Do you wish you had more deep and meaningful friendships?
In her book Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness, friendship expert Shasta Nelson says that when she gives talks, she’ll often ask anyone who feels lonely in the audience to raise their hands.
No one raises their hand.
Then, Nelson does something different. “How many people wish they had more deep and meaningful friendships?” she asks.
This time, nearly every hand raises.
Nelson points out that we have a lot of icky associations with the word “lonely” — words like “depressed, sad, isolated, and bitter” often come to mind. Many people associate loneliness with “recluses” or “loners,” and most people aren’t recluses or loners!
And yet, Nelson argues, limiting the word “lonely” to people who are extremely, chronically lonely (or depressed),
“is like using the word “hungry” to describe only those dying of starvation with no access to food.”
Just because we’re not starving or malnourished doesn’t mean that we don’t regularly feel hunger, and that we shouldn’t respond to that hunger.
Similarly, just because we don’t experience extreme loneliness, doesn’t mean we don’t experience loneliness, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t need to respond to it. As Nelson points out:
“the reality is that many of us are far more disconnected from intimacy than we want to be.”
This point feels particularly resonant in our current era of social distancing.
We can feel disconnected from intimacy, or lonely, even if we:
- Spend large parts of our day or week with other people
- Have a lot of friends or acquaintances that we could call — or that we do see frequently
- Choose to not make plans or connect with friends as much as we might. We can be busy and tired and also lonely.
In other words, if you are wishing that you have more deep and meaningful relationships or connection, you are also lonely.
As I’ve been mulling over Nelson’s argument, I’ve been thinking about the power of the right word. Using accurate words, like “hunger” and “sleepiness,” help us to get our needs met — in part because they allow us to speak precisely about our experience. We can be sleepy, just a little sleepy, extremely sleepy, etc. The same is true of loneliness.
And, of course, it’s worth asking: what is the opposite of loneliness?
Nelson would call that “frientimacy,” which she defines as:
“any relationship where two people feel really seen in a way that feels satisfying and safe for both of them.”
Did you catch that? “Frientimacy” is when people feel truly seen, in a way that feels satisfying and safe.
I love this definition because it really speaks to how we can be lonely, even if we know plenty of people, or spend plenty of time in groups.
Sure, there are people we could call, but do we feel really seen by them? In a way that feels satisfying and safe? And do we really see them in the same way? Here in America, we just had Thanksgiving — did you experience “frientimacy” at whatever gathering you attended?
If “lonely” and “frientimacy” are concise, accurate ways of describing opposite ends of the spectrum of intimacy and connection, it might be worth asking yourself this weekend:
- Where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you feel seen in a way that feels satisfying and safe?
- What do you want to do about it?