I become extremely frustrated when I read posts in mastermind groups, “I feel so lonely.”
Or, “I’ve just moved and I have trouble making friends.”
Or, “My grown children never call me. I’m thinking of moving to be closer to them.”
Bad Advice For People Feeling Lonely
I used to move around a lot, both for jobs and for curiosity. I didn’t move with a family. So I learned a lot about being alone and making friends in a new community.
My problem isn’t with the people who write those posts. It’s with the advice they usually get. It’s the assumptions people make. They’re sending these lonely people off in the wrong direction.
Well-meaning readers send advice tips like:
“Look for other people like yourself.”
“Join a group where you’ll be likely to make friends.”
“Get involved in a church or a volunteer work opportunity.”
They’re missing the point.
Getting over loneliness and making friends — especially when you’ve just moved to a new community — requires a mindset shift.
Most people are trained to think, “I need to have friends. Something’s wrong with me if I don’t.”
The solution is to adopt a new maxim: “Friends are like bank loans. They come easily when you don’t need them.”
And then try these 3 things:
(1) Reframe aloneness as solitude.
A lot of people are brought up to believe that “social” is normal and solitude is weird. In a classic book, written a long time ago, British psychiatrist Anthony Story challenged this notion. Freud talked about love and work, he said; some people lean more to one than the other.
People who enjoy their own company are never lonely. For one thing, they’re busy with their own activities and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
But the bigger point is, when you’re busy and happy you’re more attractive. People seek you out.
Being seen as “needy” won’t bring more attention. I’ve met people who complained their kids never called them…until they got so busy they barely had time to answer the phone.
(2) Choose social activities you actually enjoy — not just to meet people.
I’ve met many people who joined churches and “singles” groups in hopes of finding friends. Sometimes they’re successful. Usually, they end up bored and lonelier than ever.
They’re sending out “needy” signals. And if they don’t make friends the time seems wasted.
The key is to do things you’ll enjoy whether or not you make new friends. Hang out a while and you may or not make friends. But you’ll have a good time and become a happier person…which means you’re more likely to make a meaningful social connection.
(3) Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Some cities are simply cliquish and cold to newcomers. Some towns aren’t hospitable to single
people. Some places have a strong norm of “family only:” they never invite other people’s kids to play, let alone other people.
That’s also true of workplaces. In some settings, everybody eats lunch alone. In others you’ll find just the opposite: coworkers ask all sorts of personal questions and expect you to belong to their office family.
There’s not much you can do to change a place. Eventually, you might find like-minded people and develop relationships. But you’ll always feel like an outsider as long as you live there.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. I’ve had moves from cities where I was never part of a social network, to places where they thought I was “cool.” I’m the same person.
If you can’t move because you’re locked into a job, you’ll have to find a way to enjoy your solitude until you get to leave. If you have the choice, don’t be put off by sneering comments like, “If you can’t be happy here, you won’t be happy anywhere.”
Hold firm and find ways to enjoy life on your own terms. It’ll get better when you’re gone.
The topic for this article was inspired by my book, Making The Big Move: Relocation As a Life Transition.
I’ve worked with clients who My career change site has articles on moving are at http://midlifecareerstratgy.com
Originally published at https://midlifecareerstrategy.com on September 13, 2020.