Was it productive? Absolutely. Did I enjoy it? Yes and no. Was I lonely? Admittedly, a little. Sure, I could have called friends, but I really did want to focus on writing. And as much as I like my alone time, if this was my day-in, day-out experience, the novelty would undoubtedly wear off. And it would be difficult.
I love that Surgeon General Murthy has awakened the world to the extent and far-reaching impact of loneliness, and the necessity for relationships. He said, “Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health. Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight.”
Bravo Dr. Murthy! And, “underappreciated” is an understatement. The experience of loneliness has existed for as long as humans, and likely animals, have walked the earth. Most of us have felt it at some point in our lives. Covid exacerbated this pre-existing issue to enormous proportions and shined a bright light on its crushing impact: mental health challenges skyrocketed. And even though Covid has largely remitted, loneliness remains. It is indeed a challenge of epidemic proportions.
The loneliness Dr. Murthy is referring to is the hunger for connection. We crave to be seen, known, loved, and hugged. Connection is having people with whom we can confide, laugh, cry, and see “chick flicks.” Sometimes this hunger pertains to friends, and other times to romantic partners. Either way, it is about human connection – about relationship.
Covid-induced loneliness aside, most women in midlife have friends. Though several women I interviewed lamented that they were never part of a “tribe,” most stated that they have fulfilling friendships. In fact, my research found that the quality of our friendships is one of the greatest gifts of midlife. By this time in our lives, the friendships we choose to maintain can be deep, real, and mutually satisfying. The depth of many of these friendships mirrors the depth of our significant midlife’s joys and sorrows. Sharing the rawness and vulnerability of these experiences can breed a form of intimacy heretofore unknown.
Furthermore, in my research sample, girlfriends were the number one resource we turned to when struggling. Meaning, we lean on our girlfriends for support more than our therapist, elders, self-help resources, and even spiritual practices. Cheers to girlfriends!
Indeed, moments or periods of loneliness is part of being human. But sustained loneliness is not only painful, it is harmful. If you are struggling, reach out to a friend. It is a courageous first step out of loneliness. And if you know someone who has a tendency towards isolation and loneliness, reach out as well. You could very well change their day from one of loneliness to connection.
Wishing you all many moments of connection,