Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
5 Sep

The Impact of Loneliness

lonelinessWe’ve likely all felt it at some point in our lives – those depressing days (or more) when we walk through the world feeling like we’re traveling on a separate plane of existence from the rest of the happily coupled and connected human race. For some of us, however, these blips in social well-being take on a chronic trajectory, an ongoing emotional journey of their own. Loneliness can seem like a self-exacerbating condition. We’re isolated, and we’re unsure how to break through it. Some of us enjoy lifelong proximity to extended family, intact partnerships and childhood friendships that take us from grade school to grave. For many of us, however, we socialize more on Facebook than at our kitchen tables. We might have a strong core (“nuclear”) family but no friends in our current locales that we could call on at 2:00 in the morning.

In addition to the serious emotional toll, research suggests the physical fallout is rather grim as well. Studies have linked loneliness and social isolations to everything from cancer to cardiovascular disease, inflammation to immune issues. Additionally, loneliness can cause us to develop excessive reactivity to stress and throw our cortisol levels as well as our blood pressure into unhealthy territory. Its negative health impact is reportedly on par with that of smoking in terms of mortality risk. On the less immediately dire but disturbing end of things, it appears to set us up for pain, fatigue and depression. Although we might think more often of older adults and social isolation, there’s really something to the developmental processes of adolescence that put young adults at a higher risk for feelings of social isolation. What’s worse? Those who experience high or chronic levels of loneliness in those first couple decades of life fare worse down the road in terms of both mental and physical health. Something doesn’t feel too Primal here.

As I’ve suggested before, there’s something to the ancestral context – the genetically wired, “expected” conditions that characterized our evolutionary history. Extended isolation meant almost sure death in our ancestors’ days. The risk was so great, we evolved sophisticated social natures to keep ourselves voluntarily bound to our insulating band communities, which presumably ran somewhere in the 20-50 person range, although they likely had a larger circle of neighboring acquaintances and extended family numbering around 150 known today as Dunbar’s number for social cohesion.

These days our social lives often bear little to no resemblance to that of our Primal forebears. In the culture of social media, we often settle (or sometimes compete) for the appearance of connections rather than the realities (beneficial and challenging) of intimacy. We’ve lost the preference for – and maybe even understanding of – what truly fills the well socially. Far, far away from the standards of our ancestral conditions, I often think our barometers have become skewed – when we listen to our culture instead of our clearer instincts anyway. Can we differentiate, for example, loneliness from solitude, that vital and therapeutic experience of simply being fully present to yourself? Do we have the same collective sense of give and take, grown up friendships that are tested (and grown) by change over time? Some suggest we often settle into a collection of “situational friendships,” connections organized (and separated) by setting or life activity. What do we end up missing as a result?

Although it seems to be less directly studied, I think much of our loneliness and isolation can often come as a result of our estrangement from that larger context of our “expected environment” as well. The same loneliness that can feel soul-crushing day after day in your living room feels more porous, even dispersed, in the middle of a forest next to a rushing river. In the living, breathing world of nature – even if there’s not another hominid within 10 miles – I think we instinctually feel the age-old sense of kinship. We’re home in a manner of evolutionary speaking. We’re also in the presence of something larger than ourselves. You could say we’re taken down to right size, which might at first glance seem more depressing, but I think it’s a question of restorative humility. The dimensions of the modern Self can become distorting and downright burdensome. In certain situations, a portion of loneliness might be the psychic rut of inadvertent solipsism.

That said, there are still older adults who live out their days in institutions without a single visitor and few connections among their co-residents. There are adolescents who feel stuck in a social arena they’ll never fit into and simply aren’t connected to any other rooted and functional family or community circles. There are new mothers at home who feel isolated more days than they can count because they can’t find a way off a hamster wheel of caregiving they never could’ve envisioned. There we might see any of us at a given time of our lives when the roots are pulled up by choice or circumstance and social connections dissipated through death, divorce, relocation or maybe just forgetfulness. Each day we’re overwhelmed by the demands of just living and working. We put off maintaining or making social connections. Years later, we look around and wonder what happened to our friendships and close family relationships. The realization alone can induce a regretful burden of loneliness – not to mention the shadows of those other health effects….

The fact is, our modern social circle is much more disjointed than that of our ancestors. We accept fragmentation as a necessary condition of modern progress, career climbing and “free” living. We all have to make those choices, and it’s not about right or wrong. Sure, there’s something to knowing your neighbors, having them see your kids grow up and feeling like you can call people around the corner at 2:00 a.m. if you need to. It’s a sense of knowing and feeling known, of nurturing a visceral bond with community and place that comes with, as author Scott Russell Sanders examines it, “staying put.

