“It’s nice that you have a friend,” she said. “I don’t really have any.”
Certainly, that couldn’t be true. She had lived within a 20-mile radius her whole life. She married a local boy, raised a family and worked at the school. She was active in the community, ran a local business, and went to church on Sundays.
She lived in an average house, drove an average car and had an average retirement. I asked why she thought she didn’t have any friends. Matter-of-factly, the 88-year-old looked at me and said, “They’re all dead.”
When You Outlive Your Peers
She was on the downward side of the life expectancy bell-curve. This was one area in which she could boast that she was above average. But it came at a price. She had the distinction of outliving her spouse and most of her friends. Life had slowed down considerably. Instead of celebrating weddings, baby showers and anniversaries, her days now consisted of doctor visits, “senior moments” and funerals. She felt disconnected and lonely.
Dangers of Loneliness
According to Sociologist, James House, lacking strong, positive personal relationships is as dangerous as being obese, having high blood pressure, or smoking cigarettes. The body’s resistance to illness is compromised, clarity of thought is impaired and depression is more likely.
A Troubling Trend
Research shows that feelings of loneliness and social disconnection are growing to epidemic levels. Estimates are that 1 in 3 Americans now classify themselves as lonely.
In 1985, National Science Foundation researchers asked Americans this question: “When something important is happening in your life, do you have someone you can tell?” Nine out of ten people named at least one person.
The same question was asked by sociologists in 2006. Shockingly, 25% of people responded that they had “no one” to tell.
Research shows that lacking strong, positive personal relationships is as dangerous as being obese, having high blood pressure, or smoking cigarettes.
Stop asking, “what’s wrong with me?” and start taking action. Don’t wait for someone to roll out the red carpet and invite you to the party. Start taking personal responsibility for satisfying your own needs. This might involve changing your attitude and the way you perceive the world, but your health may depend on it.
Be open to receiving invitations. Sometimes people stop asking us out because we keep turning them down. Make it a point to say “yes” more often.
Show interest in others. Strike up conversations with as many people as you can. Some people won’t respond, but keep trying. Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to share. Connections grow when we’re being authentic. And, don’t forget to smile!
Get Yourself Out There
This might involve a little effort; but if you’re physically able, get out of the house. Join the local senior center, get involved with church activities or start volunteering. If you can’t drive yourself, call and find out what options are available for transportation.
If you absolutely can’t get out, consider inviting people in. Some creativity may be in order, but that’s good exercise for the mind.
Create a Variety of Relationships
Don’t put all your eggs in one “Relationship Basket.” Getting involved in a variety of activities will widen your circle of friends, provide more options and guard against expecting one person to fulfill all your needs for connection.
The Bottom Line
When feeling distressed, don’t wait for others to seek you out. Instead of waiting for a hug, give one. Pick up the phone and give someone a call. Sit yourself down and write an old-fashioned letter. The antidote to loneliness is experiencing life by giving yourself to others.
Live today. Leave loneliness for tomorrow.