Society

Friendships & Loneliness

Our current economic environment prioritises work over friendships, but investing in your Family 2.0 can combat loneliness and social isolation.

By Sharmadean Reid

8 May 2022
N

ow is the time to stop assuming that you’re always going to be alone. Or that you can only rely on yourself. Or that no one understands you. Or whatever warped schema you use to avoid making new friends. Know that this feeling is both endemic (so you really aren’t alone in your thoughts) and a direct result of our current neoliberalist methods of human progression.  

Why are we lonely?

Neoliberalism insists that we remove obstacles to free markets and allow capitalism to generate development. The argument that prevails is that if only everyone were allowed to work freely, capitalism will generate wealth which will trickle down to everyone (!) Neoliberalism gained traction with Thatcherism, experienced a growth trajectory with the 1980s cult of individual money-making before peaking with the era of GirlBoss personal development. We are well into the Age of I.

To power this incredible personal and economic growth, the world had to physically change. Like taking a reliable and safe car and souping it up with high performance modifications to allow it to run faster, our planet had to gear up. We call these improvements “cities” and they allow neoliberalism to thrive. They beckon us with their opportunities to earn as much money as we like (and obviously give us places to spend it). They separate us from our families. They force us to live on top of each other, buttressing up with perfect strangers. Globally, over 50% of the population lives in urban areas today and by 2045, the world's urban population will increase by 1.5 times to 6 billion. Economist Noreena Hertz writes in her book - The Lonely Century:

“From Bolton to Barcelona, from Houston to le Havre, from Kansas to California, across the world communities have been starved of their necessary social infrastructure. And this problem is typically worse in cities than elsewhere.”

We move to the cities for a better life, only to realise that we have become anxious, exhausted and lonely. And women feel this more than men. According to ONS data, UK women reported feeling lonely more frequently than men. They were significantly more likely than men to report feeling lonely “often/always” and in a poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in Canada, women under 35 tend to express greater feelings of loneliness than other age groups, despite having social lives.

Never before in our entire human history have we lived with such global urbanisation so it’s only natural that you might feel a bit lonely in your tower block apartment in the middle of millions of people who don’t know your name. The feelings are natural, but the situation is not. 

“From Bolton to Barcelona, from Houston to le Havre, from Kansas to California, across the world communities have been starved of their necessary social infrastructure. And this problem is typically worse in cities than elsewhere.”

Can we centre our city around our relationships?

Despite this, cities also give us so much. Technology, culture, ideas are all borne from cities. They come from the cross pollination of people and experiences that spring forth innovation. Cities create diverse communities around shared interests, and I mean your actual interests. Not the ones you’re forced to pretend to be into just because your family is. Because cities generate such incredible human progress, how can we learn to make them work for us, rather than the other way around? City development ballooned to generate economic growth, but we don’t have to spend all of our time being productive in them. The obsession with individualism and self development has resulted in a capitalist calendar filled with work and networking and many of us are approaching breaking point - popularly known as burnout. 

I find no irony in the fact that famed actor Michael Douglas played both Gordan Gekko - the exemplary capitalist in the 1987 movie Wall Street and William Foster - the unemployed, divorced man having a breakdown in the 1993 movie Falling Down.

Gekko’s most famous line - “Greed is good” is the sentiment that created our current environment, turning up the dial on our desire for more and creating the pressurised environment that six years later led to Foster stating “I lost my job. Actually I didn't lose it. It lost me. I'm overeducated, underskilled - maybe it's the other way around. I forget - but I'm obsolete. I'm not economically viable. I can't even support my own kid.” before letting loose on a violent warpath of simply trying to get home in the city.

It can often feel like an either/or situation. Work for the man and for the money and lose your soul, or give it all up, have a life crisis and shoot down the city. Both of these feelings are the direct result of urban isolation.

The obsession with individualism and self development has resulted in a capitalist calendar filled with work and networking and many of us are approaching breaking point.

