My circle of friends often feels like a lot of weak WiFi signals. They’re there, I can detect them, but I can’t connect to most of them.
There are more ways for us to reach out to people than ever before. It’s a bit creepy to think the sheer number of people out there with the power to make our phone yell out or vibrate, every second of the day. Technically, it’s not just our friends anymore. A mail can be from anyone. An instagram photo can be liked/commented on by any one of the millions on the platform. Anyone on LinkedIn can send you a connection request. The sheer numbers are just mind boggling, if you have a phone and an internet connection.
The whole world feels like an infinitely long menu now. Not only can it take ages who to choose, but you also can never tell whether a person, much like a dish, will be available or not. It’s an excruciatingly painful calculation to do; going through your list of contacts, and calculating who is the most likely to agree to meet, or even talk. A football player probably has 100 times lesser options of what to do with possession of the ball.
And so we scroll, calculate and take chances, then wait for the results. Every rejection feels like a tiny hammer to our already brittle egos.
Like most of my demographic, I have hundreds of friends, followers, and connections. But if I have to do this calculation all the time, is more really better? If you need a close friend to pour your heart to, and lessen the burden of our pointlessly serious disposition, can any of these connections really help? Probably not.
To be close to someone is an intangible. It can’t exactly be measured, we just know it. We know it when we are able to be ourselves without being petrified of judgement. We know it when we can look someone in the eye and say we’re afraid. We know it when we perfectly understand each other’s need to vent.
Closeness is intangible, and it’s rare.
But a different notion has been imbibed in us: more is better.
More countries visited. (the why-visit-only-one-country-when-you-can-cover-10 mindset)
In all these aspects, since numbers are readily available, that is how they get measured. And anything that can be counted becomes a metric for comparison with others. The intangibles are seldom talked about.
This more is better notion is particularly damaging when it comes to friends/connections. Instead of caring about how close we are to one person, we care about how many people ‘like’ us, even if for a moment, even if for appearances sake. It doesn’t seem to matter why they like our picture/post, as long as the like number goes up.
This is what being lonely is: knowing full well how many people are out there who we can speak to, and yet also knowing the uncertainty of their availability and their willingness to connect.
It’s a cold, hollow feeling, and I have felt it stronger than ever as the years have gone by. Nobody stops their life for us, they are always in motion. As our friends go through marriages and careers, new people enter their lives, and we fall down in their priority lists. As long as we’re studying, we all go through these life stages at roughly the same pace, so it’s okay. The moment we start our jobs, everyone moves at a different pace. So while I’m okay not being married right now, what it means is since many of my friends did get married, I lost some closeness, without gaining any. For a lonely man, any non-conformity, even if unintended, can be quite painful.
Sometimes I go to cafes and sit by myself for hours, just to be close to some social activity; like a passive smoker longing for smoke. Like a traveler looking for free WiFi.
What can we do about it?
Like almost everything in life, the problem lies in expectations. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, we have a nasty habit of expecting it to last forever. Instead, we can try being grateful, and not take company for granted, especially the ones we think will last forever.
Take calls on birthdays for example. A close friend of mine used to always call. In fact he used to call just like that without reason, and I always liked it. These calls stopped the day he got married. It felt like a giant bummer to me, because I didn’t think it was possible to grow apart for us, but only closer. And that’s where I was wrong.
One other mistake I’ve made when I was younger, was to be selective in the company I chose. This led people to believe I actually like being alone, which could not be farther from the truth, at least nowadays. Which brings me to my second bit of advice: take chances to meet people when you get them. It doesn’t matter much if you don’t know them that well, or it’s been a long time. Whether personal or professional, work never ends: it’s you who has to press the pause button every now and then.
Oh, and call your friends. Seriously. Older the better. There is more to friendship than just sharing memes. Ask them how they’re doing. Maybe, just maybe, they are in the same place you are. Maybe, you’re not alone.