I had interacted with hundreds of people all day. Between this site and my Facebook page and Instagram and my various mastermind groups on Facebook and my local “Christian Crunchy Mamas” group on Facebook, I was peopled out.
Except I wasn’t.
Instead of feeling full and energized (what human interactions are supposed to do for extroverts like me), I was overwhelmed with loneliness.
I texted a friend who lives 20 minutes away–a friend who I see a splattering of Sundays each month for a few minutes after the church service but interact with more online or via text. We both have young kids–7 between us, with both of our oldest children being in kindergarten. It’s hard for either of us to “get out” much.
“Do you ever feel lonely?” I asked.
Her reply came within seconds: “Always.”
I texted back: “Me too. All the time.”
In a world where our online communities are crowded, it’s hard to believe that anyone could ever feel disconnected.
Yet for all that online interaction technology brings–with anyone, anytime, anywhere–perhaps this generation is lonelier than ever.
And part of me wonders if it isn’t because this world is more connected than ever.
In talking with several more friends about this lack of real-life community, it seems I’m not alone in this feeling of disconnect.
Another friend came over with her kids a few days back–for the first time in a really long time. We live in the same town–5 minutes apart. Our girls are in kindergarten together at the university model school, and maybe once in a while we will see each other in car line.
When our girls were toddlers and we were new to being stay-at-home moms, we would get together for play dates several times per week. Before the advent of so many social media groups, it was how we survived those hard days of motherhood. We learned from each other in real time, in real life.
But as the girls have gotten older, we’ve stopped initiating so much. “It’s almost like we take for granted that we live right here and could get together at any time,” she said.
And what happens is that we barely end up hanging out in person. It takes more intentionality than it used to, and we are social media-ed out.
I wonder how it was with our grandparents’ generation. They didn’t have Facebook or other forms of social media connecting them to every single person they had ever met over the course of their entire lifetimes.
I would venture to think they did community with a tight-knit circle of those who were actually in their communities–those neighbors who could stop by and sip sweet tea alongside them on their front porches. Perhaps the other moms at their children’s schools. The ladies in their prayer groups and sewing circles.
Those who they ran into at the store and saw each and every day.
People naturally floated in and out of their lives, as it was much harder to keep up communication once an acquaintance moved away. The expectations to keep up lifelong friendships with hundreds of people just wasn’t there.
I ask myself: Are we “friends” with too many people? Are so many people vying for our attentions that it’s impossible to go deep when we’re already stretched so wide?
Even as an extrovert, sometimes my online world feels so crowded that I find myself almost feeling suffocated from all of the noise.
I counted, and even after deleting over 500 “friends” from my personal Facebook account a few months back, I am still a member of over 130 Facebook groups. 130! I am not active in every single one of those groups (and I need to delete many of them), but still…that is giving hundreds of people in those groups easy access to my life. Easy access to tag me whenever they want, to ask me whatever they want, to take some of my time and create their agendas for my day.
(As a blogger, it happens. My people pleasing-ness is constantly at war with the desire to not even check private messages on Facebook, as they pile up with those who want to “pick my brain” and who make requests like: “Since you have such a big page on Facebook, would you please post this article of mine to get my blog traffic as well?”)
I feel rude even writing this, but in the spirit of transparency, I must say: Can we give each other a little breathing room in our online interactions, so we can breathe new life into our homes, our families and our real-live communities?
Even as I count the number of Facebook groups I am in, I count the number of real-life relationships I have neglected.
She lives less than three hours away, but I haven’t seen my college roommate and best friend in over two years.
She’s been back visiting the U.S. for several months now, but I have yet to see one of my other best friends, who is on furlough from serving as a missionary in South Asia.
I will Skype with my business partner (who is also a friend, so I don’t regret that) on a regular basis, yet I rarely Skype with my sister who lives in Argentina, and I think I probably only Skyped with my brother and sister-in-law twice in the two years they lived in India.
Yes, ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.
Instead of pouring into these most precious of precious relationships, I find that I’m pulled into whomever has private messaged me on Facebook or tagged me in a group. These people are usually acquaintances at best–those who want to take advantage of my blogging platform at worst.
It’s all left me feeling lost in a crowded, online community while my real-life community is lacking.
Something has to change. I don’t know what. I do not have the answers. But the essence of real community is real-life relationships.
There is nothing wrong with online communities. In fact, I think web-based communities and the blogging world in general can be a lifeline to lonely, stay-at-home moms.