Finding Family 2.0

Many of us moved from our provincial towns to seek work in the big city from Baltimore to NYC, from Wolverhampton to London etc and immediately expected to find new families to replace the ones we left behind. We didn’t understand why these new urbanised friends didn’t get our banter, our cultural references and our penchant for deep fried Mars bars and so we stuck out our bottom lip and said “NO ONE UNDERSTANDS ME!” and decided to stay in instead. As Sunday comes around, the scaries tell us “YOU ARE GOING TO DIE ALONE!” and then Monday comes, and you trudge from home tower to work tower and the cycle of "I'M LONELY" starts again.

In an attempt to break this cycle we need to think differently about our relationship to our work, money and they city. In their book Rebuild: the Economy, Leadership and You, Graham Boyd and Jack Reardon make a call to arms for a world that creates an economy that works for the planet, for people, and for profit. And it starts very simply - with the way we make meaning.

“The reality you experience is inside you, triggered by what actually happens, and shaped by your lenses and meaning-making stories. You grow your capacity to use better lenses, and so experience a better reality, because you can reinvent the lenses and meaning-making stories you use.”

So, in an attempt to break this cycle we need to look through a new lens. Maybe it’s not the cities themselves that are to blame, but the way we spend our time in them and who we spend that time with. Of course no one understands you, if you don’t bother to make time for building a relationship with them because you are too busy being “productive”. We prioritise our work over our friends and then wonder why we are lonely. I’m curious - who and what am I actually being busy for?

Maybe it’s not the cities themselves that are to blame, but the way we spend our time in them and who we spend that time with.

The New Method here is to understand that your loneliness is a direct result of modern capitalism and a solution is to forge deeper friendships as a priority for your wellbeing. Adult friendships. Ones with intention. But making friends is hard, I hear you say! I tried to make friends, but it didn't work out! But did you try to make friends, or did you try to build your network? Because the two things are very different. 

Communities, networks and now friendships have been at the forefront of my thinking in terms of women and equality. Your community takes you from -5 to 0. Your network takes you from 0 to +10 and your friendships? Well they make the whole thing fun and pleasurable. Friends bring joy and play. 

The year after I graduated, I was travelling constantly as a trend consultant. I would live in a suitcase and at one point I found myself between houses, no time to find a new flat and crashing on friends sofas. I vowed I wouldn’t travel again until I found a new home and so I did viewings during the day and went out at night. Every night. I said yes to invitations, acted interested, I asked questions, I made friends. Most of my friends today are still from that period and all it took was a month.

2008 was the year I said yes to everything. Here at a party with my dear Kesh.

Will you go on a (play)date with me?

So go forth and make some friends. Firstly by understanding you have to date friends, just like you have to date to find a partner. Reach out to someone you would like to become closer to and suggest a “play date” not a coffee or a zoom. This is not a network. Think about what you would do if you were 13. Walk around the park, go to a museum (yes I was a nerd 13 year old), go to the cinema.

I love this poem by Hollie McNish

CALL ON ME

         for all friends

we don’t call on each other anymore

we all live too far away

and now impromptu visits worry you

might interrupt my day

~

you do not wake me up

on weekends

with screams pitched

to my bedroom glass

~

do not ring my doorbell

more than once

politer now

step off the mat

~

now we must plan to meet

in diaries

don’t dance in pjs/

share the bed

~

you do not comb my hair

for hours, to practise plaits

  • drink tea instead

~

I love you still, my friends

I count our meetings down like holidays

but dream each time the doorbell rings

it’s you, just called to play

Home chilling with Coco in 2009

Maybe even have a sleepover. When was the last time you just watched TV at someones house?! Where you don’t have to fill the silence with endless bon mots and intellectual musings. Ask to come over. Knock for a playdate. Accept that if you don’t vibe, it’s not the end of the world. You’ve learned something about yourself and your needs. Make another date with someone else. You’ll find your crew.

