27, 2017 6:45 PM   Subscribe

"Self-reflection, introspection and some degree of solitude are important parts of a psychologically healthy life. But somewhere along the line we seem to have gotten the balance wrong. Because far from confirming our insistence that 'happiness comes from within,' a wide body of research tells us almost the exact opposite....if there is one point on which virtually every piece of research into the nature and causes of human happiness agrees, it is this: our happiness depends on other people."
posted by drlith (51 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yes. This. I’ve got a cold and what I want most in the world tonight is someone to bring me soup and then my hair. Just like, a whoooooole day of someone doting on me. Tell me funny stories. Don’t complain if I fall asleep. We know that loneliness, happiness, health, belonging, connectedness, and longevity are all entwined.

This next few days is a really hard and complicated anniversary for me (three years since my brother died from depression) and it’s very interesting that this is the week when I caught the first cold of the season, which is such an isolating experience.

So yes. Please, reach out to your friends. You don’t have to provide all the support. But just a little goes a long way. Model healthy boundaries. Be good to yourselves. Get a hug. I’ll try not to get snot on your shoulder.
posted by bilabial at 7:05 PM on October 27 [24 favorites]


My depression broadly agrees with her thesis. I'm sure folk are going to come in with dissenting opinions, and I think that might be true for them. But one of the triggers AND contributors to depression is social isolation. (Get isolated and/or inactive, physically and/or socially. Get depressed. Feel less like trying to break out of isolation/inactivity. Get more depressed. Feel even less like -- and continue)

I’ve got a cold and what I want most in the world tonight is someone to bring me soup

One of my lowest points in life was a period I was overseas on an exchange program. I had friends in the international students dorm, was doing okay. Got horribly sick for something like two weeks. Didn't show up to classes, could barely get out of bed. Think maybe I got a text or two, but otherwise no one came by -- and we're talking a 30 second walk down the hall, y'know? Have never felt so awful about being alive, and I've had some pretty strong competition for that honor.

So yes. Please, reach out to your friends. You don’t have to provide all the support. But just a little goes a long way. Model healthy boundaries. Be good to yourselves. Get a hug.

All these things.
posted by curious nu at 7:21 PM on October 27 [3 favorites]


See previously.
posted by limeonaire at 7:24 PM on October 27


When you've been very lonely almost all of your life and have spent the last five years almost entirely isolated, there's nothing better than reading all those articles about how lonely people have shorter life expectancies.
posted by orange swan at 7:34 PM on October 27 [40 favorites]


Let me the one to say that decreasing social isolatioin is best done by spending less time surfing on the interne
posted by storybored at 7:45 PM on October 27 [12 favorites]


....there's nothing better than reading all those articles about how lonely people have shorter life expectancies.

Well, if those are the facts, I need to know them. I honestly think I have delved too deeply into the introvert life, myself. I can recite the lyrics to Warren Zevon's "Splendid Isolation". One of my few only real friends killed himself last month. If it weren't for work, I'd honestly have little offline human contact.
posted by thelonius at 7:46 PM on October 27 [9 favorites]


I've lived in isolation my entire life and I don't know that I've ever felt lonely. Perhaps loneliness is just my default state, so familiar that I can't imagine life not feeling as I do. Or maybe I just don't need other people as much as some. It's a puzzle.
posted by SPrintF at 8:00 PM on October 27 [11 favorites]


This. So much this.

I think, too, a lot of this gets wrapped up with the being "too needy" sentiment that people, particularly women, can buy into. At least, for me. Maybe I shouldn't generalize.

We need each other, fellow humans.
posted by Guess What at 8:10 PM on October 27 [8 favorites]


I worked at home for 21 years and now that I'm back in a studio I'm realizing that "wherever you go, there you are."...while it was a huge improvement at first ; it depends a huge amount on the actual work you're tasked with and how much a pride you can take in it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:10 PM on October 27 [2 favorites]


I'm so sorry about your brother, bilabial. Memorial anniversaries are hard, but also weird if you're the sort of person who doesn't like to make a fuss about things or who somewhere along the line acquired the value of suffering in silence. Consider yourself hugged.

I think part of why this article resonated with me is I just a few days ago lost a good grad school friend to cancer. We'd been out of contact for many years even though I knew we overlapped residing in the DC area for a period of time. Now my timeline is full of other grad school friends who did a better job of maintaining contact and/or reconnecting and/or just keeping that old social flame burning and I'm both sad and a little jealous and now it's too late...So I'm kinda sorta resolving to do better about that going forward, especially now that, approaching 50, I got divorced again, have zero interest in repartnering any time soon, work from home and moved out to the country and away from the friendship network I'd finally built up after moving to the east coast 15 years ago...Though truth be told, if the average American only spends 2 hours a month "socializing and entertaining people" I'm doing about as well as the average Joe or Josephine!
posted by drlith at 8:18 PM on October 27 [3 favorites]


Lisa: Mom, why don't I have any friends?
Marge: We have each other [...]
Lisa: We are best friends, Mom, but I'm a kid. I need friends my own age too.
Marge: Honey, you'll make plenty of friends. All you have to do is be yourself.
Lisa: Be myself? I've been myself for eight years, and it hasn't worked.


