As a result of having faced persistent loneliness over the past two years (more on that here), I have developed a completely new way of thinking about women I meet. When I meet someone for the first time, I think to myself:
“Assume she’s lonely.”
If she’s beautiful and looks like she’s all put together, I assume she’s lonely. If she looks like a frazzled hot mess, I assume she’s lonely. If she has a bunch of kids and her days are full of caring for them, I assume she’s lonely. If she’s single or married without kids, I assume she’s lonely. If she has family in town, I assume she’s lonely. If she has family out of town, I assume she’s lonely. If her marriage looks strong and loving, I assume she’s lonely. If her marriage looks like it’s crumbling, I assume she’s lonely. If she has an amazing job, I assume she’s lonely. If she doesn’t have a job, I assume she’s lonely.
When I meet someone, no matter how she appears, what her life looks like from the outside, or how I perceive her, I assume she’s lonely.
I genuinely hope she’s not. I hope she has a great support system, a community she can lean on, and family and friends she trusts. But I know–I know because I’ve lived it–that loneliness is pervasive among women. And lonely women don’t always “look” or “seem” lonely.
Why we assume she’s not lonely
When I’m out of the house, I usually look relatively pulled together (the same can not be said when I’m in the house!). I’m friendly and upbeat, and I try to be warm and conversational. I think if I had met me in the past two years, I would’ve assumed that I have a happy life with lots of close relationships. And yet, upon peeling back that outermost layer, a very different reality is revealed. Behind my smile and neat ponytail you’d see that I have felt more broken, alone, empty, and lonely in the past two years than I ever have before in my life. I am not unique in this.
Because I’ve shared openly about my own loneliness in my Rooted series, I’ve received messages from many women who feel the same way. Friends, I have received dozens and dozens and dozens of emails, letters, and messages from lonely women this year. If you’re lonely, I promise there are a hundred other women in your life who feel lonely too. If you’re not lonely, I promise there are a hundred other women in your life who are. I have been floored by how many women don’t feel like they have close relationships in their day-to-day lives.
Most messages I receive are from women who, from the outside, “have it all.” The email or letter will start off like, “I’m in a great relationship, I love where I live, and my job is awesome, but I have realized that I’m so, so lonely.” I caution against making the assumption that a person is not lonely because of the way her life appears from the outside. If any assumption is to be made, the safest one is to assume she’s lonely. I think you’d be surprised at how many of us are.
A little science: Loneliness is invisible, but it is destructive and dangerous and very real. New studies show that chronic loneliness can be as damaging as obesity and can increase the risk for early death by up to 45 percent (source). To learn more about the negative effects of loneliness, check out this article: Loneliness Might Be A Bigger Health Risk Than Smoking Or Obesity.
All the science is interesting (and there is a lot of it), but I don’t need facts to demonstrate the heavy pain and far-reaching effects of loneliness–I’ve lived it! I know it firsthand! Because of my experience, when I meet a new woman, I now assume she’s lonely.
What does this look like practically?
Honestly, pre-Gainesville Blair didn’t do any of the things I’m about to share below. I am introverted and I don’t like making small talk. I really like being around people I know and who know me. Strangers often make me feel stressed out. Turns out, moving to a place where nearly everyone is a stranger and you don’t have any friends shifts your perspective! (Who knew?)
I’ve become much, much more intentional about reaching out to new women I meet because I know what it feels like to feel left out and forgotten. Loneliness is often not the result of a lack of effort as pre-Gainesville Blair always assumed. Sometimes, a person is truly trying to get connected but can’t seem to make it happen. I know this to be true firsthand! Here are some pragmatic ways to act on the assume she’s lonely principle.
Strike up a conversation
I hate small talk, and approaching people I don’t know isn’t my favorite thing, but I do it now. When you meet someone new, make conversation. About anything. The weather, your favorite food, what’s on TV, the latest Instagram update, the new gas station in town, anything. Just open the door to conversation! How many friends do you have where you think back on your first conversation and laugh about how ridiculous it was? I can think of several. Opening the door to conversation is the first step to opening the door to friendship.
ASK HER QUESTIONS
This one is in capital letters for a reason. Over the past two years, I’ve met a lot of women. And yet, as many of you know, I have very, very few friends here in town (like maybe two or three not including my sisters-in-law!). I’m going to risk sounding rude saying this, but I’m going to say it anyway: nearly every woman I’ve met here has introduced herself to me and then talked about herself nonstop for the rest of the conversation. As if I don’t feel out-of-the-loop enough already, I then have to listen to how their entire family is in town, all of their friends are in town, they know every inch of the city, what I’m going to love in town because they love it, what I’m going to hate in town because they hate it, etc, etc, etc.
Listen: I’m not looking for an extensive personal interview, but a few friendly questions would fall into the framework of normal social etiquette if you ask me. And this does NOT include questions that are planted catalysts for the asker to start talking down another path of her life! (I told you I was going to be rude. Or honest. You decide.) Almost no one I’ve met here knows a single thing about me! I remember crying to Riley a few months ago that no one in town even knew I had a blog!!! The ridiculousness of that statement is far-reaching. Blogging is a huge part of my life and identity, and here I was almost two years in a city, having met dozens of people, and almost not a single one knew about my blog!
