In which technology makes someone lonely, #8791239
December 4, 2017 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Geographically distant from my friends and family, most of my social communication is asynchronous. This makes me feel lonely and unheard. Is this normal?

My childhood and university friends have become more and more geographically dispersed in the intervening years since university (I'm in my early 30s) to the point that I had few local long-term connections left. Close to a year ago, I moved something like 2000 miles away from my hometown. Where I am now, I live alone, and other than my colleagues and SO I have little opportunity to have actual conversations with people in-person. Almost everyone else I regularly interact with lives at least a couple time zones away.

We work around this in different ways. I have some friends who do Skype/phone dates ever so often, which is great. Some of us have long email-threads going too. Most people in my life are available through Google Hangouts or WhatsApp, so we make good use of those tools. But it's not like talking to someone on the phone or in-person. I feel like I'm just yelling things into the void a fair bit - just because someone's online indicator is on doesn't mean that they're actually available. With some specific people, between the time zone issues and the asynchronous nature of Hangouts, we just end up talking past each other or sending random memes because there's too much time that passes between responses and we're too ADD.

There's not a lot of times where I can just tell someone something and have them react to it then and there. I can't just shoot the breeze with someone, or frankly just vent. Because people aren't a part of my day-to-day, I feel like most of what I share with them has to be positive, or significant, or at least not mundane. I feel kinda starved for what feels like reciprocal communication. It makes me feel needy, or as though I have unreasonable desires for attention. Even though my move was relatively recent, I've been in this situation for the better part of the decade and it's been wearing on me more and more.

It's 2017, I'm a millenial, I understand that texting and whatnot will always be part of my life. But it's as though I need to triage everything I could communicate to someone, in a way that people with live-in partners or family don't have to do. In addition to therapy, what can I do to start feeling better about this?
posted by blerghamot to Human Relations (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a particular reason you haven’t met anyone IRL in the past year other than colleagues & your SO? (I’m thinking disability, language differences etc).

If not, start meeting some people IRL, pronto - MeetUps, evening classes, anything really. In the short term, you’ll have some other people to talk idle chit chat with, longer term some of them will likely turn into people you can have real-time deeper conversations with.
posted by penguin pie at 1:08 PM on December 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's necessarily needy. It depends on whether you're always the first person to start a "conversation," how often do you do it, and how limited your friend pool is. I have a friend (who I see often in person!) who wants to chat every. single. day. because he has virtually no other friends. I've started responding less and less.

If you want to chit-chat back-and-forth about your day I've found that the best way is to be direct. "Hey, are you busy? Wanna chat?" Or "I miss talking to you on the phone, do you have time tonight?" This is not going to be realistic with people who have young children, though. I was unable to have a meaningful conversation with my long-distance best friend until her kid was five.

I agree that you need to put more energy into making RL friends though. It's really, really difficult to maintain friendships when you never or almost never see the person. Your needs aren't unreasonable, but these particular people may never be able to meet them.
posted by AFABulous at 1:15 PM on December 4, 2017

Response by poster: I've met people, but they're people I merely "see at things" - activity partners or other members of my professional association. Moving anything past acquaintance-level is hard because my own life isn't super full and I try to hide that I'm kinda boring, which is why it took a fairly long time to start meeting people.
posted by blerghamot at 1:17 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Part of this is what happens to people in their 30's.

But you don't have to buy into the tech story if those means of communication don't give you what you need. Those are not facts of life, they're products someone is selling. Use something that works for you. If you don't want to cold call people (although I see nothing wrong with that) message them and tell them to call you when they're not busy. See who's on your wavelength.
posted by bongo_x at 1:23 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Moving anything past acquaintance-level is hard because my own life isn't super full and I try to hide that I'm kinda boring

well... this is a self-sabotaging trap, then. In order for your life to be fuller, you have to do more things and meet more people. I'm sure you're not boring, you're not staring at a wall all day, right? You just need to find people you have things in common with. So what if it's reading books and not skydiving? (Book club is the obvious answer there.)