Hit me hard as a kid when I first saw the episode, still resonates today.
While I do wish I had more friends, when it comes down to it I just choose to stay at home. I guess I'm not willing to put in the effort, and I'm not really sure how to change that.
Eh, I'm sure if I just think and ruminate about it more I'll figure it out.
posted by queseyo at 8:26 PM on October 27 [22 favorites]


Academic happiness studies are full of anomalies and contradictions, often revealing more about the agendas and values of those conducting them than the realities of human emotion. But if there is one point on which virtually every piece of research into the nature and causes of human happiness agrees, it is this: our happiness depends on other people.

Anyone know of any write-ups of research showing that happiness depends on other people? (I'm asking not because I don't believe that happiness depends on other people, but because I do believe it and I'd like to read some research about it.)
posted by 23skidoo at 8:30 PM on October 27 [3 favorites]


This ties in so much with what I've been struggling with for the past few years. It's just harder to make new friends as I get older, particularly when most of my peers have families and I don't - and as I get more particular and cautious about who I am friends with. And I guess I keep thinking it should just happen organically, easily, and that I shouldn't have to make a project of it.

But I think I need to make a list of people who would probably get coffee or drinks with me if I asked, and line up some friend-dates.
posted by bunderful at 8:52 PM on October 27 [15 favorites]


I moved to New York recently, and have been having a lot of trouble making new friends. I've been spending way too much time alone, and my current job doesn't really lend itself to meeting other people at my work. It's been very hard, and I've been pretty depressed. Especially since I went from a situation where I was living with 2 other people, and also had a group of steady friends. All of the prickly parts of my personality are much sharper (and it makes me feel deficient for not being a social butterfly in this new situation), and anything bad that happens tends to circulate over and over in my mind without someone to talk to. Both in combination have been making me feel like I'm retreating more into myself - not to mention the fact that the higher cost of living in NYC also makes me feel like I can't really afford to go out and do the bar scene, hoping to meet people. It sucks! But commiserating with others online, and understanding that it's not just me helps... well, a bit.
posted by codacorolla at 8:54 PM on October 27 [5 favorites]


It's simply not as easy as "go to the bar, you'll be happier with all of the friends you already have." I have literally been in the catch-22 situation of being told that I'd have more friends if I were a happier person. As an over-40 working person, my peer group doesn't do stuff anymore because they have a lot of shit to worry about at home and work (which I feel). But the idea of happiness being fueled by other people kind of depends on... other people.
posted by transient at 8:59 PM on October 27 [8 favorites]


It took me 2 or 3 years to make lasting friends in NYC as a 20-something. I met people through online dating, neighborhood events, writing groups, running groups, Toastmasters, music classes, etc. It was helpful that at that time there was a coffee shop in my neighborhood really devoted to building community. Once you made one friend there, you made 20.

As a 40-something in a new city, it's harder. My peers are usually too busy to randomly go out for drinks or dinner or to a movie without 1-3 weeks advance notice. I don't make instant friends anymore - I'm too cautious.

Part of me is restless and wants to go try another city just because I have itchy feet. And part of me thinks "No, it'll be even harder and will take even longer to build any kind of network."
posted by bunderful at 9:27 PM on October 27 [5 favorites]


I'm lucky in that my recent move brought me back to my hometown where, for the first time since I left for college, I am living close by family (2 brothers, parents) and my BFF 4 lyfe. So I have them! I'm not a stranger in a strange land. But it's so hard to have left behind the friendships of more than a decade that I had in Peoria, which were worn-in and comfortable and easy. And now I'm back to square one only this time I have three kids so it's harder to go do grown-up things. Last time I moved I threw myself into volunteering and civic activism and met tons of people that way (the time before that, grad school), but it's just a lot harder with three kids.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:44 PM on October 27 [2 favorites]


For adults, it takes energy to maintain friendships and energy fades with age, and how exactly does a fix income senior make new friends if they don't drive or have disposable income for cabs? Many don't have children and are widowers. These folks are the primary targets of Fox News, Right Wing Radio, and TV Evangelist.
posted by Beholder at 10:08 PM on October 27 [4 favorites]


I've been in a conscious "Need to build local community!"push for the last year and a half or so, and it's hard. I would say it's about the same level of energy (emotional, physical, logistical) required for dating. It has been paying off, but it's been a constant struggle against a lot of ingrained ideas I have about what counts as a "worthwhile" investment of my time. Not so much with individual in-person friends -- that requires some flexibility with scheduling and whatever, but that's fine -- but I also joined a UU church and realized that my expectation had really been "I'll join, and it will be a readymade social support network" when the reality is more that I still need to put in the time and effort to build connections -- which is totally fair, because it's not really like signing up for a church membership should somehow automatically grant me all the social benefits without my putting in some work. "Work," in the case of UU, being committee meetings.

