Communication

An Open Letter To Anyone Who Feels Lonely on Facebook

Isolation is an epidemic.

The other night, after a particularly long social media binge, I felt the sudden onset of a hangover. While it may not have started in wine or ended in a headache, the similar anxious, listless, comfortless quality was palpably present. It was a classic emotional hangover. The irony, of course, was that it came from an outlet designed to foster connection from the comfort of my couch.

The truth is that social media has grown far beyond friendships and is now a tool used to sell teeth-whiteners, compare ourselves to our exes, and fake a fantasy life.  As Facebook continues to exacerbate our need for authentic connection, our social skills continue to degenerate.

Sure, we can interact. But, can we connect?

If you’d rather text than talk, order food online over using a phone, or scroll through Instagram pics rather than seeing friends in person, then this post is for you.

Social connection impacts our emotional and physical health. According to former U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, isolation and loneliness can create chronic stress, similar to factors such as illness, poverty, discrimination, and violence. It’s a growing epidemic: In the 1980s, 20% of adult Americans said they were lonely. Today, the percentage has doubled to 40%.

The good news is that you don’t have to swear off social media to create more connection. Here are:

7 steps to build better relationships:

1) Upgrade your connection.

No, I’m not talking about your internet speed. Instead of texting, talk on the phone. Meet friends and colleagues in person. Even Facetime and Skype can build better bonds. Feeling short on time? Remember, just because something is efficient, doesn’t make it better. Communication on each medium varies. So, avoid the misunderstandings and deepen your relationships by upgrading how you communicate.

2) Accept the friend request.

Often, we place people in categories without giving them a real chance. Deepen your current connections by:

  • Trying something new (e.g. going for a hike instead of a drink)
  • Sharing how you feel (e.g. being vulnerable and honest)
  • Working on it rather than dismissing it (e.g. being courageous enough to troubleshoot problems rather than ghosting) 

3) Who dis?

Define what you want in a friend down to every last detail. Want a bestie who does yoga, yoda impressions, and yodels with her yorkie? Weird, but cool. You have to know what you want to know if you have it and where to find it.

4) Expand your circle with friends, not followers.

The best way to meet people with similar interests is by exploring your own. Upgrade your activities by rekindling an old hobby or starting a new one. If you want to meet the right people, you need to be your best self. That means less time doing what isn’t working and more time doing things that speak to your passions and values.

5) Disconnect.

I can’t tell you how many times I go to a restaurant and see people ignoring each other and staring at their phones (even when they're on a date!) Unless there’s a life-threatening emergency, let the other person know you actually want to be there by silencing your phone and putting it away.

6) Can you hear me now?

So often we listen to respond rather than to hear. Instead of secretly planning your response, let their words sink in. Your undivided attention is the greatest gift you can give someone and the key to understanding and empathy.

    7) Still loading.

    Loneliness is normal. Even with strong relationships, this natural human emotion is bound to surface. Our feelings of isolation took time to develop, so don’t expect overnight results. Be patient with yourself and others, focusing on the steps you’re taking instead of how far you have to go.

    The Takeaway:

    Whether you’re surrounded by people or alone on your couch, isolation is a growing issue. Don’t let the number of Facebook friends or followers define you, your relationships, or your time. In any moment, you can take simple steps to feel less lonely and create more connection.

    The Relationship Lies That Keep You Stuck

    Recently, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the term “emotional availability.” In the self-help world, it’s a term that gets thrown around quite a bit. In the brunch with girlfriends world, it’s a blanket statement used to rationalize not working on yourself. Let me explain-

    The Problem:

    “Tina” is a bright, attractive, caring woman in her mid 30s who can’t help but self-sabotage her romantic relationships. I feel for her. In the past, I was guilty of many of the same mistakes:

    • Calling/texting a guy, expecting him to take care of my every need (ranging from boredom to loneliness to hunger).
    • Questioning EVERYTHING in a rapid fire of escalating thoughts (from what I said, to his motivations, to my desire to be in a relationship at all).
    • Impulsively behaving or saying things out of my insecurities rather than reality.
    • Or, my personal favorite, accepting partners and sticking around, conveniently ignoring the jumbotron-like signs in favor of who I hope my partner will one day become.

    Listening to Tina’s story, I wanted to be a supportive friend. That’s where the trouble set in. I could a) listen, validate, and agree with how Mark was indeed emotionally unavailable since he couldn’t meet her incessant needs; or b) tell her the truth: no partner can be her everything. She needed to own her side of the street.

    FYI: Being friends with a coach/soon-to-be therapist often means hearing things you don’t like because 1) we don't have the patience or desire to play therapist for our friends 2) we genuinely want you to get the support you deserve.

    Choosing option "B," went something like this:

    Amita: Tina, ever notice how you describe every guy you date as ‘emotionally unavailable?’ what’s that about?

    Tina: Dating in NYC sucks. The good guys are all taken. And the ones that are left aren't emotionally ready to be with me.

    Amita: So, you’re telling me that every single guy in NYC is emotionally unavailable or undateable? If that's true, then shoot me now.

    Tina: No, just the ones I meet...(insert montage of her recent dates and relationships.)

    Amita: Those do seem pretty similar. So what’s the common denominator?...(praying she can take a hint so I don't have to say it)... Maybe YOU'RE not as emotionally available as you think.

    Tina: (grumbling…cursing at me under her breath…some random comment about how the ratio of single women to men is better in San Francisco…)

    Arguably, I could have been more tactful. But support comes in many forms. And if there’s one lesson I wish I'd learned earlier in life, it’s this:

    Blaming others, blaming situations, blaming the female: male ratio only provides temporary relief. 