Long term communities and commitments aside, however, I’ve experienced first-hand how powerful it can be to meet people who feel like long lost family. Relationships can burst onto the scene as well as evolve. In the newest of places and the oddest of circumstances, meaningful and transformative social connections can take hold. Some of my closest friends today are those I met later in my life. I was following a new vision for myself at the time, and with that came an unconscious openness to new connections. Sometimes it depends as much on where we’re at in our individual journeys as where we’re at geographically.

On that note, let me put in a plug for the Grokfeasts that will again be part of this year’s upcoming 21-Day Challenge. Attending or organizing a Grokfeast is a great way to discover like-minded people in your area and celebrate Primal living in community. I know many a continuing social circle and genuine friendship (even relationship!) that have come as a result of these and related meetups!

Thanks for reading, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on the connection between loneliness and compromised well-being. Have a good end to the week.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Oh I completely agree. A good support system is the key to strong mental health. It’s amazing what even the simple act of grabbing coffee with an old friend can do for one’s outlook.

    Charlotte wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • Very true! Just had that situation happen with me and turned out amazing.

      Anthony Gustin wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • I would love to enlist you in my support system :)

      Amerigo wrote on September 5th, 2013
  2. Loners were goners. That really sums it up.

    Groktimus Primal wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.

      Nocona wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • People talk about wanting ‘me’ time or alone time. But what good is alone time if you don’t have someone to spend it with, right?

      Tom T. wrote on September 5th, 2013
      • I wouldn’t dismiss a person’s need for alone time. Some people, like myself, really get agitated and burned out if I don’t have some time to myself here and there. It can be as simple as working in my garden, picking up my room and listening to music, or going for a long bike ride. But I DO need it.

        I also need my social circle, and I’m very lucky to have the ones I have. I never take that for granted.

        Stacie wrote on September 5th, 2013
        • I am also one that needs alone time also. For me there’s nothing better than getting lost in the water with my surfboard and just letting my mind wander and detaching from all the crazy people around me. It’s refreshing, it’s recharging, and it allows me to be able to handle people once again.

          Matt wrote on September 6th, 2013
        • Introverts are the majority of the population weighing in at about 65%; extroverts make up only about 35% of the population, but it seem to most people, who don’t know the percentages, like a larger percent of the population because they are more “vocal”. What most extroverts do not understand is that extro’s gain energy by being around people & deplete energy by being alone, and intro’s gain energy by being alone & deplete energy by being around people in social situations.

          Extroverts gain energy the more they are around others & tend to have many people they call friends (people whom introverts would call acquaintances) and extroverts tend to engage in more “small talk” with their friends than do introverts. Introverts tend to have a few very close friends and with whom they interact on a more intimate level than extroverts tend to do with their friends.

          Introverts are mostly very happy with who and what they are, and they demonstrate their contentment & happiness differently than do extroverts. This difference is interpreted by extroverts as unhappiness or discontent. One of the main differences between extro’s & intro’s is that extro’s believe that introverts can & should change their behavior to act more like extroverts and that being an introvert is an inferior way of being (even though extroverts are the minority of people) because introverts do not appear to be happy in the way extroverts do; most introverts accept extroverts the way they are and understand that people are born being either extrovert or introvert, that the inner life of introverts are very rich and produce much happiness and contentment, and they do not demand that extroverts act more like introverts.

          Extroverts become lonely very quickly when not around other people, and need constant interaction with other people in order to be content & happy. Introverts can very happily & necessarily spend very long periods of contented and happy time alone (hours or even days) before experiencing feelings of loneliness, then will seek out their few close friends & family members, but will want to interact for a short amount of time before they need to be alone again.

          In short, yes, everyone needs contact with others, but not all to the same degree nor to the same extent in order to be healthy & happy.

          Glenda wrote on September 6th, 2013
        • Extroverts learn well in group situations, are creative in group situations, and so they like classes, meetings, or any situation where they can interact and share their learning or creative experience. Extroverts are stressed when having to study alone, or having to create ideas or objects when alone, and so their abilities in this type of situation can be impaired.

          Introverts learn better on their own, and are more creative when in isolation. Introverts are stressed when forced to participate in group situations, and their creativity can shut down in these situations, as well as their learning ability can be impaired in these situations.

          Glenda wrote on September 6th, 2013
  3. Loneliness from solitude…great stuff. I’ve always felt much lonelier in crowds than in smaller gatherings myself. Also, the American Indian had great balance. They were fiercly independent on an individual level, yet had strong tribal ties.