As tough as this entire “get rooted” process has been, this is a piece of it that I’m truly thankful for. It’s changed me so deeply. When I meet someone new, I ask her a thousand questions. I ask why she’s in town, where she grew up, how long she’s been married. I ask about where she’s living, what she does for a living, what her daily life is like. I ask her what she’s interested in, what her family is like, what her kid’s names mean. I ask question after question after question. When a person feels known, loneliness dissolves. Let that sink in: when a person feels known, loneliness dissolves.
Ask for her number
When I meet someone new, I try not to wait until the next time I see her, I try not let awkwardness stand in the way, I try not to wonder if she’ll think I’m weird, I try to get her number. There are for sure circumstances where this would be weird and/or inappropriate, but there are also a lot of situations where it makes sense. If the only reason you’re not asking for her number is because you feel awkward asking, that’s probably not a good enough excuse. 😉
Text her a few hours or days later
After I’ve met someone new, I usually text her that it was nice to meet her and see if we can get together for coffee or lunch sometime later in the week/over the weekend (especially if we “clicked” during our initial conversation). An easy way to do this, especially if you or she is new to the area, is to say something like, “Have you tried that new ice cream shop in town? It just opened up last week. We should grab milkshakes one afternoon this week!”
If I’m unsure whether we have enough in common to converse for an hour or more, I’ll sometimes try to make light conversation over text later in the week just to establish friendly banter. That way, when we see each other next, we have something to talk about. Sometimes this leads to a comfort level that opens up the door for getting together.
Be overly welcoming
I’ve never heard someone say “She was just too welcoming, you know?” And I never will. People want to feel like they belong. We’re hard-wired that way! When someone new comes to whatever groups, organizations, companies, neighborhoods, clubs, etc. that you’re a part of, try to go out of your way to be welcoming. Introduce her to everyone in the room. Ask if you can get her some food or a drink. Ask if you can give her a tour around the building. Invite her into your home. See if she needs anything from you. Ask if you can take her out to lunch. Ask if you can help her unpack or paint her new home. Assume she’s lonely, and go from there.
My new friend story
A few weeks ago, a noticed a new couple at church. After the service, I made a beeline for them so I could introduce myself and meet them. I did everything listed above–I asked a thousand questions, learned all about their marriage and life and new baby, heard their baby’s birth story (which you KNOW I loved!), learned why they’d moved to Gainesville, found out about their jobs, etc. We chatted for an hour and a half! By the end of the conversation, the wife and I had each other’s numbers, were following each other on Instagram, and were friends on Facebook!
Later that same day, I texted her and asked if she and her family would be available to come over for dinner the following Friday. She accepted my invitation, and on Friday, they came over. We talked for almost six hours that night! We have so much in common it’s almost unbelievable! We both have blogs, studied Spanish in college, dated our husbands long-distance, are obsessed with essential oils…the list goes on. Our names and wedding dresses are even similar! Toward the end of the night, I told her I’d hope to see her at church on Sunday but that I understood if they were still “church shopping.” Immediately she replied that they had decided on the ride home from church the previous week to make our church their new one. She said something like, “I immediately felt so welcomed. I knew it was where we were meant to be.”
I’m not taking credit for that–God is responsible for leading His children to their church homes. However, we are the hands and feet of Jesus, are we not? How many people have I assumed were not lonely instead of assuming they are? How many couples have visited [whatever organization/group I’m a part of] and never returned because they didn’t feel welcomed? Because I didn’t make the effort? Because I wrongly assumed they weren’t lonely? How much of that is on me? Some of it. Some of it is on me.
This new friend and I have continued to get to know each other over the past couple of weeks. Our young friendship is already a huge gift to me. (I can’t wait to share more about this answered prayer in my August: Rooted video!) B, if you’re reading this, I’m so thankful for you! <<And she actually may be reading this because, wouldn’t you know it? She knows I have a blog! 😉
Perfection not required
As with any and all relationships, there is some degree of awkwardly stumbling around in the dark when approaching someone new or starting a new friendship. Let’s you and me both be the kind of women who push into stumbling because we’re trying. Let’s try to reach out our hands and hearts. Let’s try to stand in the gap for other women. In our self-centeredness and ignorance, let’s try not to assume that everyone around us is joyful and surrounded by community, even if they look like they are.
Those of you who have been following along with my story know what this move has meant for me. It has taken me to the absolute end of myself. These days and months are not ones I would like to relive; loneliness has made me feel like a defeated, deflated shell of a person going through the motions of life on so many occasions. And yet, this experience has taught me lessons I could never have learned otherwise.
In the past, I’ve always had a group of friends and a strong community around me. Always. During those years, I was completely blind to the lonely women. It makes my heart break in two just considering how many people I’ve overlooked in the past. I am deeply changed by this experience. Deeply, forever changed.
In fact, my pastor’s wife and I are brainstorming some kind of group in Gainesville for women who are new to the area. We’re talking about creating a way, somehow, for the lonely women to come together and find support. This fires me up like I can’t tell you. We are in the very earliest stages of brainstorming right now, but if I could be a part of something like this–all this pain would have been worth it. To help just one woman get connected so she wouldn’t have to be lonely would make this whole thing worth it.
And so, I urge you: when you meet someone new, assume she’s lonely. And then, if you’re able, do something about it.
// Can you think of a time when you wish others had assumed you were lonely? Or a time when you’ve assumed another woman was lonely and were right? What’s your experience with loneliness been?
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