By, Stephanie Mitton
I’m an extrovert who’s been a bridesmaid in seven weddings. I’m married with two kids. I have one sister and 14 first cousins. And of course, like many of us, I live in a house surrounded by hundreds of neighbours.
Still, despite all these relationships, I find myself at times struggling with loneliness.
Perhaps you bristle at the thought of describing yourself as lonely. It sounds so sad and isolating. Me lonely? Never. But it’s important to be honest with ourselves. When I look back at my two maternity leaves, I struggled to create a new community of new moms, and being home often felt very isolating.
According to a recent CBC article, studies have found that one in five Canadians identify as being lonely. This issue spills across borders. In 2018, the U.K. appointed a Minister for Loneliness - a dedicated government official to target this serious health concern.
Gone are the days as a young woman when I had endless opportunities to hang out with my friends on the weekend. Hours spent lip synching, watching and making movies, and dancing to Destiny’s Child are long gone.
Now as an adult woman, I live a busy life, with work and family responsibilities and far less time to nurture relationships with girlfriends.
Ironically, it feels like the time of my life that I need girlfriends the most. Through difficult pregnancies, the ups and downs of marriage, the loss of family members, professional accomplishments and loss, as well as most recently, personal illness, I have needed them to listen and support my journey.
Many of us are lucky if we steal a phone call here and there with a friend, let alone physically get together. Social media, Netflix, podcasts and blogs have become the go to source for many of us to gather inspiration and understanding for our busy lives. But this doesn't fill the need for personal connection - listening ears and thoughtful advice is starkly missing from our lives in a meaningful way.
So, what can we do about it? I see two issues: how to find friends AND how to find time to connect with them.
How to find friends…
1. Build on existing connections - Work, cultural and faith communities have built in connections that you can lean on, even if you are new!
2. Create new connections - Volunteer, sign up for extra-curricular activities (art, sports etc.), join a special interest group online (for example, we own a Mini Cooper and there is a group on Facebook for people who own Mini’s in our city and they plan events). Suggestions for parents: join parent council, extra curricular activities and play groups.
3. Step out of your comfort zone - You WILL have to step out of your comfort zone, this can be especially hard for introverts. A friend of mine once moved to a new area and constantly remarked how she had no friends and no one ever invited their family over, I asked if they had ever invited someone to their house and they said no. I of course empathised with her, but it was time for her to take action if she wanted to start to build meaningful friendships. YOU have a role to play and it IS uncomfortable but the rewards are worth it!
4. Don’t be a jerk - Let new people into your life and into your friendship circle, if you don’t have the capacity, help that person make connections, for example, introduce them to someone you know that has the same interests as them. Cliques were NOT cool in highschool and they are NOT cool now.
Get creative, the possibilities of how to meet new people are endless!
How to make time...
1. Stop the mom guilt!!! By spending time with friends on a periodic basis you are NOT going to harm your child. First off, kids enjoy playing with babysitters. If your spouse can’t handle your children alone, there’s even MORE reason to go out as they are also a parent and your children need one-on-one time with them too (and if you were a man we would likely NOT be having this conversation). A happy mom is a good thing for your whole family so take advantage of the chance to teach your kids life lessons about self care and how to be a good friend. Rant over.
2. Prioritize - If you don’t prioritize your friendships you will never make time to connect.
3. Time is limited - You can have many acquaintances but limited close friendships, there is only so much time in a day. Take some time to consider how many people you can maintain close friendships with and who they are.
4. Schedule - Plan ahead and book time with friends or it is NEVER going to happen. I love to use a free tool called Doodle that can help you find dates that work for everyone. Better yet, if you get together with girlfriends, before the night is over book your next get together.
5. Call in support - Hire a babysitter or call in a favour (I know some families that babysit for each other, it’s free AND the kids have friends to play with). Getting a sitter is a great idea for not only going out but also staying in. I have had house parties with multiple families where I have hired a sitter to keep the kids safe and entertained in the basement while the adults actually visit upstairs. Keep an ongoing list of people to call, it's one less thing to think about.
6. Create a reason - My friends from university who are still local get together in person for each of our birthdays, with busy work and family lives, the four times a year helps us stay connected. We also go on an annual trip that is planned well in advance and friends join us from out of town. I know other friends who get together for trivia night or play soccer weekly, killing two birds with one stone: exercise and friendship!
7. Technology - Technology can keep us connected when getting together in person is a limited option. Instead of just connecting on social media try setting up a phone call, Facetime or use tools such as Voxer - a walkie talkie app. Between our get togethers for our birthdays and annual trips, my university friends stay connected through Voxer. We leave each other long messages when we have time and then the rest of us listen when we have time, it's a great way to stay connected when busy and on the go. It was weird at first but we all got used to it and love it.
You’ve heard it before: prioritize more and say no more often. This means that you may be on the receiving end of busy friends who prioritize different things - meaning not you. Don’t take it personally. You can always go back to step one and find friends who do have time to walk through life with you. But remember, kids end up home sick or unplanned work commitments come up, and sometimes it feels like your get-together is rescheduled a million times. If you value this person as a friend, be understanding, and with persistence it WILL happen!
Meaningful friendships are imperative to surviving life's challenges. I hope that this post helps you consider how to find friends and how to find time to connect with them. I would love to hear any tips you have to share, please leave a comment!
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”- Helen Keller