But they shouldn’t become a replacement for in-the-flesh relationships:
The types of relationships that induce soul-baring conversation and deep belly laughs–all within the same evening. Community that takes place when you can both see the steam roll off the top of your coffee mugs, both hear the crunch of leaves under your feet on a walk, both feel the wind chap your faces in the snow, as you watch your kids build little Olafs right outside your door.
I can continue to give every excuse in the book: I’m so busy running two online businesses, I am a mom of young kids, my church family is so scattered since we draw from so many different cities…
Or I can be intentional with the community that’s right in front of me: The neighbor whose sister just passed away. The other neighbor who just had surgery. The babysitter who is waiting for word that her adoption is final. The mentor who helps me organize my home. The friends whose children are the same ages as my children–who are going through the same challenges and celebrating the same victories as I am, in the here and now.
After a good couple hours of real-life conversation the other day, my friend text messaged me: “We need to have a potluck soon.”
“Yeah,” I wrote back. “Yeah, we do.”
I just have to respond with a resounding, “Amen.” I’m not a blogger. I am not a part of more than a half dozen groups of FB. But loneliness, I get, and way too much! When I try to get together with others, they are always too busy. Or they cancel last minute because another something in life is stressing them out. Somehow we as women have got to help one another see that we need one another and we must make time to have these relationships. Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone. I needed to hear that today.
This is the number one reason that I’m reluctant to get into blogging. I know it’s recommended to become a writer but I don’t want to spend hours on the computer doing instagram, pinterest, etc. I’ve purposely avoided all of those except facebook, because it’s not how I want to spend my time. I appreciate the online community a lot but it seems to come with a price.
Well, this was interesting. I keep debating with myself as to if I should start a blog or not, and you have perfectly described the reasons I don’t want to. Lately, I find myself trying to limit my time on social media, as I find it odd that people I never speak to know details about my life from things that I post. And I think, surely, this is messed up. I like getting to keep in touch with old friends, but I don’t like that I know details about the lives of people I see every day, yet I don’t truly “know” the person. It’s not someone I ever hang out with or, maybe never see them outside the pickup line at my kids school, but I know so much about them it scares me some. I don’t want to spend my time “liking” someone’s post, particularly if it’s not something they would actually tell me in person. So, as I debate starting a blog, I wonder how much more I’ll get pulled into social media. My oldest, who we began allowing to use social media about a year ago, is rarely on it. He’s more into facetiming or skyping with his friends, and I really think I can learn a lesson or two from him….
Heather @ My Overflowing Cup
Thanks, Erin, for sharing this very honest glimpse into your life with us. As I am still a newbie-blogger, my online relationships aren’t making me feel burdened yet. I appreciate your advice because I never want to get to that point. I want to always love writing, sharing, blogging, and connecting with others. I think that you bring up a very good point that I need to be intentional about not letting my online relationships come before the live ones right in front of me. It’s all about balance. The question is, how do we find that balance? I’m certain that it will look different for each of us, but by asking the question, we know we are off to a good start. I appreciate your advice, Erin. Thank you.
Lisa @ This Pilgrim Life
Thank you so much for your honesty and transparency. I am sure so many of us are in the same boat. I struggle with wanting to get together with people (to get to know them since we are still new-ish in our town) and then feeling overwhelmed if I’ve filled our schedule too much.
I completely agree that the face to face encounters have something that can’t be felt across a screen. I am very thankful, though, for the community that I have found online. As with everything, balance is key.
Thanks again for sharing this and helping me to not feel so alone in feeling alone. 😉
Thank you for this article. Amen to everything.
Brittany at Equipping Godly Women
Wow!! That’s a LOT of friends and groups! I have less than 100 FB friends and maybe 10 groups and I still want to delete some. I unfollowed a ton of blogs too. It’s all too distracting, and it’s too easy to get sucked in.
Thanks for writing this! I…am there. I know what you mean about being too friendly with too many people. However as an introvert I love being online. Real life is HARD for me. MOPS is so HARD when we do “ice breakers” and I have honestly hid in the bathroom during them (so hard to admit!). Yet I know I ‘should’ have these in-person connections. I just don’t. I struggle because it is so hard to make them. I am uncomfortable to make phone calls and to just be real with people, ugh. But then they don’t call ME so I forget to call THEM and so on…and it’s hard to be the one to make the first step. sigh. I’m rambling. An online community was SO valuable with my first born. I worked full time in an office and so I couldn’t find groups that fit in my schedule. I can only attend MOPS now because I don’t work outside the home. So often it seems the world is geared towards SAHMs only. The internet is great for busy people.
