Is social media making us more lonely?

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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. ASocial-Media-Marketing-Strategyvoiding 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.

Is it More Blessed to Receive than Give? (Maybe?)

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Ask me if it’s important to serve others – especially those who are most in need – and you will get an enthusiastic “yes.” (I might even throw in an awkward fist pump or a half clap if I’m still riding my morning caffeine high.)

This is especially true if we are talking about giving our time to help highly vulnerable populations – like children and families who are homeless, migratory, or living in extreme poverty.

But ask me if I believe that I should allow others to serve me, and I will absolutely agonize over my answer.

Realistically, I know that in order for the whole giving and receiving formula to work, we have to have both people willing to serve and people willing to accept acts of service.

This week, as we struggled with the day-to- day logistics of caring for an active 13-year- old who is on crutches, my husband and I were forced to realize we needed help. While we could figure out how to transport her to school in the morning, it was far more difficult to get away from work in time to pick her up from school each day.

As our stress levels spiked, I sensed the lesson I was being pushed to learn: “ask for help. There are people who would consider it a gift to help you – and to get to know your kids better. Don’t deny them that.” One part of my brain recognized that this might be true – that there are plenty of people who, like me, love getting to know young people and connecting with families.

And yet, I quickly canceled out that message. “I don’t want to be so reliant. I want to fix this problem using the resources I have. I don’t want people to think I can’t take care of my own responsibilities. These are my kids. It’s my responsibility to give them everything they need.”

So instead of just asking for help like a normal person, I posted on our neighborhood social media, looking for a college student or other adult who might be interested in getting paid to drive my daughter home from school each day.

Immediately after I made the post, people were responding on the page – and also texting and private messaging me – that they didn’t realize my need and would be happy to help, as long as I didn’t insist on actually paying them.

Walking into work with my phone buzzing with messages offering immediate assistance, I couldn’t help but get teary eyed.

For someone who insisted they didn’t need unpaid help, I sure was mighty thankful to get it.

We now have a plan for the remaining 2.5 weeks of school that will get my girl (and her 981,407-pound backpack!) to and from school safely.

A part of me still feels compelled to apologize to the people who will be helping. I can’t seem to stop saying – and thinking – things like, “I’m sorry.” “Thanks so much – I really wish we didn’t need this.” “We definitely owe you a favor in return one day.” “We need to have Matt make you guys a nice dinner really soon.”

Deep down, it’s eating at me – this feeling that I am incurring a debt. Or that I’m being needy. I worry I will take more than is intended. Or maybe I will be a less appealing friend, somehow, because of my need. The friendship bank ledger will be thrown out of balance.

My daughter – who unfortunately seems to have inherited my obsession with emotional bank ledgers – is saying the same things, “That’s so nice. We should get them something to thank them really soon.” “I feel bad that people have to stop their lives to come and pick me up.” “We really do need to repay their favor.”

Even though we are trying, I know we will continue to struggle with accepting this generosity. But when we do struggle – and when we are tempted to apologize profusely for having a need that we certainly didn’t plan – we will try our best to stop and remember the times we have helped others.

We will recall these times, not because we think those acts of service make us more worthy of today’s extra support, but to remember how much being able to help others has enriched our lives. We are better, happier, more connected people because of the acts of service that we have done.

We also will work very hard to remember that when we choose to accept help, we are choosing to have relationships with others – and to allow those relationships to blossom. In accepting what others give, we will be saying yes to connection and community, while resisting isolation.

We will do our best to smile, accept the assistance, and hope that the people who are helping feel that same sense of joy, connection and meaning that we have.

Then, because we are still works in progress, we we will probably insist on cooking them a nice dinner to say thank-you just one more time.

 

The Perils of Being “Extra” (And Why It’s So Worth It)

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There was a time when I thought surely the biggest test of friendship was finding people who would stick with me during difficult times. And fairly early on, I counted myself lucky because I’d already found those people.

But one of the most painful truths of my adult life has probably been that it’s not the challenging times that make friends hard to find – it’s the good ones.

The times when I’ve been struggling to adjust to a move? Agonizing over a seemingly stalled career? The times when I had difficulty conceiving children or when I worried that I would never have a strong, sane, mature relationship with my aging parents? Friends were easy to find then. In fact, people seemed to flock to me at every turn as though I was the crazed, stressed, tragic Pied Piper of Friends.

But some people I’ve counted as friends have made themselves far more scarce during the times when things were going especially well. The hardest times to find friends have been when I was celebrating getting accepted to my doctorate program, or when I wrote my first book, or, more recently, when I finally seemed – for one fleeting moment on a Tuesday afternoon in February – to have achieved the ultimate in work-life balance.

Those otherwise fabulous moments can be lonely. People who you expected to support you might suddenly view your happy turn of events as the perfect time for them to proclaim why they would never, ever make the same choices. (“I would never get a doctorate. It’s a waste of money and you won’t get a good return on your investment, even if you are getting the degree for free.” “Working outside the home wouldn’t work for me. I don’t agree with having other people raise my kids.” “I used to want to write books. Then I realized no one reads them anymore.”)

Now that I’m in my forties, I’ve come to terms with this foul weather friend reality. I have a ridiculously small but mighty circle of folks that will celebrate wildly with me on the good days. And, I’ve learned that the people who struggle to be happy for me in the rosiest of times are grappling with obstacles inside of them that have nothing at all to do with me.

And, I kind of get it. Like guacamole, I just really am kind of , well, extra. I bet you are pretty darned extra, too.