To get from "acquaintance" to "friend," you have to ask people to hang out outside of the activity/event. Coffee, drinks, craft fair, whatever. There is no One Weird Trick; you have to do this.

I have a friend who moved here about a year ago and he probably knows 100 people because he exchanges contact info with anyone at an event who seems even vaguely interesting. He calls or texts within a week and asks them to go out for drinks. We met this way and happened to get really close because we have a lot in common; he has a lot of people who are more peripheral but who he can always call if he wants to go to a movie or something. He's not even the most confident person, he just fakes it well and he is genuinely interested in others. People loooove to talk about themselves. If you have a conversation where they tell you anything about themselves, say something like "I'd love to hear more about [whatever they told you] over coffee!"
posted by AFABulous at 1:39 PM on December 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

This is one of my causes that I’m really kind of intense about, making friends as a grown up. It takes work! You need to reach out and actually schedule a coffee date or a lunch date or something with someone you’d like to be friends with. And then one or both of you will flake once or twice, but you need to keep trying. People tell me I’m good at making friends but it’s only because I make a real, actual effort to do so. It’s really great and rewarding although it’s actual work (you know, that emotional labor). And, maybe your life would become more full if you focused on making some local friends? I’ve approached this in the past like, “what do I like to do by myself?” And then start finding groups that do that. Meditation and running groups, book clubs and discussion groups, I’ve done all of those things. And a lot of those didn’t directly result in new friends to be honest, but suddenly I had a pretty busy life full of things I enjoyed.

Also, are you so sure that all of your long-distance friends wouldn’t be ok with the occasional FaceTime bitching session? One of my best friends lives far away and we often just send funny pictures back and forth and have light text convos, but I’m always willing to schedule a time to talk if he needs it, and vice versa. But yeah, we schedule those calls and sometimes it takes a few days for us to get to it.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 1:40 PM on December 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

my own life isn't super full and I try to hide that I'm kinda boring, which is why it took a fairly long time to start meeting people.

I can only say - take courage, get out there, invite your activity partners to do stuff at other times - nobody cares what the rest of your social life is. I promise. They really don’t. I’m a bit of a serial activity taker, and I’ve met everyone from people for whom our monthly meet-up was their only social event, to total social butterflies. I didn’t care either way, I was just happy to spend time with them on our mutual interest. A decent proportion of them blossomed into friendships which outlasted the hobbies.

I’ve emigrated multiple times, started from scratch socially many times, and although the digital umbilical cord to your previous social life is beguiling, sooner or later you have to make the jump to spending more time with people who are actually around you, or you end up feeling... well, like you’re feeling.

(FWIW, I don’t buy the “this just happens as you get older” thing - I’m 43 now and meet as many new people now as I did in my 20s. Part of that is that I’m lucky enough to live in a city with a lot going on, but it’s also because I go out and do things that involve getting to know new people. Some of them are decades younger than me, some are decades older, but actually for me moving into my 30s and beyond was great because I finally emerged from that “must spend time with people of my own age and background” thing and spread the net wider.)

On preview: What AFABulous said.
posted by penguin pie at 1:43 PM on December 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I feel like with Hangouts, when the online indicators became unreliable, my friends and I had to get used to going back to what felt like an older-fashioned--by internet terms--way of indicating availability by way of current conversation. You can still message random stuff to people at other times, but when you initiate a conversation, you initiate a conversation: Hey, just got home, how are you doing? And when you end said conversation: Okay, I'm going to take off for a bit but I'll catch you later!

That doesn't fix the whole "how to make new friends" stuff or anything, but it makes using Hangouts/Discord/Slack/etc a lot more like having a conversation. I'm totally in favor of making real friends, just like--if the app doesn't tell you when someone's actually there, you need to communicate it in words. Just a little thing, but it does help.
posted by Sequence at 1:44 PM on December 4, 2017

I, too, live 2,000 miles away from everyone I know except for A) my kids and B) my ex-wife's family who hates me. I feel the same as you a lot of the time.