As a SAHM I find it difficult to have ‘real’ relationships. Our mops group has disbanded and the nearest one is over 30 miles away. I don’t have any friends. Its not from a lack of trying. I just don’t fit in. So i have found that online friendships work well for me. I’m not lonely.
I’m so sorry to hear it disbanded! Do you have a church more local to you? We are in the process of visiting a church closer to us, so I can get more in-person community. But what works for one doesn’t work for all. I’m so glad you’ve found a great online community!
I have tried to reconnect with a few friends since our friendships started to solely rely on social media, and it’s been hard! I didn’t want to place too much pressure on them if they weren’t also wanting to make more of an investment – because ultimately, that’s what it came down to. They can invest their time on their phones and computers, “connecting” with people in the slots of time they pieced together while waiting in line, lying in bed, going to the bathroom (!), whatever. Or, they can invest their time by physically being present somewhere at a certain time with one person (or a few) and not being able to multitask. That’s a big investment to ask of someone! One person for an hour over coffee “going deep” or 100+ people over an hour “checking in”. I’ll take the one person in a heartbeat! Sadly, the trick is just finding someone else willing to make that investment. 🙁
Recently there was a video floating around the internet that talked about this. I wrote down some of the lines and keep it on my desktop to see each time I open my computer. Here is a little snippet:
…we’re collecting friends like stamps, not distincting quantity versus quality, and converting the deep meaning and intimacy of friendship with exchanging photos and chat conversations. By doing so, we’re sacrificing conversation for mere connection. and so a paradoxical situation is created in which we claim to have many friends while actually being lonely. We slip into thinking that always being connected is going to make us feel less alone, but we are at risk because the opposite is true: if we are not able to be alone, we are only going to know how to be lonely.
WOW, Tara! That quote is right on!! I have been so convicted in this area lately and am enjoying more deeper community (in real life!) this year!
I am involved with a small local nonprofit called Maia Moms that helps single mothers and their children get on the path to self-sufficiency. We currently have 5 families in our program, and although we help them financially and with Life Skills classes, the most important part of our program is to match them with a team of 2-3 mentors. These mentors (we call them Mom Coaches) just do life with them, loving them and leading by example. We require that our Mom Coaches contact the mom at least once a week and do something in person at least once a month, but we find that inevitably the relationship becomes much closer than just meeting the requirements. Nothing says “I care” and “You are special” like showing up in person on a regular basis.
Beautifully said! I have felt the same about FB for years and wrote a very similar post over a year ago called, Why I’m Deleting My Facebook The Day My Child Starts Kindergarten. http://mytalesfromthecrib.blogspot.com/2013/08/why-im-deleting-facebook-day-my-child.html It’s one of the most popular posts on my blog! I’ve always been a SAHM so I know all too well how hard it can be to carve out alone time but when I was on FB I was getting frustrated with how many strangers or even friends who had become just casual online acquaintances over the years were taking up my precious free time that I’d rather be giving to myself or my family. I have a very small blog that doesn’t get many readers (only 17 followers!haha!) and rarely gets comments that are real comments and not just spam and even when I had a facebook page dedicated to the blog I didn’t have much back and forth interaction on there except for a few real life mom friends and my own mom of course! haha! As a mom blogger, this used to reeeeeally bother me. I couldn’t figure out how and why some blogs had so much traffic and comments and community and mine just had crickets. I couldn’t for the life of me seem to create that regular back and forth. Now when I read posts like yours about feeling swallowed up by that and all the time these things take and the time strangers demand (for lack of a better word) I find myself being grateful for how things happen for a reason. I’m not the type of person to handle that kind of demand on my time, I guess. Well written post! I enjoyed reading it!
Dana @ Midwest Buds
What fills us-up can sure change over time. I find often listening to podcasts and periscopes gives me the same mental stimulation that an personal email used to provide. I sure enjoy online communities more than I ever thought I would. I wonder what will become of this in another 10-20 years… 🙂
It feels impossible to make real true friends in my age group as a stay at home mom. I crave it badly. I’m thankful for social media but I also wonder what life would be like if I could pick up the phone and talk to someone for hours on end like we used to do rather than already know everything about every one.