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Tomás Ondarra
Don't be shy, this is how to avoid being lonely
Health

Don't be shy, this is how to avoid being lonely

One solution to this involuntary solitude is to give yourself the challenge of making one good friend a year

Julio Arrieta

Madrid

Friday, 24 May 2024, 14:11

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In an interconnected world, where we have become used to accumulating hundreds of 'friends' on social media who accompany us 24/7 from the phone in our back pocket, loneliness has become a problem. To the extent that there is a staggering number of studies about its different variants, among which chronic loneliness is the most alarming. The remedy has been known since the ancient world: making friends, good ones if possible. In a recent article, American psychotherapist Emma Nadler, author of The Unlikely Village of Eden: A Memoir, goes one step further and proposes that, if we feel alone, we can give ourselves the goal of making one good friend per year.

We human beings are social animals and we need reciprocal contact in order to feel well. In his treatise On Friendship, Marcus Tullius Cicero already wrote over 2,000 years ago that loneliness is a tragedy. If "some god separated us from this multitude of men," he posed, "and placed us somewhere in isolation, and there, granting us abundance and a collection of all the things that nature desires, completely took away from us the possibility of ever seeing a person, who would be so tough as to be able to bear this life, and from whom would loneliness not take the fruit of all pleasures?" Friendship, however, "contains many great things: wherever you turn, it is within reach, from no place is it excluded, it is never untimely, it is never a nuisance". "Friendship does not only make favourable things more splendid, but also adverse ones lighter, sharing them and carrying them together."

Not all friends are equal. In fact, the issue has also been the object of scientific study. The social brain hypothesis, by psychologist and evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar (1998) "affirms that, naturally, we can only form a small number of very intimate friendships (a close circle of around five people), another group of good friends (or sympathy group, formed by some 12-15 individuals) and a wide one of around 150 friends and acquaintances on our active social media," understood as those with whom contact is maintained more than once a year.

Quality

"However, what matters isn't the number of relationships, but the quality of the connection," Emma Nadler points out. For this reason, this psychotherapist encourages her patients who feel lonely to give themselves the goal of establishing one good friendship a year. It can be a new one, but also the renewal of another that has been neglected for no particular reason. The specialist offers 5 pieces of advice to launch yourself into finding that friend this year.

1 Re-establish contact with friends with whom you have disconnected almost without realising it, for various reasons: family responsibilities, a demanding job, "pandemic restrictions"... "Call, send a text message, write a letter, send a postcard" to these people, Nadler says.

2 Make a specific request to connect: the "let's see if we can meet one of these days" commitment that we throw out when running into an old acquaintance on the street, is not worth it. "One of these days" means nothing. If we are interested in strengthening contact with a person, it is better to say "hey, are you free any Sunday this month for a coffee?" "Being more explicit about plans works," the psychotherapist assures.

3 To avoid wasting time, identify who is really willing to start a good friendship: "Just like in a romantic relationship, devoting energy to a person who is not emotionally available leads to disconnection." Basically, it's about noticing who accepts the plans that you put forward without complaining too much or stalling by default. "Try to not take it personally, but nor should you make too much of an effort with someone who cannot comply."

4 Establish a set time to meet a friend: it can be a weekly routine like going to the gym, or some creative activity. Climbing a hill or going on a weekly walk. The key is that it is unavoidable, Nadler states. Regular meetings "provide a sense of wellbeing, structure and belonging".

5 Enjoy the present and offer appreciation. "Be curious about your companion's life and experiences," the therapist says. "Don't be shy when it comes to expressing the affection that you feel for your friend and why the relationship is important to you." It is also good to give thanks when the other person has listened to our problems and has offered us their advice. "This gratitude strengthens your bond and has been shown to deepen the connection and awaken a greater interest in the relationship," she points out.

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