These days, it’s watching the young people in my life grappling with their extra-ness that has me feeling a little sad and frustrated.

I see the young lady who has learned to make Bs instead of As so that the boys in her life won’t deem her too much of an academic; the young mom who is hesitant to fully resign herself to the sheer giddiness of early motherhood because she is afraid that her other mom friends aren’t quite as consumed. There are boys who don’t try as hard as they might – at school or at Scouting or at archery or golf – all because they don’t want to be accused of doing – and even being – too much.

I’ve seen one woman close to me try to desperately hide how extra she really is at work. She truly thought if she didn’t act quite as intelligent – or if she wasn’t quite as thin – or perhaps if she didn’t speak with quite so much conviction – she would have friends who stuck with her in all things. But as she tried to meet the tiny expectations of others, her own self withered.

You are never going to be anything other than “extra” to someone who has a small sense of their own capacities. Be extra – as extra as guacamole. And savor every moment of it like crazy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

When a Lack of Time Makes Us People We Don’t Like

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My 13-year-old daughter and I are usually a fast-moving pair, weaving in and out of large crowds with ease. But right now, we move slowly and painfully, as she labors to learn to maneuver life on crutches after severely spraining – and possibly fracturing – her ankle.

Being forced to move at a painfully slow pace in public spaces teaches you a lot of lessons about yourself – and about others, too.

From the bookstore to the grocery store to the local coffee shop, there are two very different types of people we encounter, as my five-foot-nine seventh-grader slings herself forward, slowly and steadily, clanking along on her steely silver crutches.

Many people who encounter us have an empathy that absolutely radiates. They study my girl’s pained, methodical movement, wincing along with her.

They pepper her with questions as they shoot her brave smiles. “What happened, sweetie?” they want to know. Some of them shift their attention to me, too. They see me, hawkishly scanning the path ahead of her for any sign of danger – including perils like toddling children, barely visible pockets of water, or carelessly strewn scraps of trash. “It’s hard to watch your child on crutches, isn’t it?” they ask understandingly.

They tell my girl stories – of their foot surgery, or of some pesky body part that just doesn’t quite behave. The stories are sometimes unnerving, but they still make us feel encouraged, somehow. Others bring their spirituality to share, adding, “I’m sorry. We will pray for you. It’s hard. Hang in there”

Then, there is a very different pack of people. These are the ones who give us darting sideways glances, and then quickly turn their carts, cutting us off so they do not have to be stalled by us. Some are so frantic to beat us that they even risk bumping my girl’s shaky ankle, as they quickly shift directions. Others go so far as to drag their young children in front of us, using them as shields to cut us off.

While the first group of people eagerly seeks out our eyes, this second group works hard to avoid our gazes. They pretend they don’t see us – because if they do, then they might have to slow to our pace – to allow us in front of them, or even to (horror of horrors!) offer assistance.

It’s tempting to rage at this second group of people – especially when their shopping carts or racing feet come too close to my fragile, teetering girl. “Have some compassion!” I want to yell. “Don’t be a jerk. You’re about to hurt my child!”

And then I remember how quickly my girl and I were moving in the very same places just a week ago. I recall how we, too, zig-zagged wildly in and out of identical store aisles, frantically grabbing lunch or dinner items before dashing off to some sports or band practice – or maybe (cringe) even to church. If we saw the needy faces of others in those hurried moments, we pretended not to notice. We were, we felt, on more “important” missions.

I don’t want to fall into this frantic, self-obsessed sort of behavior. And yet, all too often, this is exactly where I land.

I see – now more than ever – that in our family we behave well when we have margin in our life – extra time to get where we need to be and to accomplish what’s necessary.

But in those too-common moments when that cushion of extra time has disappeared from us? We often act exactly like all those frantic, shifty-eyed cart pushers, steeling ourselves against the struggles of others and using our carts as time-saving weapons.

How might we do better?

How do we focus on others when we don’t feel we have time to give? How can we create enough margin in our daily schedules so we aren’t at risk of missing opportunities to show kindness and empathy to people who may be struggling mightily?

And, when we still don’t have the time, how do we fight the urge to think our schedule is more important? How do we beat back our fears about being late and what it means?

How do we make the time for kindness – to fear missing an opportunity to help more than anything? And how do we behave – even when we are busy – like we always, always have enough time for people in the most need?

True generosity means we give when we have little to share. I want to love and share with others in ways that are wildly extravagant. Loving people with the time I’m given is an absolute calling – and it’s most important to give when we have the least.

I’m not there, yet. But with grace and the help of others (always), it’s a place I hope to increasingly move.

Welcome to Monique Writes All

Life is hard.

And beautiful.

And, if we are honest, sometimes downright ridiculous.

Often, one of the things that can make our lives even more absurd is the lack of authenticity in the world around us. From social media to the workplace to our families, it’s sometimes tempting to put a spin on everything we say and do. We might not talk about “real” things, and we tend to drift through our day to day, not connecting authentically with the people around us.

This, I hope, can be a place where we can talk about life – in all its magnificent, ridiculous, beauty and madness. It’s a place where I hope we can think about parenting – and about how to connect with our aging parents, too. Being an educator, I also expect to share stories about what I’m learning as a lifelong teacher and student of life. It’s a place to reflect on spirituality – and the crazy questions that we might have, too.

I hope Monique Writes is a place where you can feel encouraged, inspired, and a little more connected – both to others and to your day-to-day.

If you like the sound of this, I hope you will subscribe by email, and share this blog with your friends. If you have ideas about what you’d like to see here, I hope you will share that, too.

Welcome!

 

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