I was asked to co-facilitate a UU "Chalice Circle," which is a small discussion group, and we had our first meeting tonight. I am tired and burnt out and was feeling resentful about having to go, but it was so soul-affirming. It was like the best MeFi conversation, but in person, which was better -- all about values and beliefs and personal experiences and other deep things that usually require years of getting to know someone before you get to talk about them. I usually test out at something like 98% introverted but that community discussion was exactly what I needed, and I felt really energized by it. Which is also why I'm making myself go to the Meetup hiking group activity tomorrow, even though I don't feel like it. I'm finding I still often have to force myself into group activities, but the rewards have been getting more apparent.
posted by lazuli at 10:32 PM on October 27 [17 favorites]


I think, too, a lot of this gets wrapped up with the being "too needy" sentiment that people, particularly women, can buy into. At least, for me. Maybe I shouldn't generalize.

No, not just you, Guess What, I was explicitly taught as a child that to need anything from anyone made me a bother and a pest, led to being taken advantage of, and to making others annoyed with you because "They have their own problems! Nobody wants to have to listen to your problems, too!" I was not allowed to make friends, really, even if all I wanted was someone to run Monty Python jokes into the ground with.

Then again, the guardian who taught me this had no friends, herself. That had to have been hard for her as a single parent with no adult friends or partner to have any kind of reciprocal adult relationship with. It's taken a long time, and therapy, for me to learn how to connect with people and to receive as well as give on an emotional level that can sustain friendships (and to be able to give without feeling obligated to give).

It's one of the reasons that I don't want to live in a small town. For me, living in a big city prevents me from isolating myself. There's just so much I enjoy in life that a big city offers where I go out and do things and I will inevitably meet like-minded people.
posted by droplet at 10:55 PM on October 27 [11 favorites]


Yes. This. I’ve got a cold and what I want most in the world tonight is someone to bring me soup and then my hair.

Before bringing your hair—in fact, before bringing the soup—surely you would want them to bring you your dentures?? I mean, there are many soups that could be consumed without teeth (or hair...), but it might be nice to have them in, in case there was anything swimming around in there that might require chewing.

Be good to yourselves. Get a hug

Have a little laugh over some nonsense!
posted by tenderly at 2:29 AM on October 28 [2 favorites]


When you've been very lonely almost all of your life and have spent the last five years almost entirely isolated, there's nothing better than reading all those articles about how lonely people have shorter life expectancies.

So true. So deeply reassuring to know that the lonely isolation will last far less than a hundred years!
posted by tenderly at 2:34 AM on October 28 [2 favorites]


I'm very introverted to the point of often preferring certain kinds of isolation, but it's long been very obvious to me that I need relationships and interaction with other people to be happy. Hell, just touching or being touched by another person is painfully rare for me and the absence is visceral.

Orange Swan's complaint and lament is very apt, and I share it -- the doomsaying isn't very helpful -- but I do think that the overall message is important.

I'm happiest when I have lots of socializing and relationships, both with and around me, but I absolutely require the ability to limit socializing. Otherwise I get very anxious and, eventually, unhappy. But that's sort of the problem with modern American Life -- it's sort of all-or-nothing in that we aren't very "plugged-in" to endogenous socializing the way we once were, so it's more explicit, planned, and intense when it happens.

Just having relationships available is crucial. About a year ago I had a traumatic break with my closest friend of the last 25 years -- I don't understand at all what's behind this on his end, and I suspect I won't, ever -- and the loss has been devastating for me. More than I would have expected, even accounting for how much this friendship meant to me. I've felt dramatically adrift -- I have no other relationships that would or could compare in terms of closeness and longevity -- and so where I felt a near-void before, it feels more absolute now. I don't even know how I could begin to go about making new friends. I'm 53 and single.

Again, although I'm an introvert, what I've found in my life is that the most precious things to me are all the remarkable and beautiful people I've known . . . by which I mean almost all of them. Of course other people are crucial to happiness -- they're most of the texture of life.

While I'm deeply wary of endorsing the kind of stifling social structures that are controlling, limiting, and smothering, I do strongly feel that American culture is the worse for its extreme emphasis on individualism and the self.