Grace Ladoja my first chosen family in London. She wasn't someone I was at uni with or thrown together at work. We met and bonded over sneakers and streetwear. This is us in 2007

Smart girls get lonely too.

For mission driven women like The Stack member body - women who want to see equity for all, there is another added dimension to loneliness. The feeling of both wanting more time with our childhood or familial friends but also potentially outgrowing them as we explore our identities and our place in the world. The feeling can lead to a tension - between wanting to discuss and analyse the ways Black femme bodies are historically devalued on Love Island, while also just wanting to just enjoy the memes and the gossip of the latest elimination. We get torn between anger at the global war on women and sometimes just want to zone out and read trash. While this tension is troubling for a Stack Woman, you can actually satisfy both sides of you, just not always with the same person.

It’s time to stop expecting one friend to meet all your needs - whether they are old or new. Your childhood friends will forever see you as that nerdy 13 yr old, and that may be what you need to stay grounded and your new friends might not be able to immediately understand how your childhood has shaped your actions, and that too is ok. 

1/3
Olivia Simpson, Stack Founding Member and Data Protection Lawyer has been instrumental in forging likeminded friendships across the community.

Building your A Team

Today is the day that you start thinking about a spectrum of friends to meet your various emotional needs. Coach Hannah Rankine calls this your A-Team. She states the six people you need in your family;

MENTOR: Who can you check in with along the way to share your progress with? They must be credible within the field to truly validate your journey.

COLLEAGUE: Do you have someone who has a similar goal to yours? You’re going to hit road bumps and experience failures along the way, and having someone else hitting their hurdles in a similar field will stop you from feeling alone and disheartened. Together you can also collaborate and re-calibrate.

CHEERLEADER: Who is going to support you and lift you up? Whatever your love language, we all need words of affirmation. Find those friends that will high-five you at every juncture.

ACCOUNTANT: Who are you accountable to? You have to have people that will make sure you show up - they are very different to a cheerleader but are supportive nonetheless. Their support looks like making sure you deliver where you said you would. And that is powerful. This could well be your life coach (me or another) that you work with on a long term basis.

CHALLENGERS: Who is calling you out? Who is giving honest feedback? They have to help you rise, not cut you down. Ultimately you can take their advice or leave it, but it is good to have this constructive criticism. It might be hard to swallow at first, but don’t take it personally, and you will soon see the benefit of such honesty.

COMMUNITY: Your people! They are so important. Your community is built of people who you know, love and admire. Communities support your growth and offer inspiration through stimulation and providing outside opinions when you can’t see the wood for the trees. Your tribe will pick you up when you’re on your knees, pour you a cuppa when you’re fed up and high-five you even for the smallest of bitesize wins.

You can grab her workbook here.

I am often excluded by my friends for certain activities. I’m never the friend that gets the invite to weddings or ski trips, but I’ve accepted that I play a role in their lives, as they do in mine. Whatever facet of yourself you want your various friends to appease, be prepared that they’ll be doing that to you too.

I've known Simon Goode, Founder of London Centre for Book Arts https://londonbookarts.org/ since I was 3 years old.

Depth not breadth

You may not actually need new friends but already have many friends in your life that you haven’t invested enough time in. British anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorized that humans couldn’t manage more than 150 meaningful relationships, a figure that became known as Dunbar’s number. While this number has been debunked over the years, I can anecdotally say that I find it difficult to manage more than 150 close friends. Dunbar’s recent book, Friends: Understanding the Power of Our Most Important Relationships maps out the circles of friendships.

Dunbar explains in this Atlantic interview:

The innermost layer of 1.5 is [the most intimate]; clearly that has to do with your romantic relationships. The next layer of five is your shoulders-to-cry-on friendships. They are the ones who will drop everything to support us when our world falls apart. The 15 layer includes the previous five, and your core social partners. They are our main social companions, so they provide the context for having fun times. They also provide the main circle for exchange of child care. We trust them enough to leave our children with them. The next layer up, at 50, is your big-weekend-barbecue people. And the 150 layer is your weddings and funerals group who would come to your once-in-a-lifetime event.

