There is this dangerous myth in our culture, value placed on being the lone wolf, the one that doesn’t need anyone else, the one that goes his or her own way and is a badass, independent person. Lord knows I’ve tried to walk this path for large swaths of my life and guess what? It’s lonely, like really freeking lonely. “I don’t need anyone, I got this all by myself” isolates us behind a brick wall. I can remember as a freshly divorced lady out on the town a man asking me about another man he’d seen me enjoying time with, and my blowing it off, acting as if it was nothing, just casual and nothing to me (even though I had the maddest crush on this beautiful sexy human being), and this kind gentleman telling me, that there isn’t anything wrong with wanting connection, that needing companionship wasn’t wrong. To this day, this memory still brings tears to my eyes, however at the time, I didn’t appreciate being brought to unexpected tears in the middle of a packed bar.
It’s taken me a while to really understand what he was saying – that we humans are wired for connection and belonging and that I AM HUMAN. Yes, I am a badass, who can do a lot of things on her own, both for herself and the people around her. AND I still need connection with other humans, the same as I need water, food, a warm place to sleep, and safety. This longing isn’t a weakness, it’s a fundamental human need that we have. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been contemplating this question, “How do I connect more with people, not just for dating, but for the sheer joy of my own happiness and belonging?”
The most recent part of this awakening is through a Positive Psychology course through the University of Pennsylvania, that I’ve been taking. For our capstone project we are to create a positive intervention in our lives, run the intervention and then report on the process and results.
Before choosing the topic for our study, we were to take several snapshot assessments of our lives as they are in this moment and then again at the end of the experient: the PERMA(1) which measures flourishing in our day-to-day lives and the PANAS(2) a questionnaire which measures positive and negative affect in our lives. The area that I measured the lowest in was loneliness.
Now this isn’t really surprising news, we are emerging from a year of COVID lockdown, I’ve slowed down drinking and this has taken bars off the list of places and friends that I hang out with on a regular basis, I’m an introvert, I’m single … the list goes on and on. As part of our project, we have to design an intervention and then measure it to see if it will create a change in our lives for the better. I chose to use SMART+(3) Goals to measure my intervention. Basically, this is an easy experiment that I invite you to try in your own life – instead of texting for every message for a week, I choose to either call a friend or stop by to see them, this call or visit doesn’t have to last long, can be as short as 5 or 10 minutes or as long as it goes.
How it went:
Day 1 – Stop by to see a friend I’ve been playing text/phone tag with. End up staying for dinner, meeting a new potential friend and having a lovely evening, go home happy and bubbly. Have a 90-minute phone conversation with a connection on Bumble (if you date online, you get how rare and exciting this is).
Day 2 – Call a friend to catch up, spend 10 minutes, step away feeling pretty happy. Spend the evening with my 16-year-old son, hang out on the couch watching a new show together, enjoy having a couple of fun, easy conversations between episodes. Enjoy a couple of brief phone calls throughout the day with my new Bumble match.
Day 3 – Decide to have a small backyard party on Sunday, spend time calling friends, instead of texting to invite them. Go for a walk after work, text a friend to see if she still wants to meet up, she does, I end up going to her house for a couple of hours, come home tired but happy.
Day 4 – My sister calls to visit, spend about 20 minutes talking to her, while she commutes home. I was happy to hear from her and connected to her, even though we live 1,200+ miles apart. A friend stops by to say hi, we spend about 30 minutes visiting, I share my project with him, he loves the idea and is now on the more in-person connection movement with me. Spend the evening with the kids, get a few cuddles (rare from teenagers). Happy day, good feels all the way around.
Day 5 – Most of my in-person interaction is with my children, though I do have a phone conversation with my friend who is on the connection train with me. Feeling mostly satisfied and connected.
Day 6 – I get to enjoy a couple of hours with some of my chosen family, friends that feel like home to me, and a few new people thrown into the mix in person at our backyard party. My heart is full, I feel connected and happy and a little sad and lonely all at the same time, as I don’t have an enjoyable other to cuddle up with when everyone leaves the party around 11.
Day 7 – I had a brief phone call with a friend, where we relive the previous evening’s events and agree that we are lucky to have one another. Mostly, it’s a low key relaxing day due to the long Independence Day weekend. Feeling a little bluesy and disconnected as I write this, so I know that I need to 1) move my body and 2) reach out and connect with someone soon.
I felt more seen, connected and loved this week than in previous weeks. I feel like the experiment was a success and I’ll continue to practice it.
I leave you with this quote from another relationship coach, Mark Groves:
“We look down at our phones instead of into eyes. We text instead of call. We build walls when we should be building bridges. We are so guarded and then we wonder why we don’t feel love and connection. Lift your eyes, open your heart, and lean into your discomfort. Great relationships happen by choice not by chance.”
Over the next little while, I’ll be writing more about building healthy relationships and ways that we can connect with one another and what happens when we do so. Most of this will be from a first person perspective, after all we learn best what we teach. ;-)
In the meanwhile, let’s connect in person whenever possible.
Be brave and wild my loves.
1 PERMA stands for Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, Achievement) an acronym for the five elements developed by Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology. These elements account for what makes up the “good life,” one that is authentic, filled with sustained happiness and well-being.
2 The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) comprises two mood scales, one that measures positive affect and the other which measures negative affect. Used as a psychometric scale, the PANAS can show relations between positive and negative affect with personality stats and traits.
To take either of these assessments visit: https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/testcenter
3 SMART+ goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable(or Agreed Upon), Realistic, Timely (allowing enough time for achievement) and + for Accountability.