We need to remember how to be part of a community. Women used to gather around the fire to tell stories, air their woes, and share the work. Later the gatherings were around quilting bees and church circle meetings. When I was a kid, the mothers in the neighborhood would meet for coffee klatches and weekly bridge parties.
We’ve become so caught up in the daily grind and busy work that fills our days that we’ve left many of these community bonding experiences behind. Somehow, we’ve got the idea that the object of the game of life is to fill every minute of every day being productive, which doesn’t include hanging with your social circle if you’re lucky enough to have one.
It would be easy to blame our feelings of isolation on social media and the distancing we had to do in the early days of the pandemic. Still, those are only justifications for where we’ve been heading for decades - Lonely Town.
Loneliness, the gap between the level of connectedness you need and the level you have, has reached epidemic proportions. According to a recent study by Cigna, 58% of US adults were considered lonely in 2021, compared with 61% in 2019 and 54% in 2018. Other alarming statistics from YouGov found that 21% of adults have no close friends, and 22% of US adults don’t know or can’t recall the last time they made a new friend!
Of course, keeping a safe distance from others certainly didn’t help. When most of our socialization happens in the workplace, going to a remote work model means that some people may go for entire days without any live interactions. Only seeing people through screens just isn’t the same. The social bonds online feel more superficial than in person.
The feeling of loneliness is subjective and doesn’t always seem to make sense. People who live alone or don’t have close relationships aren’t necessarily lonesome. However, people that seem to have lots of friends and are constantly surrounded by people experience can feel devastatingly isolated.
When we can’t be our authentic selves, it’s hard not to feel detached. What is being shown to the world is a mere shell of the person we are on the inside. We often care too much about what people might think, dulling who we are to fit in. I feel most concern for the people who feel they can’t live their authentic life because it might put them in mortal danger. Feeling trapped into living in a way that doesn’t fit who you are must be one of the worst kinds of hell.
Loneliness has an impact on our physical and mental well-being. Like other forms of stress, this isolation increases mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and domestic and substance abuse. It puts people at greater risk for health problems like heart disease, cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, and dementia.
Our bodies and brains were meant for connection and human touch. Interaction with people over social media and virtual meetings can’t provide that. The energy we share when together is intoxicating.
Professional cuddlers are a new business that’s popped up due to this touch-deprived crisis. Purely platonic and fully clothed, these certified practitioners give hugs, spooning, and gentle massages to provide their clients with closeness, empathy, and compassion in a world that is sorely missing these qualities. I have a friend trying this service. She compared it to getting a massage. I can’t wait to hear what she thinks.
There are many theories for why we’re feeling so separated from the outside world, but the most important question we need to ask is, “how do we collectively cope with loneliness?” Overcoming isolation is not something we can do by ourselves. Instead, we need community to heal.
Community is that feeling of fellowship with others, joining together people who share something in common. It could be mutual interests, passions, actions, practices, circumstances, or being in the same place at the same time that draws people together. When communities work best, they have a sense of trust, belonging, safety, and caring for one another.
Joining a new community can be challenging, especially if you’re not a natural joiner, feel introverted, or are having a hard time coming out of pandemic hibernation. But it is worth taking small risks to break free of isolation, realize you aren’t the only one struggling and be part of something bigger. Who knows? You might even have some fun!
Here are my suggestions for coming back to the campfire.
Find a good fit.
There’s a big difference between a feeling of fitting in and a feeling of belonging. Fitting in requires changing who you are to meet the group's expectations. Belonging doesn’t require any change since you are already appreciated for your differences and quirks.
It may take trial and error to find your people. Listen to your gut, and don’t stay where you don’t feel welcome. I always know I’m in the right place when I automatically feel comfortable and like I’ve learned at least some of the people there way beyond the relationship’s actual timeline.
Ease into it.
You don’t have to become a member of a group or make any commitments to be part of a community. I live in a historic neighborhood filled with crazy old-house people who tend to be pretty friendly. Just walking Jack around the block gives me a feeling of community. Whether it’s an in-depth conversation with a neighbor about home projects or just a friendly wave, I know I’m home, and my neighbors are watching after me.
Take a walk in the park, cruise an art gallery or a museum, go to a book reading or lecture, show up at a rally for a cause, or attend a sporting event. Even if you don’t have a conversation with anyone while you’re there, you are still part of the community, enjoying the same activities. I do this when I feel lonely, and I’m always sure to see a friend at the event or make a new one.
Take a class or do something challenging with a group of people.
Nothing bonds people faster than facing a difficult situation or learning a new skill together. Because your brain expands from the experience, you’re not the same person when you finish as you were when you started. Watching competitive reality shows how people grow together, even if they were frenemies at some point in the series.
These communities are usually for a limited time, making them a great way to put a toe in and try something new. Then, you decide whether to continue relationships when the class is over.
Finding a cause you believe in and taking action with like-minded people is another easy way to join. Make a small commitment, like helping with a one-time event, or go for it by volunteering your time in a board position. Nonprofits and community groups need all the help you’re willing to give. Nothing beats loneliness like the heart swell of doing something for others.
Join a group.
Although there aren’t as many as there used to be, joining a social, philanthropic, or professional association is another way to have more community. Not just for college students, Sororities have a long history of bringing women together for growth and good work. Junior League has gone beyond the Ladies Who Lunch crowd to include working women who want to partake. Support groups are a great way to heal and can be found on nearly any topic.
Come to Badass Women of Wichita events!
I love this group! We always have such an interesting and vibrant bunch of women who come to these events. So many seek us out because they’ve just moved to Wichita, are going through a significant life change, or just like to have fun. I hope you’ll feel less lonely knowing we’re just waiting for you to join us, and you are always welcome. I wish all our Badass Modern Women lived in the same city so we could meet in person.
In a time when we’re feeling divided, it can feel that everyone is out for themselves and that the idea of a common good is as much a relic of the past as VHS tapes. This makes coming together as communities important work that transcends loneliness.
What action will you take to strengthen your community?
Did you know I've published a book? Learn more about it here!
Because We’re Never Finished
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To learn more about what we do:
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