    Nocona wrote on September 5th, 2013
  4. Damn I feel so lonely now …

    Steve62 wrote on September 5th, 2013
  5. Our culture has in many instances truly lost the art of socializing. Instead of gathering around the fire and telling stories, playing an instrument, singing or dancing, and entertaining each other, we turn gather round the TV or computer and say little. Too few know these arts today. I enjoy reading comments from like minded people on this blog and posting a few of my own, and do so because most around me cannot absorb the message here, but computer interaction, facebook, texting, whatever, is not the same in person interaction or even the old telephone. Years ago I visited a friend in Greece, in every village you would see men gathered in the cafes socializing and in Athens at night families in the park socializing. You might see people in the park at night, but they are more often exercising, not gathering with neighbors. That went out with front porches.

    Colleen wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • I agree with you Colleen! Great Comment!

      ninjainshadows wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • I’ve tried to remediate that among my circle by having a standing Saturday night firepit in my backyard. We drink, toast marshmallows (shh!), talk, the kids run around in the dark while screaming and having a great time. Different people show up every week, so there’s always a different mix of people. I LOVE this. I feel very connected. And, since I live in Florida, I have firepits to look forward to in a month or so and continuing on all winter and spring.

      Ruth wrote on September 5th, 2013
      • We’re in Florida also. My husband bought a firepit thing in 2008 or so but we never used it until this spring and then discovered we loved it! (Even when it was not that cool). Can’t wait until we dip into the 60s and can use it again. Weekly invite to friends sounds great.

        Colleen wrote on September 6th, 2013
  6. Elevated mental capacity should also be noted. Although it is awesome to think we are smarter by ourselves, it simply is not true. Everyone has experienced the power and importance of small group synergy in their life on some level. The ability to bounce ideas back and forth, gain other perspectives, and solve problems as a team can make it easier and more productive to “use our brains”, as the Primal law states :)

    -Taylor

    Taylor Rearick wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • +1, excellent point.

      BonzoGal wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • +1

      So true. That’s actually a really special, really rare thing. I only have that with a select number of people. I wish I had that with my boyfriend, but at least I have it with 3 of my friends and my sister. Back during the elementary school years this synergy happened a little more often but since becoming an adult I’ve found it to be something precious.

      Christina wrote on September 5th, 2013
  7. On Primeval Earth you would have been most likely to meet a tiger than a man… with a population of men around 10k… I don’t agree loneliness has anything to do with our well-being, however we learnt it’s more funny if we gather and make friends.

    Vel wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • This is incorrect. People were born into tribes and generally stayed there unless there was a war, or they got kicked out as a punishment.

      Shelsea wrote on September 5th, 2013
  8. I suffered from chronic migraines for years, and I managed to alienate everyone I knew to the point that they no longer wished to associate with me AT ALL!.

    Even though I am now migraine free I am quite alone, There is a strange social trend where I live known as the “Seattle Freeze” which makes it difficult to make friends here.

    What is strange is that even though I have zero friends, lack the funds to go out and meet folks, and spend all of time alone, I don’t feel lonely.

    I wonder if it the sense of loneliness that is detrimental, or the isolation itself…probably both, but I seem to be doing just fine…and yes, I DO WANT friends!

    George Regal wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • I can relate to your situation: I’m a transplant to a city farther north of you, but that “freeze” phenomenon is in play here, too. As a WAHM of young teenagers (whom I homeschool), I know all too well what isolation feels like … and yeah, I’d like some friends. (My best friend moved away from here a couple of years ago, and we’re still in daily contact via texting and Skype, but it isn’t the same as meeting at our coffee joint for a long talk over lattes.)

      inquisitiveone wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • Due to abuse, neglect, and extended isolation as a child I’ve definitely become socially handicapped. In my youth when I would use alcohol, it helped me to meet people and socialize; albeit not in a healthy manner.
      If I didn’t have a child and a bit of a social network online, I would be a total cavewoman. (I think we’d get along.) However, my childhood was a blessing in a profound way; I developed a connection with nature that is rarely seen these days. I find it hard to feel bad about that.
      I do feel lonely at times, but I also don’t feel motivated to do anything about it. The older I get the more uninterested I am in social contact. I do want friends, but I also love not stepping outside of my comfort zone. On top of that, I know every person in my town and there really isn’t any worthwhile relationships to pursue.
      Ha ha, if you think Seattle is bad, you should move to an isolated small town in the Arctic. I think I could live here 20 years and never fit in, both due to my extreme introversion and also due to being an outsider from a different race.

