Ask The Therapist: Lonely in The City



Q: I feel lonely and isolated despite living in a big city, how can I make new friends?  O., female, 27 year-old.

A: Loneliness and social isolation is such a pressing topic, especially in big cities like New York. Despite having to live, work, commute and simply exist next to literally millions of people, many feel cut off from making meaningful connections and describe having fewer chances to find close friends.

The issue is prevalent in big cities mostly because of the very fact that so many people bombard you with their presence on a daily basis, so it’s understandable that some healthy boundaries need to be established in order to preserve your personal space, and sanity something. The problem gets deeper when city dwellers forget to “pull their walls down ” when presented with certain social situations, it’s almost like they have to re-learn how to be social beings again. Most activities are structured nowadays, classes, parties, dating events, even many children’s activities are all about structure and guidance – very little “free play” is going on in either adult or children’s world. Plus everything is so technology-oriented that face-to-face interactions are almost obsolete, especially among the younger generations.

Therefore, it’s no wonder that loneliness becomes one of the major issues in a big city. I do, however, want to stress that loneliness is not the same as being alone. Loneliness assumes a feeling of isolation and lack of meaningful connections, you can still be lonely living in a huge family or surrounded by other people. Being alone is more about solitude that is not perceived as painful or maladaptive, it’s almost like a person is a “master in their own world” and enjoys this particular lifestyle yet is still able to find and sustain certain relationships and associations.

If you do feel lonely though and want to seek out social interactions and new connections, first try to connect with your “inner child”. Remember how it was when you were little, chances are you had a lot of unstructured play time and interactions with your peers. Try to replicate it in your adult life. Look for “open play and interaction” activities where you can just mingle and talk to people spontaneously. Street musicians, free concerts, fairs and festivals, even green markets are where people are gathering to enjoy the music or sample local foods, you can strike a conversation without any obligations to carry on the connection into the future or to be viewed as a weird person by talking to strangers. Try local parks where you may find certain enthusiasts, chess players, for example, or “conversations in a park” type of meetups, you don’t have to know how to play chess to enjoy watching the game and talk to people in a crowd.

If you want to try certain activities or develop new hobbies and possibly find new friends, there are plenty of options in every city. Don’t approach every activity from the point that you have to get serious about it, again, be a kid about it. When y were little, you tried many games and participated in many unstructured play periods without any pressure to become good at it or even make lasting friendships with your playmates, you just enjoyed the process and being in a moment. Try anything you want once or twice just for the sheer joy of experience, talk to people without any pressure of a follow-up in the future, get up in a morning and ask yourself what you would want to do or sample today, be spontaneous and non-judgmental about your own choices.

If you become your own best friend and love who you are, what your life is about and what you have to offer, you can much easier attract new compatible people and new experiences to enjoy together.

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