Loneliness Epidemic: People Need Other People—Especially Offline

By Becky EbertMay 15, 2023

We live in an exceptional time when it comes to connection. Talking to or working with someone who lives halfway across the world is made easy by our phones and laptops. We can reach out to another person in seconds by sending a text, commenting on a post, or writing an email. But even with this rather instant connection, many people are feeling lonely. 

It was reported this month that nearly half of US adults are experiencing loneliness, and that number is even higher for teenagers and young adults. While we spend significant time online conversing with others, that doesn’t seem to replace our need for more old-school connections—like making and eating a meal with someone, having a face-to-face conversation over a cup of coffee, or going for a walk together.

It took a pandemic for me to really own up to the fact that I need people. And even more recently, that I need to be around them in a face-to-face sense. I’m pretty hyper when it comes to independence. I grew up fast and made a point to be there for others while trying to not need them in the same way. I was hellbent on taking care of myself because the alternative seemed (in my mind) to translate to inconveniencing another and opening myself up to the potential of being let down, or worse, abandoned.

I’m not saying I was a recluse, closed off from hanging out with others or participating in society. I did, however, at least in a sense, view social interactions as more of a give and less of a take. I gave what I could: empathy, love, sarcasm, encouragement, and energy. I often left those interactions feeling depleted (“masking” comes to mind, but that’s a story for a different day). I chalked it up to being an introvert.

In addition to that, over the years, I’ve gathered a gaggle of friends who live anywhere from a six-hour drive to a nine-hour flight away. Basically, I was making internet friends well before it was seen as cool or normal, and I’m happy to say they’ve all worked out so far. While those relationships include trips and side-by-side adventures, much of our time spent together is through a screen. Texting. Recording voice memos. And sometimes a FaceTime call on the off-chance I’m feeling open to it. This format hasn’t hindered our vulnerability nor our ability to be transparent and honest and to build up trust and love. It has, however, left a bit of a hole that I’m just now admitting is real and caused by something that is lacking.

While I do still believe I am an introvert in some shape or form (introspection is really great and I do recommend it), I recognize that what has caused this feeling of emptiness is a lack of in-person connection in the age of technology. Nothing can top seeing the people I adore through just my eyes—sans screen or filter. Hearing their voices with zero distortion. Sitting next to or embracing them. Smelling their perfume or the meal they’re eating. Being able to know, just by how they’re holding themselves, if they’re in a good or not-so-good headspace. Social cues are exceptionally telling and kind of magical.

Now, I do have people around me. I don’t live alone, a select number of friends are just minutes away, and my family is even closer. I’m lucky to have those people within reach, actual reach. So while I wish with the depths of my heart that Elizabeth and Delaina and Chelsea and Katy and many others lived closer, I am leaning into what I do have here and now. I’m making a point to have dinner parties where we plan, cook, and eat together. I’m being “needy” and asking someone to get coffee or go see a movie with me. I’m giving my all when the opportunity for a hug presents itself.

I’m letting myself need other people.

And perhaps it’s similar for you. You’re a student taking online classes. You’re in a long-distance or online relationship or you use a dating app in hopes of finding a partner. Your passion has taken you to another state or country. You work remotely. Maybe one or some parts of your daily life leave you feeling lonesome. So my call to you is not to abandon technology (it isn’t all doom and gloom) or move elsewhere (unless you want to), but to at least notice the loneliness and unmet needs and find ways to invite people into those spaces that deserve to be filled with a physical presence.

Within the advisory released by the US Surgeon General is an outline for a strategy to address the epidemic of loneliness. The steps are to be tackled by people in positions of influence, who have the power to enact the change that we’re being told is needed. The six main pillars include:

  1. Enhancing social infrastructure (parks, libraries, and public programs)
  2. Enacting public policies at all government levels to encourage connection (accessible public transportation and paid family leave)
  3. Supporting the health sector so it’s able to care for the medical issues connected to the loneliness epidemic
  4. Reshaping the digital landscape through critical evaluation of our use of technology
  5. Expanding our understanding of the concern via in-depth research and studies
  6. Cultivating a culture of connection

That last one stands out to me. Why? Because it’s something we—you and me—can start doing right now without the funding, promises, or actions of politicians. We can start small, too. Maybe you can reach out to someone you love and trust this week and ask them to spend quality time together in the near future. Or, if you’re feeling bold, you can take a scary leap and look into joining a club, class, or support group. And if possible, enjoy that time intentionally, sans distractions (translation: leave the phone in your pocket, purse, car, etc.). See how you feel afterward. Was it more fulfilling than usual? Did the feeling of loneliness ebb a bit? Would you want to do it again?

There’s no harm in trying, but there does seem to be harm in ignoring the fact that we as people need other people. We all do.


You are not weak for wanting or needing support. If you’re seeking professional help, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected]

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Comments (4)

  1. Madonna Clifton

    I have the word “love” tattooed on my forearm. I never self-injured but I get it. I had so much internal pain I could not justify at times. I’m a bad ass warrior who overcame stuff that no one should ever be subjected to. Anyhow, isolation is not good for anyone. However, when you’ve been hurt, it’s your way to hide and protect yourself. I’m saying we stand up and connect! Anyone can reach out to me. Let’s do the opposite of what “shame” tells us! I’m here for you all. And just as a pendulum swings, the further you’ve been down the further you can rise! I write LOVE on my arm!

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Madonna!

      We love the tattoo and we are so grateful you’re willing to be vulnerable and honest. Thank you for existing. Thank you for being here. Thank you for wanting to help others know they’re not alone.

      With Hope,
      TWLOHA

      Reply  |  
  2. Cindy Russell

    Interesting

    Reply  |  
  3. Emily

    This hit home – thank you!

    Reply  |  
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