I find myself yearning for community, envying large and close families, imagining sociable living arrangements, from tailored communal environments to more fanciful notions of group marriages. To be a part of a community, but not be defined or constrained by it. I'd like to be able to just be friendly and companionable with people somewhere, without it being purpose-driven and fraught.

Now that I'm writing about it, I find there's a startlingly large amount of time I've considered novel ways to socialize. I think frequently about things like possible meetups. I imagine organizing some weird OKCupid get-together of compatible people -- friendly and romantic, both. I've thought about UU, as mentioned above, as some of them welcome friendly non-believers. I imagine holidays, cross-country rambles, special events.

And most of this is just idle daydreaming in the end, because so many practical obstacles complicate things. I'm poor, I'm disabled, just to start.

MetaFilter has been important to me. I've made a few strong internet-friendships -- there is a qualification there because I do think it's necessary to actually interact personally with people occasionally. To me, it makes it more real. Not that it's unreal otherwise, just...you know. There's one amazing person who regularly sends me cards -- I'm not the only person to receive these and just that there are people like that is an example of why I think the wonder of other people is an amazing joy in this life. I often recall and consider the personal stories people have told me -- I'm not exactly sure why, but I always sense that I'm doing something important, in a small way.

Anyway, I feel that there's a great unmet need in our culture for contemporary mechanisms to include people in the kind of vital social relationships we so clearly need. I've been mildly surprised to find that this has remained so for so long.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:25 AM on October 28 [21 favorites]


A year ago I had major surgery followed by a painful and difficult recovery. I was unable to sleep more than a few minutes for many weeks, and spent long days and nights in utter isolation. This was during last year’s election horror so I could not even bear to watch the television. Although I have always tried to be helpful and present when anyone I know deals with something difficult, even my own husband avoided me during this period and I was forced to do things (including food prep) by myself. Any kind of support or visit would have been received with huge gratitude, but none came. Key family members were occupied with their own pursuits and showed little concern. The experience left me shattered.

As I recovered and gained physical abilities I’d never known before, I was deliriously happy to move past pain toward an active life. This time, I was shocked by the reactions of longtime friends and family members who resented my no longer being defined by disability. They saw my new happy, active self as something foreign and threatening. My husband, who has physical pain of his own, has been openly envious and resentful; it has seriously tested the marriage.

The hard lesson I’ve learned from all of this is that if I cannot find happiness on my own, I cannot find it at all. I continue to do everything I can to support others but exercise great restraint when it comes to emotional commitment. Articles like this elicit a sad sigh from yours truly.
posted by kinnakeet at 3:41 AM on October 28 [17 favorites]


I’ve got a cold and what I want most in the world tonight is someone to bring me soup

Not me at all. Just leave me alone when I'm sick; if I'm already weak from a cold or flu, I just don't have the psychic energy to cope with other humans.
posted by octothorpe at 5:25 AM on October 28 [5 favorites]


I've always been lonely, but blamed myself for it. Reading articles like this and hearing people's stories here has made me realize it's not just me. That actually makes me feel less lonely, even though text only, internet strangers, etc. Just having the sense of community, even online, among people who aren't trolls, who discuss interesting ideas, helps with the loneliness. I suppose that means this is the time for me to add this revelation to my Gratitude App (jk don't really have one.)
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 5:26 AM on October 28 [7 favorites]


I won't lie, many new friends as an adult have just come through different workplaces. I get there is a lot of "grar, hate when my COWORKERS try to TALK to me lol just let me do my work and go home" snarking and that's one of the things I so relate to the least, and it seems to be a very popular and isolationist way of working and living. But working in an environment where you genuinely like people and like hanging out with them is probably one of the most positive things in my life as an adult.

I understand this is contingent on things like... having a job, not working from home, working with coworkers who share your interests/values, etc. So there's a ton of luck involved as well. Finding a workplace with a culture where people drop the typical "bleep bloop only coworkers" pretense and are instead just totally down to hang and of *course* we should all go to that concert because we all like that band - it's real fucking hard. But it's worth searching for, if you are able.
posted by windbox at 5:32 AM on October 28 [4 favorites]


As a 40-something in a new city, it's harder.

So much this. Add in long and sometimes unpredictable work hours, and it can feel like an impossible task to create those connections sometimes. At my age, many of my coworkers and acquaintances are fully immersed in their children and/or are caring for aging parents, which is of course great and important but also limits their availability and interest in doing social things. Geography and traffic matter, too -- how often do you want to battle traffic on a weeknight to do something social with someone who doesn't live close by?

