One is the loneliest number (sometimes!)

By Caitlin Kelly




These few weeks can be a tough time for many people — thanks to social media and the mass media, we’re barraged with endless images of group cheer: parties, family togetherness, piles of presents under a decorated Christmas tree.

My husband and I now work as full-time freelancers, which means no office holiday parties for us, no matter how much profit our skills have added to many others’ bottom line. Even if you actually hate office parties, it’s important to have some social face time with the people you work with to help build those relationships.

The holidays can also be a time of intense loneliness — no matter how many people you know, if there’s no deep, growing intimacy with any of them, you might as well know no one.

For several friends, this year marks their first as a widow, and for one, her first in a nursing home far away from her home city, friends and lovely apartment.

From The New York Times:

People can feel lonely even when surrounded by lots of people, especially if the relationships are not emotionally rewarding. In fact, Dr. Carla Perissinotto and colleagues at the University of California at San Francisco reported in 2012 that most lonely individuals are married, live with others and are not clinically depressed.

“Being unmarried is a significant risk,” Dr. Holt-Lunstad said, “but not all marriages are happy ones. We have to consider the quality of relationships, not simply their existence or quantity.”

As Dr. Nancy J. Donovan, a geriatric psychiatrist and researcher in neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said in an interview, “There is a correlation between loneliness and social interaction, but not in everyone. It may be simplistic to suggest to people who are lonely that they should try to interact more with others.”

I’ve struggled with loneliness for years since moving to the United States — despite having made good friends quickly in Toronto, Montreal and Paris.

I’m happiest deep in lively, long face to face conversation on a wide range of subjects, not merely texting.

I’m also just not much of a “joiner”, maybe because — being a professional observer as a journalist — I’m more at ease one-on-one, not in a group. And because I have to market my skills all the time to make a living,  the effort to get out and forge new friendships just really feels like more work.

I hate that very American thing of “Heyyyyyyy!” that’s outwardly “real friendly” — but often comes with no curiosity to go deeper and to nurture a more solid and enduring emotional and intellectual connection. In a culture focused, it seems, so relentlessly on economic survival, many “friendships” here (certainly in New York) are purely transactional — after you’ve each exhausted one another’s professional or social utility, that’s it.

market 04

True friendship can also withstand less-sunny moments.

I recently spent an afternoon with a new-ish friend, (we met in June 2016), and I was snappish that day.

I was in terrible pain, between my arthritic knee and damaged right ankle.  A bitterly cold wind whipped through the canyons of downtown New York, where we met near the World Trade Center, a place that brings up too many awful 9/11 memories, so an area I usually avoid.

And the place we chose to meet was costly, noisy — and closed early, ruining our plans for a long, relaxed lunch.

I apologized the next day, fearful my horrible mood had hurt our friendship.

Thankfully, it had not.


Hoping that each of you — wherever you are this holiday season — are enjoying it with loved ones!


And, if you’ve got extra space in your home and at your holiday table, be sure to include someone who might be lonely, but too shy or proud to ask for an invitation.

26 thoughts on “One is the loneliest number (sometimes!)

  1. Transactional friendships… how horrible! you can have something transactional in your life with other people – we do need/use each other at times – just don’t call it friendship. like lots of Facebook friendships… thanks for this piece.

  2. this is all so true. i’m sorry your meeting with your new friend didn’t go as planned, but it sounds like it all worked out, despite it not being your best day. this is a good sign of a friendship that can endure, acceptance of each other, through good and bad.

  3. It’s awfully damp, gray and cold here in Paris. (I’m on vacation for a week.) I dashed out this morning to do errands then scurried back to my warm and cozy flat. Now I’m on my chaise lounge sipping a triple café crème and reading blogs and all the on-line newspapers. I’ll be spending Xmas with my most favorite person: a 5 year old boy! With his sister and brothers we’ll visit the Old Town of Lille before heading up to Ghent, Belgium.