    It's a lot like hitting your head against a wall and then blaming the wall for your massive egg-shaped bruise. 

    Taking others' inventory without examining how you attract or allow it only works until it doesn't work. In the long run, it simply keeps you stuck.

    The Solution:

    I don’t deny that Tina meets jerks, I certainly wouldn’t date any of them. So after a large gulp of coffee (me) and a swig of a mimosa (her), we jumped in on the fix:

    1. She’d start seeing a therapist again.
    2. She’d identify her must haves, won’t haves, and would like to haves in a relationship.
    3. She’d assess for red flags by date 2 by asking things like “How long was your last relationship and when did it end?” and “What did you learn from that experience?”
    4. She’d act on the data gathered BEFORE she developed strong feelings since our non-negotiables for a partner go right out the window as soon as our hormones kick in.
    5. She’d try new ways of meeting guys (trading swiping on apps for new hobbies and meetups.)
    6. When she wasn’t matching a guy’s energy and/or rate of communication, she'd assess what need she’s trying to meet and a) find a suitable alternative b) go back to steps 2-5.

    The Takeaway:

    None of us were born with relationship skills. And if our strategy is to “figure it out as we go,” repeat, or avoid our parents’ mistakes… we’re screwed. That’s why the key to happiness in relationships lies in our ability to identify our role in current and past situations, reflect on these patterns, and recognize that our ability to change our trajectory is only as strong as our commitment to growth.

    Or you can keep banging your head on a wall. The choice is yours. 

    Knowledge isn’t Power. This Is.

    AreYouAware

    I’m the first to admit that dating me is not a walk in the park.

    In fact, it’s more like a walk in quicksand. It seems pretty great and then before you know it, shit gets very real and very deep.

    See, most of what makes me difficult is my incessant need to be right. I don’t care if we’re debating the merits of $10 smoothies or whether I can run faster than the record holder for walking marathons, I like to win. (Those were both very real arguments I’ve had, by the way).

    Admittedly, neither of these topics mattered, yet I fought with such tenacity that you’d think we were arguing about life-or-death concerns. And while I will never run a marathon faster than Yohann Diniz can walk 50km (in 3:32:33), I was fighting to prove more than my “rightness.” I was fighting to assert that I had value. And while I knew that my insecurities came out in crazy ways, I couldn’t help myself. Why?

    Knowing you want to change a behavior is not enough to fix it. It takes true awareness.

    If knowledge were truly power, then we’d all be able to read a book and excel in every area of our lives. The truth is that knowledge doesn’t mean shit. Awareness and conscious choice are the true drivers of change.

    So how do you go from autopilot to conscious choice?

    1. Start with your beliefs.

    Take a look at the things you hold to be true about yourself, your partner, your life, etc. Do this by completing the following sentences:

    • I am ______.
    • The world is ______.
    • Relationships are ______.

    2. Watch how you confirm those beliefs.

    As we go through the world, information passes through an internal filter that either deletes, distorts, or generalizes what we perceive. This has positive and negative consequences. Since we’re hardwired to feel safe, we unconsciously try our best to eliminate any information that challenges the safety of certainty. This is true even when (and especially when) our beliefs are negative. For example, when I believed I was not worthy of love, I only saw the negative things people would do. I was only attracted to or attracted men who treated me as though I were unworthy. And when someone good came along, I’d act in a way that forced them to confirm my belief (ex. I’d pick fights and then get upset when he’d pull back.) To change this, you must look at how your beliefs play out from thought to reality, from start to finish.

    3. Accept responsibility.

    This is usually the part no one likes to hear. To be clear, this does not mean you should blame yourself. Accepting responsibility is THE MOST empowering step because it allows you to take charge of your life. Taking responsibility means not externalizing the events of your life. For example, years ago I dated a man who was a narcissist. Taking responsibility for this does not mean I deserved this or that I condone his behaviors. It means I see how my belief that I was not good enough resulted in my choosing someone who confirmed my fear. When we avoid responsibility, we repeat our mistakes over and over again. Nothing changes until we have the awareness to learn from it. Personally, I’d rather make new mistakes rather than repeat the old ones.

    4. Choose the results you want.

    This is where the magic happens. One you watch your process with awareness (from belief to outcome) you have the power of choice. True awareness makes it nearly impossible to continue behaviors that don’t serve you. In this step, instead of focusing on the actions to take, focus on the outcomes you want to create. 

    5. Change your beliefs to change your outcomes.

    Changing your beliefs isn’t easy. And it doesn’t come from trying to find evidence to the contrary. Why? Because if you believe something, you’ve amassed evidence to confirm it (See point #2). To change your beliefs, you need to reverse-engineer them. You can do this by choosing the outcome you want and adopting the beliefs that give you what you want. For every outcome, there is a belief that gets you there. Determine the root belief and act as if you were someone who has that belief. For example, someone who has a loving relationship believes that they are deserving of love. What are the actions a person who believes they deserve love take? Are they good at setting boundaries?  Do they they prioritize self-care? Are they effective communicators? 

    Belief + Complementary Actions = Desired Outcome

    Beliefs don’t just happen. They take time to develop, whether consciously or unconsciously. When they are examined with awareness, you have the power to create the behaviors, the outcomes, and the life that you desire.  And while it may seem like a lot of work to change your beliefs, I ask you this: Are your beliefs doing you any favors? Cause if they aren’t, it’s time to make them work for you instead of against you.