We’ve all heard it – social media is making far less social and far more isolated than ever before. Loneliness, which is deadly, is skyrocketing, effecting more and more people, and, amazingly, when I posted about this problem on Facebook and how much I related to the feelings of loneliness, someone actually commented, “I’m happy I’m not lonely.” Ouch.
Immediately, when I read those words, I felt shame. She probably didn’t intend this, she was probably just being grateful for the gifts of friendship she has, blah, blah, blah. Still, I logged out of Facebook and couldn’t bring myself to sign in for nearly four days (I know, I know, but it’s a record for me). Maybe the real reason loneliness is on the rise is because no one can admit they’re lonely, which is the very thing that precludes relief. Why can no one admit they’re lonely? There’s a staggeringly strong stigma about it.
So the very things that would remedy loneliness are now admissions to being lonely and thus themselves shameful. We get advice like “Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks,” “You’ve got to be the one to make you happy” and “Do what you love for you, forget everyone else.” So the antidote to my very real social pain is do-it-yourself isolation, then? When my efforts to connect, build relationships and participate meaningfully in life are ignored, blown off and overlooked constantly in favor of others, I’m supposed to just go love myself?
We have created and ratified a culture that not only supports loneliness but encourages it. This is deeper than individualism. Remember the last time you heard back about a job application? Remember when you were given personal feedback in a rejection letter from a publisher? Who was the last person to follow up with “let’s do this again soon” or “I’ll call you?” No, we don’t all do it – those of us who keep our commitments and honor people’s time and respect people enough to take them at their word without being as suspicious and cynical as we have a right to be do not flake out. Yet, admitting that we’re hurt when it happens offends people and we promptly here about how busy they are or something. All that does is reinforce the feeling of being unwanted and not important enough to be squeezed into the busyness of your friend’s life (who actually isn’t a victim of their schedule, BTW).
I know this sounds like a rant. (Anger is another no-no in our culture, too.) I’m not going to apologize for being angry and hurt by this and the fact that we not only tolerate but encourage it. But my main point is that until we can actually admit that it hurts when we are met with silence after nearly every job application we send out there or boiler-plate rejections to the little pieces of our souls, we won’t be able to change the acceptability of “too busy” from publishers, employers and our friends. And we will thus continue to suffer – in silence or shame if we try to break that silence – the shrieking lack of connection, validation and community, all of which are as necessary as food, water and shelter.