      Akimajuktuq wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • Like mark wrote there’s a difference b/w solitude & loneliness. This is probably perception based as someone who has a large family & friends can still feel loneliness. Moving even deeper into it, studies have shown that someone petting their pet can have the same chemicals being released into their body as a mother breastfeeding. Or someone with a strong connection to nature (aka mother earth) can have a deep sense of connection, while someone connection with many people on a daily basis (and friends they can call at 2am for that matter) feeling a great deal of disconnection. Being content with things has a great value in life, but it sometimes hampers ones ability to follow through on desires. Whenever I have conflicting views on something I ask myself one question ‘does my desire for change outweigh my desire for things to remain status co?’ Although the computer age has alienated many people, it has also allowed for many people to connect with one another via meetup, hobby & general interest websites. It can be done. You have to be true to yourself, and find your true desires.

      michael wrote on September 5th, 2013
  9. For most of my life I was a loner. My sister once remarked that I was the only person she ever knew who would not want to be rescued if stranded on a deserted island. I had always felt very comfortable with my own company. Then I met the perfect woman (perfect for me) and I am now regularly around friends and family. I feel better than ever and I am much healthier, thanks in part to primal living, but perhaps the social aspect is also partially responsible.

    Mike L. wrote on September 5th, 2013
  10. Thanks for pointing out that blood relatives are not the only possible social connections. I am married but have no children, and no family living nearby. Some of my friends feel a lot like family to me. Still, there’s a very strong emphasis in my area of “family above everything” and doing activities “as a family,” meaning essentially “non-blood relatives not welcome/included.” I understand that blood is thicker than water, evolutionarily speaking. But it sure is nice to have somebody widen their family circle a bit to welcome a friend.

    Jenny wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • I was single until my thirties and then childless for many years so I know what you are saying. When I was single, often I would not be included in things b/c they had to be for couples and I was the odd one out. Growing up and now we have often had a friend or family member from the other side of the family at family gatherings on holidays and such just for this reason, to include those who don’t have that big holiday dinner invite because family is not near or whatever.

      Colleen wrote on September 6th, 2013
    • The original quote was “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”, which I think is quite poignant really, despite having its meaning warped over the years. It fits much better with this line of thought, too. Family ties are, a lot of the time (at least for myself and many of the people I know), less reliable and more prone to being prejudiced by a lot of things – people who have known you all your life will still have the image of a much younger self when they interact with you, and the deeds of that younger self, too. It’s easier (and often, more beneficial) to seek out or stumble across new friendships and relationships after your formative years, once you’ve discovered who you are and want to be, instead of when you’re fumbling around. I’m not saying family bonds aren’t important, just that the family you choose for yourself is often a much stronger support. (Unless you have bad friends, of course. Then family’s a better option :P )

      Jabberwocki wrote on September 10th, 2013
  11. I test 99% introvert & spend the majority of my time alone in my studio, yet once I make the effort to get out & about, I truly enjoy being with people, & it definitely enriches my life. Not crazy about endless small talk though, so it helps if we have a common interest. A weekly Hoop Jam, a monthly book club, & various Meet-Ups have been a real help for me in balancing solitude with social time, & meeting some extremely interesting people!

    Paleo-curious wrote on September 5th, 2013
  12. WARNING!!! Captain Obvious statement… there’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely.

    I know too many people are become lonely if they’re not surrounded by friends and family. Personally I think that’s a thread of insecurity and being needy or needed. I enjoy my time with my friends and family, but I also really enjoy my alone time.. To the point that I make sure I get my ‘me’ time.

    Bryan wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • It’s probable that the more “friends” you have on all those websites, the more lonely I bet you are. Looks like people are desperate when they have to have 250 friends.

      Nocona wrote on September 5th, 2013
  13. The use of social media has made us more connected, but certainly more isolated. Time to put away the gadgets and actually connect with friends and family!

    Dr. Anthony Gustin wrote on September 5th, 2013
  14. I suspect the extreme popularity of social networks is, to some degree, the result of loneliness. There are a lot of lonely, isolated people out there who are on the computer 24/7, living life vicariously. It’s a way of saying, “I’m here; I exist; pay attention to me.” In most cases, the time would be better spent getting out, joining groups, meeting people, making real friends–and really living.

