After the manic activity that is Christmas and New Year. My resolution for 2018 is to make more friends. Not acquaintances, or people who further my career or lifestyle, but friends. Meaningful human connections that feel comfortable, enriching and authentic. Not those that leave me feeling lonelier in company than when I am actually alone.
The psychoanalyst, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann considered the issue of loneliness in her 1959 essay “On loneliness”. She describes the feeling as a ‘need and want of intimacy’. The issue had been largely ignored by other therapists of the time. Fromm-Reichmann, who had come to the United States from Germany to escape Hitler, was known for insisting that no patient was too sick to be healed through trust and intimacy. She considered that loneliness lay at the heart of nearly all mental illness and that a lonely person was a terrifying spectacle in the world, both to themselves and to others. She was known to chastise her fellow therapists for withdrawing from emotionally unreachable patients rather than risk being contaminated by them. The uncanny spectre of loneliness “touches on our own possibility of loneliness,” she said. “We evade it and feel guilty.”
Fromm-Reichmann’s thoughts are known to be the basis for the ever developing area of scientific ‘loneliness studies’ confirming that continued feelings of loneliness, rejection or abandonment can be linked with a wide range of bodily ailments as well as mental health issues. We are also able to recognise that loneliness is not synonymous with being alone, nor does being with others guarantee protection from feelings of loneliness, if there is no sense of intimacy or belonging in the interactions. We are also aware – as the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott was able identify, that those who hide behind a false identity are probably more sensitive than others to the pain of rejection and feelings of failure that accompany loneliness.
Our current culture demands a high degree of intentionality. A good date often won’t lead to another if you don’t follow up and express interest. A career won’t solidify if you don’t network with people who share similar passion and vision. Friendships won’t form with people who don’t reciprocate with effort and consistency, but it only takes two people’s intentionality to start a chain reaction.
Making friends outside of your teens isn’t easy. There’s no obvious way to meet different kinds of people outside of work colleagues and your former school peers. You have to keep looking for those “clicks,” taking opportunities and making them, feeling slightly uncomfortable and lonely, even desperate, throughout the entire process.
We can make intentionality seem so uncool. We love to romanticize “organic” connections, “natural” relationships and friendships. But sometimes, perhaps we have to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones. Try hard. Ask people to hang out. Follow up on invites by similarly unsure people. Chase people who carry the kind of energy you want to be around. Be as vulnerable as possible if that’s what it takes; ideally, your true, authentic self, with a heart desperate for the right kind of connection. Learn to tolerate the tension of not knowing. This is something that I hope I am able to foster over the course of this year.