I have a lot of friends.
Shit, I have so many friends I can’t even keep track of all the people I would love to spend time with. I have a loving wife, a community of warm, open-hearted people who throw lots of parties, give long hugs and are always happy to see me. My life is as good as it gets.
So why am I still lonely?
Why do I crave human connection? Why is it such a surprise when I get a surge of energy around people I love?
Maybe I’ve become so independent-focused, that I’m getting my fair share of alone time and then some. Maybe I was meant to live in a tribe where I’m around other people all day.
Maybe Facebook has made it possible for me to get the absolute minimum dose of human connection, just enough to not go totally insane, so I don’t leave the house and seek out real people.
Maybe I’ve forgotten how good it feels to be in community, that I’ve adjusted my standards of intimacy to the point where being lonely is a feeling I live with every day.
Maybe lonely is the new normal.
I think I know where it started….
Nuclear Family Meltdown
David Cates said something while we were living together in Bali that I believe is 100% true. He said “the nuclear family was the worst social experiment we’ve ever tried”.
Can we stop and think about that for a minute? How insane is the nuclear family? We raise kids on our own, making ourselves 24/7 parents then wonder why we feel trapped. We work longer hours to make more money so we can buy a new lawnmower, which sits in our garage 99.9% of the time, just like all the other lawnmowers on our street. We isolate ourselves with our romantic partners and then blame them for the fact that we’ve completely lost touch with who we are.
We used to have a different model, and it was called “family”. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters all lived together, or at least in the same neighborhood, and they got together regularly.
No one hired babysitters because Grandma and Grandpa looked forward to taking care of the kids. You didn’t have to make your own food because there were people who loved cooking and would do it for the whole family. No one sat around at night scrolling through Netflix ad nauseam because there were board games to be played, kids running around and conversations to be had.
Somewhere along the way we ditched this model in pursuit of a greater self-expression. Hey, I get it. Family can be hard to be around sometimes. Mom is judgmental and uncle Dan drinks to much. We don’t like how we feel with our families so we leave, but that’s not the problem.
The problem is that we don’t replace them with anything.
The Saddest Parking Lot
As you drive to the San Diego airport there is a stretch of highway that overlooks a huge long-term parking lot. It represents one of many long-term parking lots filled with cars of lonely people, living sad, isolated lives.
Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Some people have their company subsidize the fee, some people are super rich and some people have really good reasons, but what about the rest? The parking lot is always filled with cars.
My theory is we’ve become so fiercely independent that we forgot how good it feels to involve other people in our lives. We’re afraid to ask for help.
Did you know that there are people out there who would enjoy driving you to the airport, and they would do it for free?!? They are called friends, and I’m not talking about the Facebook kind. I mean the kind of friends who like doing things for each other, cause that’s what friends do.
I’ll share one more story.
A few months ago a couple I know was moving into a new house. They posted on Facebook to see if anyone had boxes they could borrow. I did, so we arranged for them to come pick them up. I was excited to see them so I could catch up on their lives.
Then I got a message back, saying “our assistant will pick them up”. She went on to explain that they love having an assistant do errands, and other menial tasks around the house. “Oh, sweet…” I thought (sarcastically), and their assistant came and went. No hugs, no catching up, no intimacy.
A week later I’m at an event and I hear the man in the couple talk about how lonely he is and I felt like throwing my hands in the air.
Of course you’re fucking lonely! You can’t even take 10 minutes to visit your friends!
I didn’t say that, but I wanted to, mostly because I was projecting my own frustrations on to him. Clearly, he’s not the only one. It’s a classic example of how human connection has become such a low priority in our lives, yet we don’t even realize it.
When 1 + 1 = 3
One of the most amazing things about community is how people can become greater than the sum of their parts.
What happens when you put two lonely people together? Do they become twice as lonely? No! They become the solution to each other’s problem.
If I take a sad person and a happy person and put them in a room together, what happens? Math would say their moods would even out and both people would become neutral, kind of like -1 + 1 = 0, but that’s not how it works. What often happens is the happy person will cheer up the sad person, and in doing so make themselves even happier. Now 1 + 1 equals 3, or 4, or 10. What we can do for each other is exponential, and it’s the missing piece to our well-being.
The Future of Family
Thankfully, the horrible nuclear family experiment is coming to an end, at least in my world. This year I’ve begun talking with my friends about acquiring land, building houses and consciously creating the kind of community that nurtures us, helps us grow and gives us a place to raise kids together, instead of in isolation.
It’s not easy, because our lives right now are “good”. They are good because our baseline of human connection has sunk to the point where we don’t even notice when we go a few days without cuddling with someone or having meaningful, deep eye contact. If I had a dollar for every time someone came to one of our workshops on intimacy and said “wow I’m so touch starved”…well, I’d have a lot of dollars.
You can survive without lots of touch, massage and deep human connection, but why would you want to? So you can spend more time at work? So you can avoid asking for help? So you can not risk the vulnerability of showing someone how much you actually love them? It’s scary, I get it. You might cry, you might look like a mess, and you might show someone you don’t have it all together.
But maybe what’s worse than being scared of deep human connection… is forgetting how much you need it.