Have you ever been surrounded by people, and yet felt completely alone?
Have you ever been completely alone, ant yet not felt at all lonely?
The truth is, loneliness has very little to do with how many people are around us. Instead, it has a lot more to do with how many people we feel are with us; how many people know us, how many people care about us, how many people love and accept us for who we are.
That is why one person can be in bustling New York City feeling depressingly lonely, while another sits on a remote farm in Iowa, feeling safe and loved.
You might have seven hundred friends on Facebook, but if all of those people know only your "profile-personality" and not what is underneath it, then they will not help in making you feel less lonely. In fact, they might even exasperate the feeling. I am of the belief that knowing no-one is a less lonely feeling than knowing many people that you know do not know the real you.
On the contrary, you might have ten friends on Facebook, or you may not even have Facebook at all. Maybe you have just five friends in your phone that you can truly call your mates. Mates that know you at your best and at your worst; that love you when you're quiet and when you're loud; that accept you when you succeed and when you fail; that care for you by day and by night. Mates that know the real you, the true you, and love you for it.
I can almost guarantee that those who find themselves in the latter position feel less lonely than those in the former. It does not matter how many people know you, it matters how many people love you. It does not matter how many friends you can count, it matters how many friends you can count on. It does not matter how socially accepted you are, it matters how personally accepted you feel.
Loneliness is commonly perceived to be whether you have people around you or not, which is so far from the truth. You can surround yourself by people every single day, and still feel completely alone. You can be by yourself most of the day, and feel very deeply loved.
I have made the decision in my own life to strive for the latter; to quit trying to build my network by breadth, and start striving to build my relationships by depth.
In a world of Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin and Twitter, we have begun to lose sight of what real friendship is. We have begun to strive for attention, popularity and status at the cost of relationships, love and self-worth. The difference between these is crucially important.
Attention, popularity and status are fleeting. They are the deliciously decadent box of chocolates that you gobble down, feeling awesome, until you eventually slide into a sluggish come-down as the sugar high begins to subside.
Relationships, love and self-worth are lasting. They are the fruits and vegetables that don't always deliver the instant gratification you desire, but in the long run sustain you; making you happier, stronger and healthier.
We know this about food. We know that chocolates and cake make us feel good temporarily, but in the long run, do not serve us well. We know that fruit and vegetables are perhaps not as enticing, but in the long run, are essential and enriching.
Perhaps it is time we apply the same logic to our social goals and relationships. Which ones make us feel good today, but have no lasting value in our life? Which ones might take more effort, or might not be as instantly gratifying, but in the long run, will build the foundation we need for strength, health and happiness?
When we strive for popularity over authenticity, we manufacture ourselves into something we are not. And when we don't show the world the person we really are, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to feel closeness. We set ourselves up for loneliness. Even if we manage to find people that love us, we will not feel any less alone, for they will love a person that we know we are not.
When we let go of the faÃ§ade and let people in, when we show the world who we really are, we become vulnerable, but we also permit ourselves the chance to love and be loved. We permit ourselves the opportunity for closeness.
The people that do not love you for who you are have no capacity to add value to your life. Stop trying to get them to love you for who you are not. It satisfies only them, not you. Let them go, and if they run, do not chase them.
The people that discover the real you and decide to stay; the people that want to love you, and accept you, and bet here for you, the real you, they are the people that will ensure that you never feel lonely. Even when you are all alone.