After chatting with a lovely, older widower at the next table at one of our local restaurants, my friend mentioned to me that she had met him the day before at another local breakfast cafe where he also dined alone. After our chat, she said she thought he was lonely. But one doesn’t have to be the “loneliness” number.
When Loneliness Feels Painful
In our conversation, he mentioned he liked to dance. We encouraged him to attend one of the local ballroom dances here in Marin County. That got us to thinking about the concept of loneliness. I was reminded of my Aunt Milly’s comment, “Loneliness is such a terrible disease.”. Her point is well-taken. Loneliness feels painful. While there are those who claim that they prefer to be alone with a good book, it’s important to remember that research indicates that social interactions are good for our physical and emotional health.
There are “cures” that are within our reach. Or more accurately, outreach. It’s been proven that we live longer and better lives if we have a social network of people , whether they are friends, colleagues or family, with whom we have contact and see face-to-face.
Back To Basics
We can administer a “self cure” to avoid loneliness. Signing up for groups or classes and joining organizations of like-minded people is now easier than ever. We can do a google, facebook or linkedin search and learn about groups before we attend. Then we feel more prepared when we show up. These groups are also listed in local community college brochures, local papers and online. We can also learn about them by asking people we know to make recommendations.
We can be helpful to others who express that they are alone and/or lonely by listening to them, learning their areas of interest, brainstorming options and offering suggestions like we did for the new widower. And we can offer encouragement.
Once people start talking to other attendees, showing up consistently and letting them get to know you, it’s easier to build a network and make friends. It’s a good idea to have pals who like to do the different things you like to do. (Fish, tennis, golf, kite surf, play bridge or poker , attend opera, comedy clubs, ballroom dance, or shoot pool). My movie pals are different than my ballet buddies. And my friends who play cards know I will never join them as a “fourth”.
Be the person who extends the invitation to people to meet for a cup of coffee at a local cafe. Cast a wide net and ask people to bring a friend. Many people don’t initiate and they appreciate the savvy networkers who include them.
Those of us who work alone and live alone need to take an extra step to be sure we have social and business interactions. BNI is one organization that can help build business and social networks. Local chambers of commerce, Rotary, Toastmasters as well as specific professional organizations are also good groups to attend, assess and join.
We can also morph our online groups into in-person groups. We have a LinkedIn Marin group with a variety of members. We meet about three times a year in person at networking mixers at different venues in the county. There are also offers Brown Bag Lunch talks on various aspects of business. The in-person options add the “social” in social media.
Caveat: It’s easy enough to say “I’m not a joiner”. To reiterate, given the research findings on connecting and socializing, I’d like to suggest that we go against type and find a group that feels like the right fit and join.
There are so many options. We can join a book club,or hiking or biking club, a bridge game, a non-profit board, a wine tasting group, model train enthusiasts, etc. It’s easier to talk to the people in the group because you already have something in common. You get the point.
Do It With Class.
We can take a class or teach a class. When you have expertise, talent and experience…share it. Mentor the students. Or learn a language. Take a social media class. Or woodworking class.
One of my friends returned to live in Los Angeles area after 20 years. Her longtime friends live more than an hour away (if there’s no traffic on the 405 and that rarely happens). She met someone who taught ballroom dancing and thought it sounded interesting. She almost didn’t follow -through and is so happy she did. She invested the money, time and energy and now dances several times a week, takes twice weekly lessons and made a network of new friends. Bonus: she found out ballroom dancing is quite the workout and lost weight!
Whatever it is you like to do or want to explore, you can find a group that’s doing it by checking your local paper, google, online boards or MeetUp.com.
The Need To Be Needed
Another tonic for loneliness is to feel needed; it’s that all-important feeling that gives us a sense of purpose.
Think about your interests and inclinations. Volunteer to help those who need your time, skills and commitment. We can volunteer at a soup kitchen in a variety of jobs. One of my pals works weekly at our Humane Society.
People who don’t have children will coach teams, volunteer in a classroom or tutor in subject areas. Every community has organizations that need volunteer help. School children need your help and so do seniors citizens.
All you need is one place/one group to feel needed and have a sense of purpose.
Then one won’t be the loneliest number.