“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”
― John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
Chronic, widespread, rampant loneliness is really of no large surprise. Our culture is after all increasingly isolated and self-insulating. The world expanded and now we can move to the outer reaches of the planet with ease, at least online if not physically. In the wake of this technology age our communities, neighbors, and those even closer; those in our own homes even, feel millions of miles away.
New research says that half of the US is struggling with persistent loneliness. Not just a time or two, here or there, but real entrenched over-arching loneliness. So, the math seems easy to figure out right? Half the country is texting and the other half is lonely. Done. Well, not so fast. I would venture to say that in my experience, personally and professionally, texting is not connecting and may actually add to one’s sense of pervasive loneliness. A lot of what we are doing, day in and day out, hour upon hour is not connecting us to each other at all but rather dividing us into sound bites and abbreviations.
What about your text life?
Texting is for brief one-word answers. Wasn’t that the intent? Just a brief “Yes” or “No” or “YES!” or “NOOO”, or a few emojis and that’s it. Like a walkie-talkie, “104 over and out” exchange correct? I didn’t make that up after all. Longer exchanges are for email, right? No, you say? People are just not reading lengthy messages these days. It’s the equivalent of tuning them out. You just don’t respond. Guess what, a text message longer than a couple phone screen sized lines is much less likely to be read. Much much less. As in don’t or rather DON’T expect anyone under 40 to even read it and then only with a sigh and a grumble. A few lines are not after all really that much to read but yet we have little patience for what someone has to say let alone their attempt to connect.
So, like I was saying, you may think that longer emails could work. Well, don’t get me started on those. Nope, no one is really interested. It is quite likely you have not even read this far into my blog even. We just don’t have the “intention span”. Before we couldn’t pay attention long enough. Now, we don’t seem to even posture intention. I’m asking you to see what you think about what this means, what we’ve become, as the bottom of poor behavior sinks, and reconsider.
“How we need another soul to cling”
I was at the foot doctor recently and this doctor, who is in his late 50’s I’d guess, told me that he experienced patients slightly older than himself, who would come in and needed to talk. The topic of my profession came up and he wanted to share with me because I was someone he felt might understand. He was surprised that patients would need to talk, “just talk” he sputtered. “Hmmm, Auuhuh”, I said as to sound moderately amazed or surprised, which I would have been ten years ago, but now I know better. We used to know each other. We did. I’m pretty sure that is what my parents and grandparents used to be doing. Spending time needing each other and caring from there it would seem.
“The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.”
Clients come to me to ease emotional or relational distress but also to connect. Is that the point of therapy? Well, no I am not a professional friend but without connecting, there is no therapy. If we don’t connect then who am I to you and how can I possibly help. Clients, as well as the general population (I like to call them future clients), miss that, are unsure how things will go and it is my job to make it all seem and feel natural. The first thing I do and the first thing I’m good at doing is connecting. It is what makes the therapy float, otherwise, we are sinking.
To be honest their connecting to me connects me. I need to be connected too. Sure it is not connection around my stuff or is it? Well, it isn’t and it shouldn’t be because it is not about me or my life, or my personal self, but the reciprocal effect, of them, connecting to my therapist-self means there is a connection. The therapy is grounded in this connection. If I can’t connect then I can’t help and I am wanting to connect and help. That is the “thingee” we are doing in therapy to get the ball rolling. Sometimes it is the therapy in and of itself such as proving that safety and trust are possible that we can work the messiness out and relationships can work.
This is just like the connecting that so much of the world is missing. In therapy, we are connecting over real things. Things that feel real and make us feel real in our experience. These legitimize and validate that our breathing and thinking are adding up to something and we are not just vapor on a whirling ball. We want to be loved of course, but love is the connection.
Connecting takes time.
A therapy session takes the better part of an hour. Do you know how many text-conversations that is? Hundreds. Who would have the patience for that in another context or with someone new solely motivated to learn about someone? Sharing an experience, however, is connecting. Talking about a shared experience, together, is even more connecting. The world is moving fast and we need to keep moving or we’ll fall off this crazy thing like the frazzled George Jetson warned. Unfortunately for those convinced to exist only at Mock 10, the things we really need to survive and truly live take time. Time is after all what we can’t get back. When we take the time to connect and say “hello” and “how are you really?” and then listen, we give the gift we ourselves need. We place a pause on ourselves, increase our empathy and in turn the chance to give and receive dignity. The human condition is messy but we all deserve to live with dignity and leave with as many witnesses as possible.
“Being human means needing others to witness your mess, if you can stand it”.