April 20, 2024

I Feel Lonely, Even Though I’m Not Alone

Recently I’ve been feeling lonely. As someone who enjoys my own company, often travelling abroad alone or intentionally carving out plenty of ‘me time’ each week, this was a surprising development. I felt undeserving of the feeling at first, confused by it. I rent a flat in one of the most populous London boroughs, I don’t live by myself, I have friends and family nearby- and so, I couldn’t square the growing sense of aloneness with the practical reality of my circumstances.

I found it hard to open up and tell my loved ones what I was going through, not least because I’d managed to deny it in my own mind for so long. If I’d kept it from myself, keeping it from other people should be a breeze. And it was. Until it wasn’t. ‘How are you really doing? ’ a female friend asked me over text, I said the truth: that I was okay, mostly healthy, keeping busy with work, and that, also, I was lonely. She replied almost immediately to say that she was feeling exactly the same way. Neither of us had voiced it before then and immediately, just typing it out and hitting send, I felt lighter. When I asked my friend if she’d experienced that as well, she said she had.

Multiple women expressed to me a frustration at being told that these were the best years of their lives when privately they were feeing so alone.

I took the question to Twitter next and my DMs quickly filled. Women in particular expressed solidarity and recognition with my loneliness, mostly those in their twenties and thirties, many childfree and single, but also many who had partners and children, networks of friends nearby, hobbies and careers and pets and ties to religious or spiritual communities. Multiple women expressed to me a frustration at being told that these were the best years of their lives when privately they were feeing so alone. Maria, who is 29 and living in a major UK city told me “I go to work and am lucky to have job security and be making above minimum wage, but there’s still always something that I’m worrying about… I don’t want to sound ungrateful when they say to enjoy it but I do feel alone a lot. ” I’ve heard similar sentiments from older relatives, and though well meant, I think there’s a disconnect between what it really means to be a young person nowadays, battling to just keep moving during crisis after crisis.

Another theme that cropped up time and again in my conversations about loneliness was the theme of comparison and social media. Modern technology may exist in some part as a portal into a world of instant connection, but it can also be a means of feeding existing feeling of inferiority and isolation. Amy, 35, emailed to tell me that though she knows it’s unhealthy, she can’t seem to stop scrolling online when she’s feeling lonely. ‘I’m absolutely aware it will make me feel more alone to go on social media and look at everyone else’s happy moments, but it’s a habit now. I see a wedding anniversary post and think about how I’m not married or a pregnancy announcement when I don’t have children yet. It’s definitely something I do when I’m already feeling down and shitty. ’

It’s this kind of digital wound-picking that I’ve been trying to do less of. I have to remind myself that social media tells only a fraction of a story, and very rarely will people announce every bad feeling as and when it arises. It also helps to remind myself that loneliness is not unique to one demographic- a new parent posting a joyful carousel of photos of them with their beautiful baby doesn’t mean that loneliness isn’t also an occupant of the house. An evidence review published in BMC Psychiatry found that loneliness in expectant and new mothers is a huge contributor to perinatal depression, and new mothers are at great risk of being and feeling isolated.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX aria-hidden=»true»>Modern technology may exist in some part as a portal into a world of instant connection, but it can also be a means of feeding existing feeling of inferiority and isolation.

Another national study from March 2022 found that 40% of UK women aged 16-29 reported feeling lonely ‘often, always, some of the time’ and 3. 3 million people in Britain felt ‘chronically lonely’ between December 2021 and February 2022. I’ve wondered a lot if this spreading loneliness is an ongoing reaction to the stop and start lockdowns we all endured, the unpredictability of the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the isolation that was immediate and government mandated. For months and months at a time community and love and romance and worship and life were all forced to happen at a distance, and I think it stands to reason that there would be an ongoing impact from that. A domino effect that goes on shaping how we relate to one another, how we interact, how trustfully and warmly we view the people we share space with.

I think that it can feel like something of a betrayal to tell the people who love you that you’re lonely, because loneliness is an emotion that we tend to think of as love’s antithesis. If we have friends and family and electronic devices that can connect us immediately to people all around the world, how is it possible to feel lonely? Surely it should have been phased out by now like Teletext and VHS tapes. But it does make sense. Loneliness doesn’t need to be logical, and we can’t spirit it away with facts alone. Instead, we have to say. If we don’t, nothing changes, and we miss a vital opportunity to reach out and connect, to talk and work our way through and then out.

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