Anyways, it's something I have been thinking about a lot and intend to, if not solve, at least take steps to improve this coming year. When I was young those connections just sort of happened organically and automatically, and it is obvious that now it will take effort and thought.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:58 AM on October 28 [4 favorites]


I was just mentioning to my husband last night that this year in particular is Friendless Fall. I've always found friends through work, but over the last 2 years it's become very cliquish. There are 2 particular social/happyhour groups and I'm not in either of them. I'm friendly with everyone, they're friendly with me, I overhear people saying, "Kim's great!/Kim's funny!/Kim's great to work with!". On Thursday I hear "have a great night!" and 45 minutes later as I'm getting off the train I see FB/IG posts of the same people at a bar. I think a lot has to do with my age (45) and apparently us Olds don't drink anymore. (They don't realize that at this stage in life, I could buy everyone a round and not be ruined like I would have at 30.)

So you say, "Kim...BE THE CHANGE!" On my birthday in September I planned my own happy hour for the first time. I invited the whole company (40 ppl) in advance, didn't require the pressure of RSVPing, said it was my bday but that I didn't want gifts, understood that it was the start of the school year, set an end time, sent a reminder, etc etc. I expected 10 people. Only person came. One! I sat by my onesies for 30 minutes in a bar. Waiting. And I have to tell you, it's damn hard to shake that kind of thing off.

I have localish internet friends I met in person a few times. We have a great time when we do get together, and we chat, tweet, support, etc online. This morning I woke up to see that 2 of them and spouses went to a ticketed Halloween event 20 minutes away from where I live last night. They had fun and I'm happy for them. My saying "hey next time can I come?" will make them feel bad and me look creepy and desperate.

I'm not that person reposting Introvert memes. I also can't have children, which puts me on the periphery of many of my peers' friend circles as it is. And I am luckier than many, because I'm close with my family and my husband and I are solid, but for once in my adult life I'd like to get past the "Good for a LuLaRoe/Stella & Dot/ThirtyOne party invite" status and have a group of friends I can meet with on the regular for a movie, or drinks or a weekend at the shore.

Because this line from TFA: "Given all that, the next time you have the choice between meditating and sitting in a bar with your friends complaining about meditation class, you should probably seriously consider going to the bar, no matter what your happiness app says." Only applies if you're told your friends are going to the bar in the first place.

This was a grouse-y contribution to the thread but ... I don't care anymore. Making friends can be hard.
posted by kimberussell at 7:02 AM on October 28 [32 favorites]


On Thursday I hear "have a great night!" and 45 minutes later as I'm getting off the train I see FB/IG posts of the same people at a bar. I think a lot has to do with my age (45) and apparently us Olds don't drink anymore

Yes, I remember the first time I was a witness to the plans being made and no longer one of the 'young people' automatically included in the 'after work drinks' being organized...and I remember doing the same thing (completely obliviously) to an older coworker way back when...it's a thing, definitely.

I've always had tonnes of friends and now I don't. Part of it is NYC, working, getting bitter etc...but it's sobering (literally) and articles like this kind of add to the cumulatively 'dying alone, and early' aspect of the whole thing!!
posted by bquarters at 7:48 AM on October 28 [1 favorite]


Well, if our happiness depends on other people, then I'm fucked.

Seriously, we act like other humans are there to snuggle us and cuddle us and make us feel all safe and loved, but it's just as likely that those people are also there to drain us dry, tear us down, make us feel like stupid shit, make us take abuse from them, etc. Frequently, those are the same people, especially if it's family.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:34 AM on October 28 [20 favorites]


Seriously, we act like other humans are there to snuggle us and cuddle us and make us feel all safe and loved, but it's just as likely that those people are also there to drain us dry, tear us down, make us feel like stupid shit, make us take abuse from them, etc. Frequently, those are the same people, especially if it's family.

Yeah, that's one of the things that makes all of this so hard. Healthy interdependence with others requires the participants to be reasonably non-toxic and safe to be around. Unfortunately there are a lot of unhealthy, toxic people in the world. Looking back, I've become very independent, self-reliant and "non-needy" because I've had to be. Being alone is always better than being in any kind of toxic, abusive relationship.
posted by jazzbaby at 10:18 AM on October 28 [11 favorites]


I'd love to have others to depend on, but my life just doesn't work that way, despite being married, having family nearby and working to expand my social circle. Also, being introverted leads me to over-invest in romantic partners, which has historically proven untenable. I never got the knack of making female friends, and my experience of hetero relationships has been that they're arranged for the needs and comfort of the man, with his willingness to meet my needs and comfort me very dependent on his perception that I've "earned" that in the relationship exchange. I'm recently coming to realize that being very "low-maintenance" is probably a result of not getting my needs met and pretty much giving up on having them.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:42 AM on October 28 [15 favorites]


I'm never as miserable, and anxious, as when I've become emotionally embroiled with other people.

So, no. Happiness is not other people, at least defined as "regular, in-person contact".

