Single adults who live alone can easily spend whole days, whole weekends, without talking to anyone more meaningful than a store cashier. This is particularly true for those who don’t go to a workplace: retirees, disabled, the self-employed and the unemployed. And even for those who do go to work, it’s possible for any conversation to be solely about work with no other personal exchange. Or as has happened to me, to have no conversation for an entire day, using only instant messaging and emails for communication.
It Takes Work to Have a Social Life
If you want to be with people, how do you do it? Where can you go to simply be around others? To have a conversation? Where would you go? The common advice is to volunteer or join groups that are focused a particular interest. Hiking clubs, chess clubs, Toastmasters, team sports, community organizations, Meetups (link) are a good example of this. These are long-term answers because it takes awhile of just showing up before making connections that spill into one’s life. And that doesn’t happen automatically, it takes effort to connect, to become friends, to be social outside of the group.
In their book, Drifting Apart in the 21st Century , Drs. Olds and Schwartz tell about Lois Ames, a psychotherapist and poet, who has found that as a single women she has to make three times as many phone calls than she receives, and offer three times as many invitations as she gets if she wants to maintain her network of friends. And notice that the need to make three times as many call and invitations means that she has to cope with rejections.
A person who is already lonely may not have the oomph, the energy, to reach out and connect. Thus loneliness becomes a self-perpetuating condition. That’s what the research says too. Those who are lonely, feel left out. Feeling left out becomes a defensive and insecure position and the lonely person is more likely to be shy, anxious, pessimistic, hostile, and fearful of a being regarded negatively.
I believe, deeply, that the daily contact that comes from sharing a home, having someone to say “Good morning” and “How was your day?” and perhaps falling into a conversation offers a social connection that can ameliorate the loneliness that so many live with. The sharing of our lives, the day-to-day minutiae, the story of the traffic jam, the missed lunch, the baby shower at work, the conversation with the boss, is simply human. When we get to hear ourselves, when we air our feelings and our thoughts the affect is to lighten our being. When we listen to someone else and offer the gift of our attention and being, this exchange creates warmth and connection.
It doesn’t happen overnight and instantly. Like all human relationships, it has to grow and develop. What is essential is that the housemates start out right by carefully selecting each other. The guidelines described in Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates are a good place to sta
Do you have a story about how living with others helps you? Tell us about it.
 John T. Cacioppo & William Patrick, loneliness, Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, WW Norton, 2008 p. 87