Why you feel lonely (even though you have friends)
Updated: 3 days ago
After a fun night with friends, you wave goodbye and head to your car. Once you settle in and click your seatbelt, a feeling overwhelms you: you feel lonely. This is weird because...you definitely just got done hanging out with people you like.
We surveyed 400 women and asked if they’ve ever felt lonely even though they have friends. 98% of these women said, “YES.” 120 of these women went a step further and provided reasons why they felt lonely in their friendships.
Today, we’re sharing the top 5 reasons why women like you are saying they are lonely in their friendships. We’ll also provide tangible tips to address each one, so you can experience those feelings of loneliness less often and have more satisfying friendships.
1. They don’t spend time together. (20% of respondents)
Have you heard this new “low-maintenance friend” attitude circulating”? There’s this attitude of “I don’t need to hang out with my friend all the time”, or “We’re so close. we can go a year without talking.” But the people who find themselves in that space have been friends for 20 years and have a certain rhythm. And even though they may have chemistry and vulnerability, a lack of time spent together will still directly affect how close they feel to one another. Time matters.
There’s this “frientimacy” triangle created by friendship expert Shasta Nelson, who argues there are three things you need to feel depth in a friendship: positivity, consistency, and vulnerability. Consistency is important because we want to feel familiar and comfortable, and that requires time and frequency.
The solution is: rethink what “hanging out” or “catching up” looks like. Find a way to layer the time you have instead of trying to magically conjure up additional hours. For example, if you know every Sunday night you do laundry, why don’t you ask your friend to do a catch-up phone call during that time? If you walk your dog every day, invite your friend to come along.
And if your friend is always busy, tell her you miss seeing her and ask her what works best for her. You have to communicate a need if you want a need to be met.
2. Their friends can’t relate to them anymore or they feel they’re in different life stages. (19% of respondents)
There is an ecosystem within every friendship: a way in which everyone operates independently in order to make the friendship at large function productively. But sometimes a wrench gets thrown into the ecosystem and disrupts everything: a friend gets married, moves across town for a new job, buys a new house, or has a baby. And suddenly, it interrupts the time you spend together, changes what your time together looks like, and sometimes changes the topics of conversations.
We know it’s easier said than done, but here are three things we challenge you to do:
1. If things are different, it’s ok to acknowledge that and stop pretending that it’s the same.
2. Find ways to connect with this person’s new lifestyle and take an interest in the new things that interest her. This helps you share in the experience. Also, find a way to get back to the things that brought you close. Is there a way you can continue to integrate that into your friendship? We often get discouraged because things aren’t the way they used to be, but get real about the elements you can maintain.
3. It’s ok to find other people who satisfy that interest. You’re not going to get everything from one person, so we encourage you to find a community for the thing you feel you’re lacking connection with. You’ll then feel more satisfaction in your existing friendships because you won’t have the expectation that they can relate to this new thing in your life.
3. The friendships themselves are superficial. (16% of respondents)
This one hurts. It’s tough when we take comfort in having “friends” when really we have a circle of people we like well enough and who we hang out with. But if you feel like you have to perform, that showing up as the real you would leave you misunderstood, or the conversation never makes you feel satisfied, you will still feel alone. Yes, you need “fringe friends” (people who are fun to go to happy hour or do playdates with), but you also need close, fulfilling relationships.
Research tells us that the greatest single determining factor of your overall life satisfaction and wellbeing is the quality of your relationships. The keyword is quality, so we need to stop tricking ourselves that we have “friends” when they aren't fulfilling.
Here are two tips for dealing with the feeling of having superficial friendships:
1. Get honest with yourself about why this friendship is superficial. Have you tested it to see what its capacity for depth really is? Could you be more vulnerable or do things that make people feel more comfortable being vulnerable with you?
2. Look at the friends you’re choosing in the first place. We’re not vilifying anyone, but what are the reasons you decided to call this person your friend? Does she nourish your soul? Does she make you feel seen on deeper levels? Are you making this a qualification for a “friend” or are you just satisfied with “what you can get”? Not every friendship is going to be deep, but what you doing to create depth in some of the friendships you do have?
4. They feel like they are a burden to their friends. (7% of respondents)
This one hits hard because research shows us that people who ask for help, are more likely to get it (kind of a no brainer). “People Pleasers” feel this way because they feel asking for support would be displeasing, and “strong friends” feel this way because they feel it would detract from their character as self-sufficient women; many of us struggle with this feeling.
We challenge you to look at the reason why you feel like a burden and explore whether those pressures are external or self-imposed. And remember, one of the things that makes us feel close is getting to show up for someone else! It feels good to be able to help your friends with what they need. Your friends are eager to show up for you.
5. They feel more invested than the other person - or the one who is always initiating. (6% of respondents)
It can definitely feel lonely when you have people in your life, but you feel they don’t share the same level of commitment to the relationship.
We want you to ask yourself if there are ways that your friend is contributing to the relationship that are of value, but you’re not acknowledging them because they’re not the way you want them to contribute? If you’re not familiar with the book about 5 love languages, go look it up now. We bring these love languages into our friendships too, not just romantic relationships. Your friends can care just as much but just show it in a different way.
Whatever your needs are...have you communicated them to your friend?
Where did you get the message that you’re more invested? Some of us feel this way if our friend says one time that she can’t hang out and start believing a self-generated narrative.
These are the top 5 reasons women feel lonely in their friendships, but we want to add two notes. Take the reflections and solutions we gave and:
1. Look at your expectations of your friends. If you expect them to be there every time you call or meet your needs without saying what they are, you are setting yourself up to feel alone and sitting in that disappointment. Are your expectations reasonable?
2. What other habits that are non-friend related do you have that could be contributing to your feelings of loneliness? How much time are you spending on social media? There’s way too much research that shows that it contributes to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Are you connected to any causes or a spiritual life? Research also shows us that people who connect to something greater than themselves experience feelings of loneliness less often. Loneliness is a signal to you that you’re lacking connection.
These are more about you, the individual, but can help you feel more satisfied with your friendships. If you have specific questions and needs, we’re here for you and can give you tangible strategies to solve your friendship issues. You can book a one-on-one coaching session here or join our 8 week Friendship Elevated program.
We’re rooting for you always on your ongoing journey towards better female friendships.
Danielle Jackson, Friendship Speaker and Coach
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We provide advice on how to make friends, navigating toxic relationships, friendship breakups, and other issues common in female platonic relationships. Want to get closer with your girl friends? We can help!