    Shary wrote on September 5th, 2013
  15. Does this go back to the introvert/extrovert thing? Being an introvert, I don’t feel lonely being on my own whereas my more extrovert husband does. Also differences can make you feel isolated and/or lonely, ie being Primal! Hence a lot of people’s need to go along with the norm (Facebook) to feel wanted and accepted.

    Tracy wrote on September 5th, 2013
  16. Excellent post today Mark. Bravo.

    glorth2 wrote on September 5th, 2013
  17. I seem to do very well with organized social relationships and tons of solitude. I don’t like a lot of noisy interaction with people. I do not feel a lack of relationships in my life for only having one close one and many shallow ones. When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail I kept a journal. The journal was a conversation with people while I existed in a world of not a single other person for miles around me. Later I put my journal online. The comments I got back encouraged me to continue. The strangers I met while hitchhiking and talking in coffee shops or wherever made me realize the hike I was doing was not about me but about them, about inspiring a long held dream in another person to awaken. I guess what I’m saying is I’ve felt capable of deep connections with other people even under situations of complete solitude, even with strangers I will never know or see again. And it suits me better than feeling that I MUST live in a family or community of others to be fully whole.

    Diane wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • Awesome!

      Ara wrote on September 8th, 2013
  18. My first inclination of course is to be spiritual about loneliness..but there is a big difference between loneliness and being alone.

    I like being alone often. While other run in groups I thrive on running by myself..biking, hiking,etc. I can clear my mind, my heart, and get deep within my own thoughts.

    I guess I am weird in that I have never really felt lonely– never felt needing company of others.

    Now that is not to say I don’t enjoy fellowship and togetherness at times..it’s just that I am pretty happ being off by myself. I think it comes down to LOVE. If you love yourself ( and I also believe in a God who loves me) then being alone is OK–and you will never truly be lonely.

    Pastor Dave wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • +1 – beautifully said :)

      Becky H wrote on September 5th, 2013
  19. In many hunter-gatherer societies, the “band” is not especially stable. People leave the band and go live with another band if they can’t get along with somebody in their band. I think we over-estimate sometimes the value of sticking with a community that feels oppressive. Farmers have to learn to get along with other people no matter what, because they stay put, but the price of that can be high as well. I have lived in the same rural community for 30 years. It is a tight-knit community, but we have an occasional violent or bullying incident that ruptures it (almost always perpetrated by a drunk man). It may take a year or so to patch things up, if it’s possible to patch it up. During these times, I usually cultivate relationships outside the neighborhood. This is analogous to joining another band for a while. But like any other hunter-gatherer, I can “come back” when things settle down. I also find that cultivating the relationships in my maternal kin network feels most natural, and these relationships are the bedrock of my social life. The others revolve around it.

    shannon wrote on September 5th, 2013
  20. Great Article Mark! As a teen once I stopped worrying about what other thought about me and how I looked, I made a lot of good friendships. Sometimes when you get in that lonely stage you don’t even feel like trying to repair it after a certain point. You just have to get out in the sun and go talk to people!

    ninjainshadows wrote on September 5th, 2013
  21. This post really made me reflect and appreciate my social circles even more. At 25 I’m still very close with my circle of friends from high school, and most of us manage to get together once a year. I’m also blessed with a big, close family, so when I go home I always absorb as much time with them as I can. Finally, I have my long-lost family where I live now, people I know I could turn to if I needed help, and the people I can spend my weekends and free time with (usually doing things like softball, volleyball, and now bowling!). I’m blessed, and this post emphasized that even more.

    Stacie wrote on September 5th, 2013
  22. Great article today, Mark. It is ironic how people are more lonely in a greatly populated and electronically connected world. It is a vicious cycle: as people become less social, it becomes harder to be social yourself.

    Joey wrote on September 5th, 2013
  23. Not to throw a wet blanket on this ‘love thy neighbor’ chat, but I would like to toss out another perspective: hell is other people. Will I be ostracized by this group if I suggest that most people are assholes? This is of course an extremely unpopular point of view, especially among those who are convinced that interpersonal relationships are necessary for one’s sense of well-being, but one that I believe is essentially true. As I get older I tend more and more to see the life of the hermit as the most spiritually fulfilling way of dealing with life in this world; which I say bracing for the onslaught of nasty comments.

    I discovered the Paleo lifestyle roughly three years ago and have the utmost regard for Mark and his wisdom. It has been a godsend for me. But at this point my wife has basically forbidden me from even mentioning it in polite conversation with our ‘friends and family’, and even when I do have the temerity of bringing up the topic I find that virtually everyone is either bored or offended. I seriously do not know how Mark and other like-minded people are able to deal with the conventional herd. So I have found myself just not saying much of anything lately and cherishing the time I have by myself.