Two things help me. First, I use Facebook a lot to communicate with far-flung friends and family. The interactions aren't instantaneous, but they happen sort of in "real time" with notifications letting me know when I have another little nugget to read.

Second - I started hanging out at a local restaurant's lounge and just introducing myself to people there. I have a couple of light beers, shoot the breeze, and just learn new things about new people. Three months later, I am now a regular and people welcome me when I come in the door. I've been invited to a few social activities with other locals and have made a clear effort to attend those activities.

I feel like I have "friends" for the first time since I got married 20 years ago. It has taken effort, but it feels good.
posted by tacodave at 3:00 PM on December 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

You realise that you can use Hangouts for free video chat as well, right? So if someone is online, you could ping them and ask if they have time for a video chat (not just text). My primary relationship is an LDR which has been going for over 2 years now sustained by video chats on Hangouts. Just saying, technology is a tool - not the problem.

If what you want is non-technologically-mediated interaction, then others have given you plenty of practical advice. If, like me, you are an introvert who is awkward at interacting with groups of people, a lot of that advice probably sounds really difficult. I think it is really difficult. I also think that if you want to meet IRL people, that's pretty much what you need to be able to do, even just for a little while until you make some friends that you can interact with more comfortably.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:05 PM on December 4, 2017

Because people aren't a part of my day-to-day, I feel like most of what I share with them has to be positive, or significant, or at least not mundane.

As a WhatsApping end-of-30s person with friends on the other side of the ocean, let me tell you: You’ve got things upside-down! For friends that are not part of my day-to-day - like highschool friends who are now a continent away, or my sister -, I rely heavily on mundane stuff to make them part of my day-to-day. Like, this is what the caterpillar-eaten leaves on my rose look like today, this is what I’m eating, this is my new bike...a silly storefront sign. Picture of a romanesco, asking, have you ever cooked this? Makes us feel like we’re in each other’s lives. Deep conversations are reserved for the times when we actually meet or the rare phone call (9hr time-zone difference). Or even a bar (do people still go to those).

As for finding friends to shoot the breeze with: I understand the not wanting to do the awkward friend-dating thing. I frequent a local café and am friends with the regulars. Took two years of going there daily, though. Maybe a maker space, a gym, or similar would give you the same benefit, if you go there at a regular time every day or several times a week. Or a neighborhood walk, if you live in that kind of area.

Eventually, if and when you plan to have kids, those are excellent friend-makers, too. But even then, you have to put lots of energy into friendships for them to work even after your kids have moved on to different’s just different when you’re older.
posted by The Toad at 7:45 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I do the same thing as The Toad to feel closer to my many faraway friends, using the minutiae of everyday life to feel like we're more connected. That looks like: here's a selfie of me on my lunch break dreading going back to work, pic of the paints I bought for my new project, "ugh there are 7 people in the slow starbux line and no one knows what they want," I made these cookies, we just watched xXx w/ Vin Diesel lol, here's a pic of my weekly bullet journal layout, etc. And my friends send those kind of things back. It makes us all feel like a part of each other's day to day.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 11:03 PM on December 4, 2017

I’ve begun making a point of calling people and it really does make a difference for those long distance friendships. For good friends I try to call them once a month or so.

Inviting people to do things doesn’t make your life look empty and boring. I love it when folks invite me to lectures, concerts, sporting events, dinner parties, movies, karaoke night. And if I think anything of it, I think they really have their finger on the pulse of local happenings and do a good job on their social life. Pick a cool event and ask a couple of people you’ve met if they are interested in going.
posted by bunderful at 7:22 AM on December 5, 2017

I'm moving to a different country soon, so I'm organising a meet up of local MeFites a couple of weeks after I arrive. I think it is hard to make friends but part of making friends really is putting yourself out there. Also, I FaceTime with my kid nearly every day. If you have that or a similar app, use it to stay in touch with folks you love somewhere else. It's important to have real-time exchanges with those folks from time to time. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:04 AM on December 5, 2017

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