Shasta Nelson writes and speaks on healthy female friendships and is the CEO of the women’s friendship matching site GirlFriendCircles. Her newest book Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness comes out today, March 1! (Thanks Shasta for being a friend to Girlfriendology and writing this for us!)
When I’m in front of an audience, I often ask, “How many of you are lonely?” As you might imagine, the inclusion of the dreaded L word means very few hands go up, though I do see a few heads nod. But when I ask, “Do you wish you had more deep and meaningful friendships?” nearly every hand rises.
Some would say only recluses and “loners” are truly lonely—and most people are neither. But to limit the classification of loneliness to only those whom professionals might consider chronically lonely (or even depressed) is like using the word “hungry” to describe only those dying of starvation with no access to food. Just because I’m not malnourished doesn’t mean that I don’t regularly feel hunger—and that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t need to respond to my hunger. Likewise with our loneliness: just because we aren’t extremely lonely doesn’t mean we don’t experience loneliness. We do, and we need to respond to it, because the reality is that many of us are far more disconnected from intimacy than we want to be.
When I ask my audiences to call out what comes to their minds when they hear the L word, common responses include: depressed, sad, isolated, and bitter. Given those replies, it’s no wonder we’re so afraid to concede to feeling lonely. To utter the word “lonely” might reveal that something is wrong with us, that no one likes us, that we have no friends.
We’re fine, we tell ourselves. We know people we could call. We talk to people everyday, sometimes all day long! Our friends really would be there for us if we needed them. In fact, we’re actually too busy to stay in touch more than we do now, right? We already feel guilty for not being better friends, parents, daughters, and partners.
Truthfully, we have so many responsibilities that we really don’t even have the time or energy to do much more than we’re already doing. In fact, if given the choice between a quiet night in the bathtub with a favorite magazine versus an evening of going out, we’d prefer that quiet night— so doesn’t that prove we’re not lonely? Put simply: we are so resistant to the possibility that we feel lonely we can talk ourselves out of any hint of the truth.
Indeed, many of us aren’t lonely because we don’t know people; we’re lonely because the vast majority of those relationships lack the depth and ease and intimacy that we crave. For many of us, it’s not that we need to meet new people, it’s that we need to know how to go deeper with the people we already know. We all seem to instinctively know the difference between having a social life versus feeling that our lives are supported.
If you resonate: you are not alone! When I was doing the research for my newest book Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness nearly 75% of us are reporting dissatisfaction with our friendships, a wish that they could be ever more meaningful. The most important thing is to recognize our desire for deeper friendships and realize that we can’t leave our relational needs to chance. To acknowledge our loneliness, however small it may or may not feel, is healthy and will motivate us to lean into greater friendship intimacy, or as I call it—Frientimacy!
Shasta Nelson, M.Div., is the Founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, a women’s friendship matching site in 35 cities across the U.S. and Canada. Her spirited and soulful voice for strong female relationships can be found in her book Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of GirlFriends. She also writes at GirlFriendCircles.com and in the Huffington Post, speaks across the country, and is a friendship expert in the media appearing on such shows as Katie Couric and the Today Show.