Tag Archives: relationships

Learning to Be Lonely

“Loneliness is about the scariest thing out there.”  ― Joss Whedon

A colleague recently sent me an article about cities of the future and how human loneliness is now a serious design factor. Jessica Brown, the author, reminds us that;

  • humans are social animals
  • the current loneliness epidemic is now being called a public health crisis

Her first point is a little more complicated than first glance. Humans must have other humans in order to physically survive. You can’t leave a baby in the woods and hope he will just turn out okay. Sorry Tarzan. Parents and family are essential for human survival.

But it’s even more important than that. Not only are we dependent upon others to help us survive, during infancy and childhood, we need adults to teach us how to survive. Imagine all of the skills that you were taught in order to head off to first grade:

  • Asking for help
  • Going to the bathroom on your own
  • Obeying authority figures
  • Finding your way home
  • Making new friends (and enemies)

Have you read the recent research about children, social skills and time in front of a screen? Children and teenagers are spending so much time on their electronic devices – they are missing out on critical time with real people, learning real social skills, developing real relationships that could prepare them for adulthood. Instead, it seems that more and more young adults are not prepared for casual and even more developed relationships that protect them from loneliness.

Being on your phone busy with work, surfing through posts online, watching the latest media doesn’t replace social contact with real people. As children are learning to make their way in the world, they need to practice social skills like understanding non-verbal communication and environmental cues. These are difficult to attain when a majority of time is spent online.

When I walk into college classrooms these days they are filled with students and silent. There is rarely any talking, sharing or laughing. Everyone is sitting alone, attention locked on their cell phones. The zombie apocalypse has arrived.

Jessica Brown’s article reminds us that it’s often easier for us to rebuild the world we live in than take deep and difficult looks at our own selves and the ways we are raising the next generation.


Decisive Marriage


“If I get married, I want to be very married.”
– Audrey Hepburn

A recent article in the NY Times summarizes some very important research about marriage. The findings are from the National Marriage Project report. One key finding that Times columnist Tara Parker-Pope wrote about was:

Sliding versus deciding. Couples who make intentional decisions regarding “major relationship transitions” are more likely to flourish than those who slide through transitions.

Apparently when couples treat their relationships as a big deal, when they decide to get married and go through with all the formalities, when they invest time, emotions and even wealth into their commitment to one another – their relationship tends to flourish.


Don’t you love it when science confirms common sense? What we invest ourselves into ultimately grows in value. It reminds me of one those online dating commercials. The guy asks this woman how she goes about finding someone to date and she gets this confused look on her face and says, “well, I just bump into people.” Or something like that.

Casual relationships don’t produce lasting families or fertile habitations in which to nurture children. Cautious love is always ready to fall apart. It waits for it around each and every crisis. Rather than clinging together when the storms come, spontaneous lovers are always looking over their should to be certain the other person hasn’t jumped out of the lifeboat.

Our culture now values casual sex as a way to appease our appetites. Just sit down one evening and watch a little TV. Casual sex is the norm now. All stigma have been removed from sexual promiscuity. (I’m not even sure that it’s possible to be promiscuous anymore, regardless of how you behave.) There are no more sexual deviants in our popular culture.

But we have always had deeper needs for relationship, commitment, and security. There’s just not a selfish way to make these come true. Popular culture gives us a laugh and erodes our common sense. It’s a bag of potato chips. Wonderful to sit down with but we all know it’s never going to give us any nourishment. What’s on next?

Yet decisive relationships are never free from injury or pain. Thoughtful relationships can hurt us deeply whether they are investments into the lives of people, career, or dreams. These days we are so afraid to risk. We have witnessed too much brokenness and bitterness a la the freak show that is now reality TV.  Who wants to stick their neck out? Perhaps it will turn into a noose?

“If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.”  – Clint Eastwood

But that’s what life is meant to be, a risk. Because if you hang on to your life, your hopes and every little dream, they will turn to dust. You have to stick your neck out. You have to dream big and never stop hoping.

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
– Langston Hughes

We All Need Somebody To Love


“Have you noticed that only in time of illness or disaster or death are people real?” – Walker Percey

Usually it’s when the bottom falls out that we discover what we’re made of.

  • Remember when your car was in the shop and your friend from work gave you a ride – for a week?
  • What about when your dad was in the hospital and your neighbor took care of your kids after school?
  • Two years ago when your friend from church was going through cancer treatments and you signed up to take meals over to her house.
  • When the hurricane hit and all those people were displaced and needed so much help getting back on their feet.

We also realize who we can count on as the going keeps getting tougher and rougher. For most of us, our families are the deep reservoir (usually taken for granted) that we  can depend upon when a disaster hits. What’s troubling is that for a growing number of Americans family is becoming a weakened resource as relationships fracture and bonds become more and more temporary.

Anthropologists use the term “Fictive Kinship” to describe those members of your family who aren’t related by marriage or biology. They are your Godparents, your best friends, your friends for life, that guy who’s just like a brother…

“One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.”  – Euripides

Many of us have these “fictive kin” in our families. We probably don’t have enough. Less than 20% of families in our country today are composed of a married couple with children. What we once called “family” is changing for all kinds of reasons.

What never changes is the deep need every one of us has for connections with others and the difficult circumstances that we will face during the course of our lives. Getting through life works better when you’ve got a team at your back.

“Having someone wonder where you are when you don’t come home at night is a very old human need. ”   – Margaret Mead

As our collective marital and biological ties to people begin to dwindle, we need to take a good hard look at the consequences. While we’re doing that, we need to compensate by make deep and abiding connections with others. People with friends are healthier, make more money and live longer. It’s even been suggested that it’s a toss up about which you should do to insure a healthier and longer life, give up smoking or make more friends.

When we face disasters in our life we need people to help us with all the little things as well as the great big ones. Everything is important. When the bottom falls out it is these “kinfolk” who come out of the woodwork and save the day.

“A friend is one who walks in when others walk out.”  – Walter Winchell

There isn’t a sign up sheet at Starbucks to get a set of “fictive kin” to add to your  family. What you need to do is start helping a friend of yours. Start building stronger bonds by bridging the gaps of time, distance and indifference. We all follow the “norm of reciprocity” to some degree – when you scratch my back, I feel obligated scratch yours. Those kinds of obligations are the building blocks of civilization. We don’t get by asking, we get by giving. Who needs you today? Start giving a little bit of yourself. A little more today than yesterday. One day soon you too will need someone.