    David Bowers wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • Good thoughts David. I think it could get lonely though if you can’t even be yourself in your own family and say what you think and feel most of the time. Good luck.

      Nocona wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • ” but I would like to toss out another perspective: hell is other people. Will I be ostracized by this group if I suggest that most people are a*?”

      This kind of thinking about humanity reminds of these lyrics: “Good lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror because I get better looking each day.”

      Refusing to talk to people because they don’t think exactly your way (or “conventionally”) is bound to keep you alone. No person on the planet will ever think exactly the way you do. It’s what makes you unique.

      And yeah, most people they don’t want to talk Paleo, but so what? Ask them about their lives instead. You may learn a whole lot you didn’t know about topics outside this little Paleo world. They may even ask at some point about you and be genuinely willing to listen because you sincerely listened first.

      Amy wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • David, I also think most other people are assholes. I live in back woods, rural Kentucky though. Unlike the other commenter suggested, I have little feeling of superiority, but am rather disgusted by the lack of concern or compassion for others, the refusal to see how their actions affect others, and that fear based opinion that makes everyone think that what is different is bad. It sucks, but there are some good people out there. I call it the 2% factor. 2% of the people I meet will be awesome, the other 98%, not so much. You just have to keep an eye out for your 2%.

      Bev wrote on September 6th, 2013
      • I totally agree, Bev. It is so disappointing the lack of accountability in the vast majority of people these days (as well as just plain common sense in some cases). I never thought I’d be one of those people who says “ack, kids these days!”, but I am, and it’s not just kids, either. somehow (at least in the US) we’ve created a culture of entitlement and I can’t stand to be around it. I very much dislike people as masses, but as you say, there are a few good ones out there and they’re worth meeting, if you can be patient enough to find one. Or sometimes you’re lucky enough that they find you. I have very few friends, and I’m totally happy with that because I really like the ones I do have.

        Hallations wrote on September 10th, 2013
  24. Social media sites are popularity competitions. You are supposed to see all the friends a person has so that you know there is nothing wrong with them. It’s fear based. There is little true joy in it.

    Lisa wrote on September 5th, 2013
  25. I can attest to the loneliness and health problems. I have PCOS, and a few months after my cycles had finally regulated for be first time in my life after going gluten free, I had an enormous fall out with a close friend, one of few (three) close friendships I had. In that month, instead of ovulating, I started bleeding heavily for several weeks for no other observed reason than the stress associated with losing a friend. It took a couple months to re-establish a healthy cycle after that.

    Michelle wrote on September 5th, 2013
  26. Great article, very insightful! Social media: I use facebook a lot. I have gone through some changes in the few years I’ve been on it – from thinking I had to re-post everything I saw, to making my own comments about everything, to (where I am now) being very choosy about what I comment, post, and re-post. If not for facebook, I would not be (virtually) seeing grandkids and close friends’ kids growing up; participate in communities that support CrossFit, Paleo eating (although I constantly bug them by posting Primal recipes ;) ), and keep up on my former and current churches.

    As far as relating in person goes, I live with a daughter, SIL, and two grandkids; very active in church and have lots of folks that call ME friend … but have nobody I would feel OK about calling at 2 a.m.

    Thank God for nature, where I feel more connected than anywhere!

    Becky H wrote on September 5th, 2013
  27. A great blog, Mark – I would like to offer a slightly different take on this, seen from the eyes of Zen mysticism..

    Whenever we say “lonely” we show a desire for the other, we are missing the other. The word lonely is indicative that we are not happy with ourself – that this loneliness hurts, that this loneliness is getting a little boring, that one would like to move away from this state of loneliness. When we say “lonely” we have already condemned it. Loneliness means absence of the other, not our presence: we are missing the other and our eyes are focused on that missing, that absence.

    Now let us talk “aloneness” – the quality of aloneness it is totally different from loneliness. In the dictionary they may both mean the same – But in life’s experience they are absolutely different.

    Aloneness means presence of your being – so full of you, so totally in yourself that the other is not needed. Aloneness is sufficient unto itself, loneliness is a missing phenomenon. Loneliness is a gap where the other was or you would like the other to be. Loneliness is a wound, aloneness is a flowering: you are so happy to be yourself and you are not missing anything. You are totally yourself – settled, content.

    Loneliness is sad, aloneness is blissful; loneliness…always dependent, a slavery, a wound, a thorn in the heart; aloneness…a flowering, a fulfillment, coming to the goal, reaching home. Loneliness is a sort of illness; aloneness is health, aloneness is wholeness.