I'm more content interacting with folks online -- it's less draining.
posted by gsh at 10:42 AM on October 28 [6 favorites]


I like people till I don’t then I go be alone until I don’t like that then I go be with people what’s so hard about that concept.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:45 AM on October 28 [7 favorites]


Not me at all. Just leave me alone when I'm sick; if I'm already weak from a cold or flu, I just don't have the psychic energy to cope with other humans.

I'm with you. I have a cold right now and I don't want to see anyone at all. I haven't spoken verbally to or even physically seen another person in over 72 hours and I'm in no hurry to change that. It's pure bliss that I can fuck off to my little cave to drink tea, slurp hot noodles and make ridiculous groaning and complaining noises and just be disgusting and sweaty until it's over.

I don't even like being fawned over when I've been in a hospital. The one time I was in an ICU I had some extended family make a bunch of terrifying noises about coming to visit me from some far off city with their wildling semi-feral kids and all, and my blood pressure and heart rate actually spiked so hard as I was reading the text it set off some kind of alarm on my monitors.

I love you guys, but oh hell no, I don't not want you and your two noisy (and dangerously grabby!) kids parked in my private, quiet ICU with 24/7 room service and a great view out of the window. Yes, I'm all fucked up and it sucks - but on the other hand this is practically a vacation at a resort, like some kind of meditative retreat with drugs, really comfortable furniture and a heavy emphasis on napping.

Yes, I definitely appreciated being checked on and that someone knew I was there (hi Errant and slarty!) because I did need help with things, but I also appreciated that I was mainly left alone and didn't have to engage with some endless string of people, even close friends.

People accuse me of being an extrovert, but I'm not. People also know my public self as being fairly loud, quick witted and quick to laugh and exposit and ramble. I'm also usually pretty quick to include people and draw them out of their shells, and that's a practiced skill, too.

Sure, I am gregarious and social - and I had to learn and practice these as a skill. I don't recharge by being social, I recharge by being alone and quiet. I can happily be alone and quiet for days and days, and go so long at it I nearly forget how to talk or speak. I don't even talk or mutter to myself alone and I am perfectly comfortable with silence and the thoughts in my head.

Some of my favorite vacation or adventure fantasies involve being left on some totally uninhabited craggy northern island with a year's worth of food, water and supplies and maybe a shack - or even better. some dilapidated old mossy castle or sprawling concrete ruins or something. I would be into that without bringing any books or entertainment, or internet. Or an even more extreme fantasy is spending a year on-orbit in a tiny space station completely alone, just watching the world roll by.

And despite these traits - I still had to learn how to be comfortable and happy with myself. Or to learn myself better to know when I was forcing myself to be social because that's what was expected of me, and learning (surprise!) that many off these attempts at being social failed because I was forcing myself to do it, and that this lets itself be known when people don't actually want to be somewhere, because they're just not present and engaged.

And there's a very large amount of cultural/social pressure to be social, that being alone is sad and boring and not ok, and, well, that's definitely not true at all.
posted by loquacious at 11:24 AM on October 28 [7 favorites]


If we’re all here feeling bad about being isolated, maybe we need to step up the IRL side of MeFi. Have more meetups amongst people geographically close to each other on a regular basis. If sick, have a mechanism for requesting a visit from local MeFites.

There would be a certain loss of privacy in moving local connections IRL so maybe a certain length of service/identity verification could be required in order to join an IRL support network. Of course, especially in areas where there aren’t many MeFites usefully nearby, it’ll be limited, and of course we can’t be each other’s everything.

But it’s gotta be better than all of us, many of whom have known each other online for years, to be sitting alone in our rooms saying how awful it is to be sitting alone in our rooms.
posted by tel3path at 4:16 PM on October 28 [12 favorites]


Looking back, I've become very independent, self-reliant and "non-needy" because I've had to be.

I'm recently coming to realize that being very "low-maintenance" is probably a result of not getting my needs met and pretty much giving up on having them.


Hear, hear. If you learn that you're not going to get fed ever, you learn to not be hungry.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:34 PM on October 28 [9 favorites]


For my work situation, I tell people I'm like a cat*: I want people to be around but I also want them to leave me alone, at least until I don't.

*Yes, not all cats are like this, some cats want nonstop attention, IANAC, IANYC.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 6:15 PM on October 28 [7 favorites]


It's hard to go "be with people" when you don't have any friends. My life is mostly isolation and I don't like it.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 7:09 PM on October 28 [2 favorites]


For my work situation, I tell people I'm like a cat*
posted by Napoleonic Terrier

Eponycontradictory
posted by drlith at 9:07 PM on October 28 [3 favorites]


It's hard to go "be with people" when you don't have any friends.

