Let’s face it. Valentine’s Day can be a pretty lonely day.
Research shows that loneliness is an epidemic in our country. And it’s not just a gay thing. Straight people are lonely too.
One in six people are lonely and the numbers keep increasing. Only one half of young people have daily, meaningful interaction with others. The UK has even appointed a minister of loneliness.
It’s so common and normal, and yet so stigmatized. That makes the pain of loneliness even worse.
Are gay people more lonely than straight people? There aren’t any research studies specifically on LGBTQ loneliness, but the answer is probably “yes.” Sadly, the math equation is pretty simple: social stigma + family rejection + religious rejection + Republican party political rejection = more loneliness, more suicide, more substance abuse for LGBTQ people.
And what did most parents in the 1970s and earlier say when their children came out? “You’ll grow old alone.” That’s the old archetype of a gay male: a solitary person in a trench coat, exposing himself to people in public bathrooms. And for lesbians? The movie version was a creepy predator nun. These are damaging images.
No one over 30 grew up with cultural themes of gay people surrounded by loving friends and family. As LGBTQ people, we have a lot to unpack and relearn.
Here are my three suggested steps to moving beyond loneliness and towards the connections you are dreaming about:
Step 1: Be a Much Better Friend to You
Most good stuff in life starts with examining and improving your relationship with you.
That means quieting your inner critic. Here’s a free e-class on softening your inner critic.
This is a life-long process. You’ll never fully be done. And that’s okay.
However, once you are kinder to yourself it becomes much easier to navigate the complicated and scary world of other people.
You don’t have to fully love yourself to love others. But you will get there faster as your compassion for yourself grows.
Step 2: Unpack the Current Culture
We have relationships with ourselves, with others, and also with the culture. Most of us downplay the role of culture in our behavior, but it is profound.
The first step is acknowledging that the culture is based on some unhealthy assumptions. Here are some of the messages of contemporary culture which leads to our increasing loneliness:
- Texting and electronic communication is good enough
- Look happy and popular on social media, even when you are not
- Lots of sex with new people makes you happier and happier
- If you spend most of your time at work making money will get you want you want
- The answer to feeling more connected is one more drink
- Work remotely, away from your colleagues, and get everything delivered so you don’t interact with your local people.
Most LGBTQ folks eventually earn to push against the dominant beliefs of their time as they come out. Can you push against these lonely cultural practices and work towards something different even though it seems like everyone is doing them?
It takes bravery and a little discipline to push against the culture. But that’s how you inoculate yourself from the loneliness epidemic.
Step 3: Take One of These Practical Steps or Try on One of These New Beliefs
Eventually you’ll need to go where the people are if you want to feel less lonely. Here’s what works:
- Join organized groups even though you really, really, really don’t want to.
- If the group activity is disappointing, make a commitment not to torture yourself afterwards and instead give yourself amazing, generous credit for trying.
- Expect the process of connection to take a long time. Only children and college students make friends fast. Kids are open. Grown ups are not.
- If you are uncomfortable in groups just ask people questions and authentically compliment them. That’s all you have to do.
- Time + vulnerability = love + friendship. Give it time, but also take mini-risks in revealing slightly vulnerable things. No vulnerability = no love.
- Catch yourself when you start to think you are the only lonely one. That is a distorted thought. Remember, you are living in an epidemic.
- Realize you only need two close friends as confidants. You also need community. Community are people who know your name, smile when they see you, but maybe don’t know that much about you.
- Notice when you start to think everyone is judging you at an event. This is a cognitive distortion. Unless you are a celebrity, people are not thinking about you. They are thinking about themselves.
I know you are already tired of the cheesy Valentine’s Day ads. If you experiment with the above plan next year they won’t be so annoying.