In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that while humans have been more “connected” than ever before, thanks to technology and Mark Zuckerberg, they also feel more isolated. Covid and the shift to remote work compounded that feeling, then made it our everyday reality.
Wall Street Journal columnist Julie Jargon recently wrote about this phenomenon, and how the allure of social media as a place to connect and vent with “friends” has had the opposite effect, eliciting “feelings of inadequacy and loneliness,” particularly for middle-aged moms.
“[Social media] is a link to people you haven’t talked to in ages. I can see their lives, but I’m not part of them,” one woman told Jargon.
There are of course still ways to find community and connection today, but they rarely involve screens or devices. A group Federalist writers discussed the challenges of cultivating community in their own lives, and offered practical tips for fighting loneliness in the face of government social restrictions and the all-consuming “busyness” of work and family. Here’s what they had to say.
“We kind of have a ‘supper club’ with our best friends. All that means is that every two weeks we trade off hosting each other for dinner. Making it an automatic part of our schedule made it actually happen instead of having to go through the trouble of scheduling every single event. It’s been a discipline for me because I am so busy, but I am always happy when dinner hits that we set this plan on autopilot,” said Executive Editor Joy Pullmann.
What about people who aren’t great cooks? How do I overcome my fear that my friends won’t love my chicken enchiladas?
“I provide the main dish and folks brings sides. Nobody really cares about the food honestly. Often I bake frozen pizzas and people bring salads and fruit and the kids eat it and everyone’s happy. The men stand in the kitchen and talk and the women settle in the living room,” said Federalist contributor Rebeccah Heinrichs.
“A big key to the success of attendance is stipulating it’s 5:00 to 7:00. That way nobody feels obligated to stay long or for us to host long and that keeps it very regular,” she added.
It doesn’t have to be an idyllic, Instagrammable dinner party followed by a rowdy game of charades. Sharing a meal is perhaps the oldest and easiest way of building and maintaining relationships, even if it’s just ordering take-out and watching the game.
“My mom used to do this growing up when my dad was working a couple of jobs. Every Tuesday her best friend would come over with her three kids to play with us four kids. We’d order pizza. And the kids would eat downstairs in the basement and watch ‘Carmen Sandiego’ (being a ’90s kid rules) and my mom and her friend would eat and chat upstairs. I think it saved her sanity during those years,” said Federalist columnist Rachel Bovard.
Live Near Your Family and Church
Moving house is obviously not a quick and easy fix for most people, but being physically close to a strong community is a factor families ought to weigh heavily when making decisions that will have a high impact on your quality of life for years to come.
I live one street over from our church, which naturally means many of our church friends are also our neighbors. Of course living geographically close to friends isn’t a requirement for community – we still live very far from some of our “closest” friends – but walking our dogs together or borrowing a tool are simple ways of building community that practically only happen without the barriers of time and distance.
Pullmann echoed a similar sentiment, calling choosing to live near several good family friends “one of the best practical decisions we’ve ever made in life.” “We lived across the street from our best friends for five years and it’s truly a wonderful experience I wouldn’t trade for anything,” said Federalist contributor Inez Stepman.
It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask
When kids meet on the playground or at school, they don’t worry about whether this potential new friend will already have plans and or be too busy to play, or if this kid will judge their living room furniture at a future playdate. They just ask if they can play, and that’s the end of it.
Perhaps the hardest and most often unspoken aspect of combating loneliness is that it requires vulnerability. If Covid took friends from you, either temporarily or for good, it’s going to require some possibly uncomfortable action on your part in reaching out to those old friends or to potential new ones. That uncomfortable feeling is vulnerability, and its long-term benefits far outweigh any temporary discomfort. Just ask.
For millennials who get anxious just having to answer a phone call instead of a text message, this vulnerability is a huge barrier to finding community IRL, when it’s so much more comfortable to do behind a screen. This is how we end up where we started, with women finding social media is the easiest, but most lonely way to maintain relationships.
It’s been two years now, and that’s far too long to be alone any longer. Make a meal. Order pizza. Ask an old friend to meet for coffee. Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt to connect us didn’t deliver, so it’s time to try something new.