Recent studies have revealed that loneliness has a more negative impact on your health than smoking or obesity. Additionally, it’s very stigmatizing to admit when you feel lonely. For those who feel isolated, simply expressing that they feel lonely can push others away, exasperating that sense of being alone. However, finding a sense of belonging can be challenging as you age.
At 32, I find myself living hundreds of miles from my family as I pursue my career in Los Angeles.
Many of my friends have married and started their own families, but that just isn’t where I’m at yet. I love working from home, but I’m an extrovert who lives alone; a sometimes dangerous combination. Combating loneliness must be a proactive measure on my part. And if I’m honest, some days I just don’t feel like being proactive. It’s then that loneliness moves in as my unwelcome roommate.
There have been moments in my adult life when I felt acutely aware that being in the presence of my friends felt as much “home” as being with my family. The first time I noticed this was one hectic afternoon while visiting Washington DC, in preparation for my friend’s wedding. Frantically, an apartment swarmed with my friends, all of whom loved the bride dearly. We were hollering, “Can I borrow your curling iron?” “You need to iron this, here let me help!” “Did someone call a cab?” “Hurry, we’re going to be late! COME ON!” The frenetic energy reminded me of my frustrated mom attempting to get her family out the door on time to leave for wherever it was that we were headed. Even as everyone around me was hopelessly stressed, for a moment, I relaxed. Surrounded by my beautiful friends, I could only experience them as family.
The second time was on the Fourth of July a few years later, celebrating the holiday with some of my closest friends from high school. We lazily spent the afternoon giggling, eating watermelon, and eventually taking turns attempting headstands against a wall (thanks yoga). We relaxed into each other, simply awaiting nightfall and the fireworks to follow. An overwhelming wave hit me that these friends felt as safe as sisters.
“Friends as family” was possible, but it was just very fleeting. Most days I couldn’t capture that essence.
After spiraling into a bout of a depression this past fall, I carved out time at the start of 2018 to dream about my goals for the year. Facing the harsh reality that I felt very alone in a sea of people who lived near their families (or who were building their new families), I set a New Year’s resolution to treat my friends as family. I flashed back to the frenetic energy in the DC apartment before the wedding. To the silly moments of high school BFF’s teaching each other headstands. I had glimpses of finding my surrogate family. Could I create more of those moments intentionally?
I began to ponder a few questions:
- Who did I enjoy so much that they could fill my cup?
- Who could I let my guard down around, invoking a sense of vulnerability?
- What social gatherings could I say yes to more often?
- What experiences could I invite others into?
I leaned into surrounding myself with the people from the DC wedding and from the Fourth of July celebration. However, many of them no longer lived near me, so I made a point to find more like them. I told certain friends that I was choosing them to be a part of my “friends as family” family. On the times that my psyche started to spiral into the irrational space, I revealed my imperfect thought process to this chosen family.
I let them love me and bring me back down to earth.
And I tried to always let them know that I loved them, especially if their psyche ever also spiraled into the dark place.
Did it work? Can I mark this resolution as achieved? Perhaps. I dug myself out of depression, at least for the moment. I revealed my neurosis to a few trusted people, allowing them to comfort me. The lonely moments still pop up, but somehow, I’ve felt more supported to push through them.
Perhaps there are friends eager to serve as your surrogate sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers in your life. Maybe there’s a way to navigate life in a strange and distant city, and part of it means not being perfect. Maybe healing can be found in the moments when you’re hopelessly late somewhere important, and your best friend hollers for you to, “GET IN THE CAR, NOW!”… Just the way mom would.
Photos by Valerie Denise Photos