Exactly. If only it was as simple as choosing going to the bar with friends over going to the meditation class. Kind of a non-existent choice when you don't have any friends. The sad thing for me, though, is that on the very rare occasion that I do find myself hanging out with people, I find myself longing to be at home alone. Then of course when I'm at home alone, with nobody to call to hang out with, I feel miserable about how isolated I am...
posted by ersatzhuman at 10:21 PM on October 28 [1 favorite]


Exactly. If only it was as simple as choosing going to the bar with friends over going to the meditation class. Kind of a non-existent choice when you don't have any friends. The sad thing for me, though, is that on the very rare occasion that I do find myself hanging out with people, I find myself longing to be at home alone. Then of course when I'm at home alone, with nobody to call to hang out with, I feel miserable about how isolated I am...

I wanted to touch on this, too, because there's definitely a cultural and social vacuum going on in the US for a lot of people, and people definitely aren't crazy for feeling it or noticing it.

First, I do want to acknowledge that I am personally definitely not an emotional island, despite my statements above about when I'm sick or how much I appreciate my alone time.

Second, I think a huge part of this cultural and social vacuum has everything to do with the consumer commodification of most of our public spaces into almost entirely purely transactional experiences and environments that help foster loneliness and divisions.

And, so, I'm also struggling with trying to get the people I do know to do things that aren't sitting in a bar and consuming alcohol. Or going to a yoga class. Or attending a church-like function, UU or otherwise.

I've had some limited luck inviting people on walks or bike rides or just making time to go get coffee or something. Another one I like is getting out to art walks or art gallery shows or film fests or other low cost cultural events.

There's also a bazillion hobbies to get into out there, but, then again, a lot of those end up being consumer and transaction-focused, whether it's sewing or flying racing drones or biking. There's often a lot of alienating experiences in new hobbies because people can be othering, snooty and shitty about their more expensive purchases to make themselves feel better and all that rot.

One of the most effective ways I've found to meet people and not feel lonely is to volunteer. It seems to work best when it's something you like doing and maybe even have some talent at, but it can also just be plain old work.

And volunteering can be a lot of different things. It can be as simple as taking a few trash bags to your local park and picking up trash without asking anyone permission or expecting recognition. Note that many, many city park depts have volunteer programs, and are happy to provide trash bags and pickups. It can be citizen science opportunities like doing plankton counts or fry/fish counts for a marine science center. It can be a pet shelter. It can be a soup kitchen, or a brown bag lunch program. It can be handing out free socks on the street. It could be reading to seniors at a retirement center or kids in a library. It could be teaching a skill like excel spreadsheets or computer literacy to people at a library, or business skills at your chamber of commerce.

It can be so many different things. It can be structured and official, or totally independent. It could be no cost or high cost. It could be solo and solitary, behind the scenes or dealing with the public.

Be warned in all of these things, there is some element of real risk. A discarded needle in a park, a euthanized animal, an unstable or even ungrateful client of a soup kitchen, even the real heartbreak of seeing people struggle in their lives.

I've also found it rewarding (and frustrating, and even heartbreaking) doing volunteering with the homeless. It has the stark benefit of putting a lot of perspective on one's life. There's real warmth and love and friendship in a good soup kitchen or shelter, and that's part of a volunteer's reward. But there's also perspective.

And I know that's kind of the point. Real life and friendships and relationships all have risks, even the healthiest ones. You don't get to feel all the good stuff and not be lonely without some of those risks.

And as much as I hate reducing the morals of fables to cliches - to make friends, many times you have to try to be one. Ask yourself who you know that also might need looking in on.

And I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with people who are just toxic or shitty, or how that almost always complicates networks and groups of friends. (I want to make it clear that the cliche in the above paragraph definitely does not include putting up with abuse, toxicity, having needs unmet in relationships or dereliction of emotional labor.)



And last-last, if I may wax a little spiritual... there is a part of the human condition that seems to induce or simply naturally include loneliness. Even in some of our most intimate moments, a full connection and total satisfaction of that desire to commune and not be alone is either only fleeting or just not really possible. Perhaps our spirits remember something more where we weren't separated and mediated through the physicality of our senses, or the experience of consciousness itself desires this union and unmediated communication and understanding.

That part of consciousness that some call the missing piece. The Buddhists generally identify this as desire. That gnawing psychic hunger that we aren't enough, that people try to fill with drugs, sex, love, work and distractions.

I'm still personally figuring this one out, but learning to separate this hunger or desire from the real feelings for community and companionship have been very helpful. Learning not to feed that hole is super hard, especially since it just seems to get hungrier the more you feed it.

