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.”