What social media seems to offer, on the surface, is a steady, round-the-clock escape from loneliness.
Facebook, particularly, is a tool that we can pick up at any time and use to connect with others. Even at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday, someone we know is likely to be online, posting and commenting, liking, replying, and poking (whatever the heck that means).
We experience these interactions – with our neighbor from third grade or our Biology I lab partner, or our favorite co-worker from our second job, and the stabs of loneliness fade.
Sounds like utopia, right?
But despite all our efforts to avoid it, discomfort can actually be a good thing. When we feel emotional pain, it’s a sign that we need to make changes. Avoiding it can even be dangerous.
Inward and Outward
I’ve moved several times through the years, both as a single person and with family. Most of these moves happened before social media was widespread. Each move was somehow simultaneously exhilarating and heartbreaking.
Loneliness was a big part of my discomfort.
And through that echoing loneliness, I did two things: first, I looked inward, and then, I pushed outward.
Looking inward, and being a spiritual person, loneliness pushed me to do my own internal work. I prayed and thought more about my purpose. I processed why I was lonely and what it meant.
I taught myself to be more comfortable being alone, and to really understand the crazy, quirky, messy person that I am. I learned to enjoy museums, movie theaters, restaurants, and festivals by myself. This is a gift to myself that I continue to enjoy, and it’s one I have tried to encourage my children to develop, too.
Inevitably, after I turn inward, loneliness next has the effect of pushing me to reach out and make stronger, healthier connections and to build my community.
An Introvert’s Struggle
A disclaimer is probably needed here: I am a classic introvert. I absolutely adore meaningful, deep conversations and find them energizing.
But I loathe the small talk and getting-to-know-you exercises of an early friendship. The older I get, the more I find that I despise having to tell my story over and over. I get frustrated when people try to put me in a box, especially if that box is inaccurately labeled.
Reaching out to others can be messy, weird, and exhausting, and there are definitely risks involved.
Inviting someone to invest their time meeting face-to-face with you can be awkward, especially if the friendship is a new one. We also run the risk of getting together and realizing there really isn’t a strong connection, and having to manage the disappointment and all around weirdness of that.
This is probably why, looking back, some of the most meaningful connections I’ve made in my life have come because I got really uncomfortable.
Sitting with Loneliness
Earlier this week, I had an experience that made me feel isolated. It was the first time I’ve felt that way in a long time – possibly even since we made our move back to Mississippi almost two years ago.
I was tempted to immediately distract myself with social media – to push the pain away. But instead, I chose to fully feel and accept the punches to the gut that loneliness can throw. I squirmed in my seat. I got a little angry. I even shed a few hot tears.
I sat with this feeling until it faded – or at least became tolerable.
Today, I’ve made some simple efforts to reach out and to enrich some old and new connections. (Ironically, I used social media to do the initial reaching out, but texting or calling or knocking on doors would have been just as effective.)
I’ll still be on social media plenty. But I will be using it more to make real, face-to-face connections, instead of being lulled into thinking that I don’t have that need.