    Resurgent wrote on September 5th, 2013
    • Excellent comment….Didn’t Greta Garbo say “I want to be alone”…and NOT I want to be lonely?…Interesting.

      Donna wrote on September 6th, 2013
  28. This comment started out with me wondering if pet ownership is a good stand-in for human social support and interaction, then I decided to google it. I found this, which is pretty interesting (I hope links are allowed):

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay/201002/living-alone-can-canine-companionship-help-beat-loneliness

    In a nutshell, it turns out that it’s more complicated than a yes or no answer.

    Mark B wrote on September 5th, 2013
  29. This article has incredible insight. We have at our fingertips “connections” to thousands of virtual people, but often don’t know the names of our neighbors. I spend a lot of time alone. Sometimes the best naps I have had are when I go home to my folks and there are people all around and I fall asleep on the sofa. Perhaps this harks back to caveman days when there were immediate tribe members all around going about their business.

    Roy wrote on September 6th, 2013
  30. I definitely don’t think this applies to everyone. I live with a wife and two kids. My wife is a great person and my kids are happy and successful. I also work with folks that are intelligent, successful and upbeat. It all looks good form the outside but the constant contact with all those people leaves me feeling crushed or trapped most of the time. This phenomenon became more apparent to me when I had to spend this past year living alone in Seoul, Korea because of work. I spent as much time as I possibly could completely alone, enjoying my solitude. Within about three months, I was more rested, relaxed and clear-thinking than I had been in probably 15 years. I grew up and only child and My Myers-Briggs personality type is INTJ. If you read the description of me it’s right on the money. I can be very social with people I know but I am also a pretty thorough introvert. I really don’t understand what people mean when they talk about being lonely. I can’t comprehend what that would feel ike because I’m so completely comfortable being alone. When I lived in Seoul I would have long, holiday weekends where I wouldn’t talk to another person for 2-3 days and it would be fantastic. While I get the point about humans primally operating in small bands a long time ago, I think they also had a lot of time alone when on the hunt or if they just wanted to go hang out under a tree for the day.

    Warren wrote on September 6th, 2013
    • Warren, I’m also an INTJ, or actually, I’m right on the cusp between INTJ and INTP (I’ve taken the M-B a few times and gotten both results). I understand your comment, but I’d say that you might not have the whole picture (and I hope you never do).

      I’m divorced after a long marriage. When I was married I craved my solitude. I always felt as though I needed a rest from people. Now that I’m divorced I really miss the contact with people I’m close to and who know me well. I can totally relate to this article.

      Mark B wrote on September 6th, 2013
  31. If it wasn’t for FaceBook, I’d have ZERO contact with the world outside my apartment. My husband is an OTR driver, so I see him 4-6 days a month.
    I haven’t been able to find a job in the 2 years we’ve been here and I have no other family except my dogs.
    I really don’t mind being alone because I can keep up with my former friends from school/back home and former co-workers on FaceBook.
    Occasionally I get a bit homesick, but it passes after a few days. I’m just happy that he has a good job and we have a place to live when so many are struggling more than we are. (But I’d really like to go back home)

    SusynK wrote on September 6th, 2013
  32. I enjoyed Glenda’s precise and concise description of the effects of solitude and loneliness on the different types. According to the Enneagram, I am a 6, an Observer; hence, an introvert. Nonetheless, I can be an extrovert whenever necessary – i.e.manager in retail.

    In my 62 years of existence, I can clearly remember two specific occasions where I truly felt loneliness.

    The first was in 1976. I had not spoken a word of French for over. 2 years. I woke up one morning feeling like something me was withering and dying – me. My soul was banging on my door. It was telling me that I was off track and the derailment was coming fast. I could no longer speak French and had to start over from scratch. (Once the ball got rolling, il all came back)

    The second occasion was when my ex ran off with the kids for two years, and then called to say she wasn’t coming back. What saved me was. My eldest daughter sprained her left foot. When it happened I felt a pain in the exact spot of her sprain on my leg. I knew my body was telling me something about my daughter. Later that day, my ex called to inform me about the injury to our daughter’s foot. From then on, I knew that no matter where they are on this planer – we are linked. Since then, I have never felt loneliness again.

    I have since lived 25 years alone. I rarely get bored. I am blessed with 3 grandsons who teach me about living.

    Sometimes people mistake boredom with loneliness. it is an expression of their neediness and insecurities. Loneliness is a yearning. It may come from your insecurities or it may be your soul calling.