The layers come about primarily because the time we have for social interaction is not infinite. You have to decide how to invest that time, bearing in mind that the strength of relationships is directly correlated with how much time and effort we give them.

In 2018 for an entire year, I held a dinner party at my house called Friday Fam and sent a booking link to 150 people I already knew but wanted to hang with. It was at my house intentionally because people act different when they are in your kitchen and sit on your sofa and the result was amazing. Even if that was the only time I saw them for the entire year, we bonded over homemade spag bol or sometimes even Deliveroo and that time investment was enough.

You may not actually need new friends but already have many friends in your life that you haven’t invested enough time in.

A Pause is Not a Rejection

Because of my codependency issues in my 20s, I thrived on intense relationships and would be devastated if I felt betrayed or abandoned in anyway. Sometimes I would be the punisher and withdraw my friendship, but it would never mean the end. Humans are not static creatures and as we constantly evolve and develop, there are some points when we meet people on our exact vibration and times when we don't. Everyone is going through their private pain and your friendship dynamic may be addititive to it, rather than take it away. If you avoid making new friends to avoid getting hurt because the pain of early toxic friendships was too great, then I urge you to take a macro view.

Some friends are right for right now. Some friends you instinctively know you're going to know when you're 70 years old.

Most of the people I have in my life today I feel will be my friend for life. And they also be the same people I've taken pauses with - anything from a few months to a year of not speaking. Each friendship was unhappy in its own way. The vibe was off. But when the time came to reuinte, it would take a little nurturing and then be as if we never were apart at all. Best Friends Forever.

Zoom out on your relationships as assume that anyone you are going to know for three or more decades will invariably have some ups and downs with. Don't avoid making new friends for fear of rejection. You will eventually be on the same vibration.

My first at work friend for life Rosie checking in when I first had the idea to open a nail salon in 2009.

Never Walk Alone

These new friendships are your Chosen Family - a term the queer community use to describe kinship bonds. You don’t get to choose your biological family, but you do get to pick your Chosen Family - the people you can call in times of need. Adulthood is the biggest scam around, but choosing who you are friends with is one of the redeeming features. You can lose those default friendships such as same church/school/neighbours that no longer serve you and instead invest in friendships that nourish your soul.

One of the reasons I love business is that it is theory in practice. Sure I can sit here rambling and writing about my ideas on women, work and equality, but I can also put some of my thoughts into action. We heard repeatedly that Members were joining The Stack World to meet likeminded women, and so we’ve decided to kickstart the friend finding process for you.

Introducing The Stack Houses

We randomised our thousands of Premium Members into blocks of nine women who will form your Stack House. The selection is random, because life is random, and we want you to meet other women from a diverse set of backgrounds.

 

Your House is given a number and the person who activates your House gets to set the monthly meeting date and time for your House Session.

During this 2 hour session you will work through a central document called The House Protocol which is a timed and templated guide through the months reflections and you’ll share your experiences. The House Sessions can be in person in a private meeting room, or on Zoom. You might even do dinner or drinks afterwards.

The Houses are fully decentralised and self managed and after a few sessions we expect you to decide the direction of your House.

We hope that you’ll forge lasting relationships with other women and feel seen, heard and understood. Houses are being rolled out this summer, but if you’d like to skip the queue and activate your House email Bailey@thestack.world and we will get yours live.

Remember all current Premium Members have access to The Stack Houses, so email Bailey to find out your number. If you joined as a Stack World Premium Member after May 1st 2022, please email Bailey and she will assign you a House.

It’s called The Stack World for a reason. How can we redefine our environments, our cities, our houses, our private and public world? It starts with you and how you’re willing to spend your time. Making friends is never a waste of it.

The Short Stack

Our current economic environment prioritises work over friendships, but investing in your Family 2.0 can combat loneliness and social isolation.

By Sharmadean Reid

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