So far as I can tell, most adults have no roots in the area where they live. They didn’t grow up there. And, if they went to college, their college was in some other place. They often relocated to their current metro area either for a job, graduate school, or with the aspiration of leading a cool and awesome life. They often work hard, but not quite hard enough to disguise the emptiness of their lives. During the day, they’re friendly enough with the people they work / go to school with. After work, they might go out to a happy hour with those people. Then, if they’re lucky, they go home to a significant other. Otherwise, in the evenings they exercise, go on dates, watch Netflix, play electronic games, or browse the internet.
It’s only in the residuum of their time—their weekends and the few weekday evenings they spend with friends—that these adults diverge.
About one third of adults have a large, diverse, and vibrant body of friends that includes both nodding acquaintances and very intimate friendships. They have a friend circle large enough that they won’t spiral into loneliness if they lose one or two people. On weekends, they have things to do (or with some effort they can drum up some things to do). They’re not immune from loneliness, but objectively speaking, they have it pretty good. Many times this group of friends is a loosely-organized group whose nexus is the friends they made in college. But often enough the group has a different basis. Sometimes it’s made of people they met through work (either at their current or at previous jobs). Other times it’s something that grew from a hobby (pen and paper roleplaying or folk music, for instance). Sometimes it’s anchored by formal membership in a group (often true with political activism), but more often it’s not. There is just this sense that there is an ‘us.’ They have community, is what I’m saying. One third of adults have some sort of community.
Another third of adults has close friendship, but no community. What I mean is they have between two and ten people they call “friend,” and that they see at least some of these people regularly. However, the group is fragile. Often it’s held together by a few people who do a disproportionate amount of effort. If they had children or moved, it’d fall apart. Now I’m not saying that this tranche of adults suck at life or that they’re less interesting or gregarious than people in the first group. Sometimes when you have a smaller group of friends it’s a matter of time or inclination: these adults might be working demanding jobs that leave them with little free time, or they might just be introverted and find it difficult to be around new people. Oftentimes people with little groups of friends aren’t even unhappy. What these groups are characterized by, frequently, is a large amount of intimacy. Everybody in the group knows each other well, and because of this, they can meet each others’ emotional needs. However, what worries me about these groups is their fragility. They’re closed off, which means they have no ability to replace the people that the group loses through natural attrition. When people with small groups of friends experience disruption, they have nobody waiting in the wings to replace the friends they’ve lost, and they find themselves falling into the final group.
And, finally, maybe somebody out there will dispute this, but as far as I can tell, one third of adults have no friends. Oh, they might not characterize themselves that way. They’re not freaks. Perhaps they made close friends in college or high school, but those friends live in other cities now. And they might have friends on message boards or in an online game. Many of them have significant others with whom they’re very close. These connections are all absolutely real, and if they satisfy, then I’ve nothing further to say.
But oftentimes these adults are lonely. They know they’re missing something real: the tangible, physical experience of another person who enjoys your company. They’re missing laughter and teasing and jokes. And they’re missing intimacy. Somebody who’ll visit when you’re sick. Somebody who’ll notice when you’re looking withdrawn. Perhaps these people have a friend or two from college who lives in the same town, but it’s hard to make schedules mesh, so you only see each other once a month. Perhaps they’re part of a meetup group, but those people are only one step up from strangers.
This is the loneliness that drives people to suicide, and it’s this loneliness that I want to try to combat. Oh, I’m not saying that the other two groups don’t have something to learn from me, but I am so tired of walking through this city of mine (San Francisco) and seeing so many desperately lonely people. And when I see these people in the streets and in the bars, I always find myself thinking of the other people: the ones who never make it onto the street. The ones trapped in their apartments, because they know—right down to the core of their bones—that they have nothing to offer anybody.
Okay, so this was my intro post for what I hope’ll be a new series here that I’m calling “The War On Loneliness.” Tomorrow I’m gonna write a little bit more about my intentions and about how I expect this is gonna go.
I’m trying to take this blog in a slightly new direction, and I’m interested in what people have to say, so if you’ve any additions to make or disagreements with what I’ve said, please leave a comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d also ideally like to have an advice columnist aspect going on here, so if you’ve any questions or issues, send me an email!