But once you're aware of it, it makes it easier to identify when you're tolerating a friendship or relationship out of fear of being lonely, and to do something about it.
posted by loquacious at 11:31 PM on October 28 [8 favorites]


I just moved to a new town that's incredibly small and somewhat remote and I don't know a soul except my mom and stepdad. I suffer from depression and anxiety (social and generalized) and I'm starting to worry that I might be somewhat agoraphobic. I'm unemployed. All of the churches around here are fundie conservative types. I don't drink and I won't go to bars. And I left Facebook a few weeks ago because it was sucking up all my time and mental energy...but that was also the only socialization I was getting.

Usually I'm okay with being alone. I'm an introvert. I know how to be by myself. I usually enjoy being by myself. But lately I feel incredibly lonely, more and more so every day and I'm not sure what to do about it. Isolation, both personal and geographic, is horrible.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:43 PM on October 28 [1 favorite]


I don't drink and I won't go to bars.
apparently us Olds don't drink anymore

I've been sober from alcohol for almost 6 years now and this is indeed a complication. So much social life is alcohol-centric. But it's not like, the way I was drinking, it was really conducive to meeting people, either. Also I'd very possibly be dead now if I had kept on with it.
posted by thelonius at 12:36 AM on October 29 [3 favorites]


Maintaining sobriety is exactly why I don't go to bars. Too tempting and that's not the environment I want to meet someone in anyway. I don't like 12 step meetings so that's right out as well. Also I'm 40 and single and childfree so no parental socialization either. Blah.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:44 AM on October 29 [2 favorites]


Huh. I agree with the ultimate conclusion of the article that happiness does indeed depend on relationships with other people. But I think there is more nuance to the supposedly alternative view of "happiness comes from within, don't depend on other people." I have always interpreted the latter as something more specific: I have no right to demand that someone specific be my source of happiness. If a relationship is not bringing me happiness overall over a long timeframe, it is on ne to invest in other relationships that do fulfill me.

I'm sure my introverted perspective has been overly informed by having friendships in which the friend kept asking for more time or more investment that I was simply unable to give. I kept trying to establish boundaries that they weren't respecting. The pressure of being asked to be the source of someone's happiness wore on me and, over time, ruined the relationship for me.

So, yes. Happiness is other people but please don't demand that I be your endless tap of joy.
posted by nicodine at 7:57 AM on October 29 [2 favorites]


I think there are valid ways of socializing with other people and nurturing the need for connection that go beyond hanging out once a week at your hangout of choice. For example, online interaction may be perceived as shallow in contrast to "in real life," but with a little bit of effort I think it's completely possible to build or maintain genuine and supportive friendships primarily through virtual spaces with the occasional injection of face-to-face meeting where possible. The article takes a jab at smartphones, but I believe there are ways to use smartphones as a bridge rather than a wall when more traditional forms of socialization are hard to access for one reason or another.
posted by drlith at 8:21 AM on October 29 [2 favorites]


This is absolutely true in my experience. I spent a good decade isolated socially and was depressed and hopeless that anything would ever get better. About a year ago I lost my apartment to a flood and through weird timing a friend (the last one I had left in this town) needed a roommate quickly. I had spent years living on my own. Getting up. Going to work. Coming home. Very little contact with people. I wasn't sure if I could go back to roommate life at this point, but the place was nice and I needed a change and so I agreed.

Now a year later, I'm slowly starting to break the shell. Am I 100% better and doing great? Or course not. It took me years to dig myself in and it'll probably be years climbing out. But I now have regular social interaction with more people. Roommate. His friends. Crazy (but wonderful and generous) neighbor who casually walks into the house at his leasure. I can't isolate myself anymore (which can get annoying when I do need some alone time). Some conversations go better than others and I'm still awkward. But forcing myself to be around others helps me see that people aren't necessarily as scary as they seem.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:13 AM on October 29 [4 favorites]


I'm a classic introvert but I despise that label. I seek satisfaction but do so very selfishly. Others stress me out because they aren't focused enough on me, and I focus a lot on the social mistakes I'm making. Mid 30s, new city. Would like to say to the world "Hey, anyone available for close friendships, but not creeps?"

A close friendship is built. But building it means spending time with people who aren't close, who you don't trust, so you can learn who is who. Some people can glom on to other friends' friends. Not me so much. But the friends I do have, I got by following the advice "treat them like they are already a good friend."

It's hard to make a friend, but it's pretty easy to dump a friend who's just not doing it for you. Yes, get off the computer, but also when you are on the internet, explore your own passions, not vicariously exploring them through other's stories. The more YOU you are, the easier it is to see the edges of your puzzle piece, and the easier it will be to find other pieces you fit with.
posted by rebent at 3:59 PM on October 29


It is so hard making friends as an adult, and it makes me sad to think that any of you wonderful mefites are sitting at home feeling lonely. If any of you reading this are in the Denver metro and you want to get a coffee or a drink or play nerdy board games, memail me!
posted by zeusianfog at 12:47 PM on October 30 [3 favorites]


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