“Please give three references.” I was helping someone I’d recently met to fill out a job application. She’d already listed her contact information, work experiences, and skills. Now she just had to list three people who knew her well, and she could turn in the form.
I figured that she didn’t need my assistance with this part, so I moved on to helping another person. But later, when I reviewed the woman’s application, I realized that, for her, this had been the most challenging question of all. Yes, she had listed three people, but they were people I knew well—and I knew they didn’t know her at all.
Didn’t she have three friends? Former co-workers? Relatives? Anyone she could list as a reference? Was there no one who could vouch for her character, her work ethic, her integrity?
Her dilemma is a sign of our times. We have plenty of acquaintances, a few casual friends, but no close relationships. Social media may dominate our lives, but we’re more isolated than ever.
The health insurance company Cigna recently conducted an online survey of than 20,000 U.S. adults to measure loneliness in America. They used the “UCLA Loneliness Scale, a tool widely used to examine feelings of loneliness and social isolation. The scale ranges from 20 to 80, and a score of 43 or above is considered lonely.”
The study revealed that:
- Most Americans are considered lonely. The average score across the board was 44.
- Generation Z (age 18 – 22) averaged a score of 3, and millennials (age 23 – 37) averaged 45.3, making them lonelier than their elders.
- Students had higher scores than retirees.
(Surprisingly, social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness.)
Of course, everyone has an opinion on why this is, and how to fix it. The Cigna study revealed three possible underlying issues.
Lonelier people were often in worse health.
It’s difficult to recognize cause effect here. Certainly, people in poor health are less likely to be socially active. They probably have less energy, and their days may be full of appointments. On the other hand, the article stated, “Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even more dangerous than obesity.” Friendships could save your life. If you can’t get out to visit others, try inviting them to your place.
Lonelier people felt they had poor social skills.
Again, it’s hard to determine which came first. Good social skills take practice. We may avoid other people because we feel awkward. If we do spend time with others, we may feel so inept that we avoid those situations in the future. Isolation breeds isolation. (I’ve learned that focusing on others helps me overcome my initial reticence.)
Lonelier people lacked balance in their daily lives.
They were overworked or over-scheduled, and many weren’t getting enough sleep. Filling the calendar with things to do may provide an acceptable excuse for feeling lonely, but it’s not a solution.
God never intended humans to be lonely. Adam had a perfect relationship with God, yet God decreed, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Then He told them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), ensuring that he would never be alone again.
The Bible has over 300 references to family or families. One of my favorites points out that “God sets the solitary in families” (Psalm 68:6a). Those families may be biological, or they may consist of friends we proactively choose.
Although I have very few blood relatives, I have friends I’ve known for decades. In addition, I consider my church, and especially our home group (below), to be “family.” As in the case of a family we’re born into, I get along with some of these people better than others. Yet, I grow more when I have to interact with those I struggle a bit to appreciate!
Only in relation to other people do we learn to put into practice all that God wants to teach us. Do you want to be more loving? Ask God to send you someone to love. Or, take self-control—while we can practice self-control by ourselves (and maybe a piece of chocolate cake), we learn it faster when someone is tempting us to lose it! Friends hold us accountable. They point out our strengths—and our weaknesses.
Friends are an investment. It takes time and determination to form lasting friendships, but the rewards are infinite. We can hide behind our Facebook pages and busy schedules, make excuses that we aren’t good at making friends, and moan to God about our loneliness, but ultimately, we have to take ownership and make friendships a priority.
Valentine’s Day is next week. That may be the loneliest day of the year for many people. This year, why not make it a goal to meet one new person—one potential new friend—before next Thursday. If they have no plans for the day, make some together. Maybe this will be your best Valentine’s Day ever!