    Robert wrote on September 6th, 2013
    • That’s so interesting, Robert! I wonder how often those “sympathy pains” happen to people.

      allison wrote on September 11th, 2013
  33. I’d say a part of social happiness is also found in spirituality and philosophy.

    Some of us find social interaction hard because others aren’t on our same level. Their interests are too different, their knowledge is too different, they’re much smarter, much dumber, much older or much younger than you, or maybe your personalities just clash. Combine two or three of those problems and you’ve made someone with whom interacting is difficult.
    The more outside the norm you are, the less pleasant you find interacting with normal people and the harder you find it to find like-minded people. I personally find even brief interactions with most people to be annoying and prolonged interaction mentally painful and draining. I can take about an hour of any given person before I never want to see them again. People I like I can bear a few hours at a time, but am happy to see again in a few months. There are a few exceptions: some family members I can survive for a week or so and my fiance I could live with 24/7/365 and still find him pleasant.

    In cases like mine, people frequently find one or two people they become close to and turn to their own spirituality or philosophy for a form of relief. It’s like internal dialogue. Hindus call it speaking to the universe, some call it a guardian angel or an imaginary friend, some call it just talking to yourself in your head, or, more simply put: processing thoughts. It’s hard to explain, but, for those who have experienced it, it is far more welcome than most human interaction and leads to the same feelings of comfort, peace and happiness that you get from being with one of the rare people who’s actually close to you.

    Kochin wrote on September 6th, 2013
    • You have expressed my point of view far more gracefully than my earlier ‘hell is other people’ posting. Thank you for your more compassionate fleshing out of my rather in-your-face way of putting it.

      David Bowers wrote on September 12th, 2013
  34. i have been terribly lonely. thank god i found fitness at home. i lost my career of 10 years and became severely depressed. i then started going out nonstop drinking to numb the pain and got sick of it. then found eating clean and exercise.. but im now super lonely again because my town is full of party animals. i dont drink or go out anymore ..maybe i need to move to a bigger city that is more fitness friendly. south florida is definitely not cutting it. i do have my dog and he is truly what keeps me going. also being gay and in late 20s it’s hard to find a good mate.. if you know what i mean. no one to talk to not even on instagram .. everyone likes to party party party. sighhhhhh =(

    Victoria wrote on September 6th, 2013
  35. For people coping with loneliness. Find ONE thing to do outside your home where you are with the same people weekly. Something you like to do: it could be church, yoga, meditation, dancing, singing, gardening, eating out, knitting, quilting, fixing cars, feeding the homeless… and go do it. Cope with the strangeness of showing up and being green. (Everyone there was new once, too) Social connections are made slowly and not overnight. They do happen, when you smile, are nice and are more interested in the other person than yourself.

    I also heartily recommend having a housemate – for the informal social connection you can have.

    Annamarie wrote on September 7th, 2013
  36. I am unfortunate to be an extrovert stuck within an introvert lifestyle and it sucks. I have not been feeling like myself lately ’cause of it and I’ve lost my ability to concentrate on things. The impact of loneliness is much harder than you’d think it would be.

    Bree wrote on September 10th, 2013
    • Me too. I wish my job involved more interaction. The bad part is the more time I spend alone, the harder it gets to break out of the shell, even though I need interaction.

      allison wrote on September 11th, 2013
  37. i also agree that we’re not made for the modern lifestyle (the modern office settings : locked in a windowless grey cubicle w/ artificial lighting & air conditioning).

    the worst thing is + lot’s of cubes with no meaningful connection.
    very lonely.

    i’m reading “Scattered” by Dr. Mate (about ADD/ADHD in children & adults) his hypothesis is it may be hereditary + environment, but it’s not genes. hereditary means stress of the mother during pregnancy. if an infant does not have a nurturing parent figure(s), w/ positive emotional feedback, the child’s right brain may develop ADD as a result.

    regards,

    pam wrote on September 10th, 2013
  38. Man I love everything you write, Mark. You are awesome…keep it up.

    Phil wrote on September 11th, 2013
  39. 6 months ago I moved 12 hours away from everyone and everything I knew….for a job. It has been a really rough road. Initially there is the “forging a new frontier” feeling but after a couple months there is a tremendous amount of loneliness. I can attest that going from an extremely social environment (college) to a very passive environment (small town USA middle-America) is extremely tough emotionally. On the plus side, the time I normally spent with friends I now spend exercising and reading. But I definitely miss spending my days with peers my own age with similar interests.

    Yogi wrote on September 11th, 2013

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