    Are you following the gruesome double murder story in Toronto of Barry and Honey Sherman??!! Quelle horreur ! Sounds definitely like foul play … those disinherited cousins, maybe??

    1. Sounds like a perfect Xmas!

      It’s very very weird!!!! The “new” Globe is ugly and small so I’ve been reading the Star and CBC on-line. How horrific. (in Toronto this week dogsitting where the weather is equally grim.)

      1. I have a few theories:

        1) aggressive “friendliness” can be (is meant to be?) disarming — and in a nation where millions own a gun (and may be carrying one) that might be both literal, and a smart defensive move

        2) It’s a place based on commerce…without social grease, nothing gets done.

      2. Those are interesting theories. I think there is an element of fear about being close or dependent, but everyone needs relationships, so they stay shallow.

      3. Hmmm. That fits — in a country that fetishizes independence and self-reliance and makes people ashamed of asking others for help. And God forbid you need government assistance.

  4. Great post, Caitlin – a timely reminder that not all of us have the good fortune of family and true friends at Christmas! And often loneliness is hidden ‘in plain sight’, as it were. For myself, I am fortunate to have family and friends and have a full social schedule for the few weeks of the Great New Zealand Summer Shut-Down – but it is not so for all, I know, here and elsewhere.

    All the best for the festive season – and a happy new year!

    1. Thanks!

      One of my friends has a mom who’s dying in a nursing home and this past year lost her home/boyfriend of a decade/job/some of her health. It’s a crazy burden to carry and she is stoic in the face of it all — but not a fun holiday for her.

      Have a great holiday, and thanks for still being here!

  5. One way, I think that can help an expatriate feel less isolated (it’s something that I’ve learned over time) is to seek out other like minded expatriates. I’ve made some amazing friends who are German, Swedish, British, Canadian here – and they are the most open hearted because like my situation they are far from the familiar and want a real connection to another person outside of their home life. Of course I have Australian friends too – but those far flung friends need connections in real time. We travel distances to see each other and put real energy into our time together. Also beyond eating together we plan something together to create a memory. Heck even people who have relocated from another part of the country often become close because they too are looking to forge real relationships. Soon I’ll be inviting these women to come with me on a camping trip to hike and unwind and have some fun in the great outdoors – I want them to know I care about them all – and this trip could be a great place to let our hair down as a sisterhood. If you were closer I’d send you the invite too! I’m sure you have loads of sage wisdom and that fighting spirit to work for yourself is very inspiring. Sending a warm hug.


    1. Thanks!…That sounds like a fantastic trip and so much fun!

      Some of my friends here are either fellow expats or people who have lived outside the U.S. so they know what that feels like.

      Just had a 13 (!) hr train ride Toronto to NY — and there was a girl from Melbourne on the train, so many hours of an Oz accent. 🙂

      Have a great holiday!!

  6. Well, this is a different type of post for the day before a holiday. Good! I am what I call a true California Girl. Born in the California Hospital. Never been outside of America. But, I am far from being outwardly “real friendly”. As a matter of fact, I’m quite fine sitting by myself in the corner, thank you. But I really love people. And once I drag myself out of my “spot” and engage in conversation people learn that about me. I love people. I am a good listener. I remember what we talked about. I prefer talking with people face to face, rather than on line except that blogging has meant that I have met so many nice people. I don’t like to Facebook with my relatives however it seems to be the only way I can connect with them. My daughter will only contact me via text messages and I hate it. This Christmas I am spending alone. Family spread out. Mom is gone. Though I have written a book, I have no $ to go anywhere. But also because I have written a book my Facebook Page has connected me with more really nice people who share my interests. From the USA and the UK. I love it. So though I am by myself today and tomorrow, I am not exactly lonely. I know of a man right now who is probably in his daily spot on a public transportation bench with his shopping cart so I am glad I have a room. And people I can connect with via a laptop. So, happy holidays to you and thank you for the opportunity to share thoughts via your blog.

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