The Social Animal
We are lonely.
In New York City, where I live, I'm surrounded by people every day. On the street, on the subway, there's never a second when I'm not alone.
But there is a difference between being around people and really connecting with people. Physical proximity and social cyberspace aren't substitutes for relationship, and we as a culture are starting to feel the weight of that truth. It's part of the reason, in my opinion, that Starbucks has become the corporate and cultural giant it has. You can make coffee at home, but the community that Starbucks provides- a fundamental component of their mission statement, by the way- draws people in droves.
Still, we pick up our latte and sit alone with our computers, rather than talk to those around us. Or we go out to dinner with a friend or spouse sneaking glances at the people one table over, rather than saying hello and striking up a conversation.
The reality is, we are social animals. Just like dogs that sniff and roll around with each other as a means of introduction, we too long to get close and personal. That's not to say we should start nuzzling strangers at cocktail parties, but we've gone to the other extreme, becoming isolationists in a social context.
In my practice, I've recently started suggesting social interaction along with personal introspection as a recipe for progress and growth. And it's working! Joining a choir, establishing a Friday morning coffee group, participating in a hiking club and volunteering are really making a difference in the lives of my clients.
It's not just benefitting them individually, but their marriages and partnerships as well. Without realizing it, our loneliness has caused us to expect too much from the one relationship we do consciously allow ourselves to look and long for. That bridge isn't built to carry that much weight though, so all too often it collapses under the pressure.
But when we recognize the difference between our relational needs and our foundational social needs, and fulfill them both via the proper channels, everyone thrives. Our lives become more rich, and we feel more fulfilled.
Not that that's going to stop me from going to Starbucks every morning... : )