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.

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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.

ChatRoulette Misses The Point — Sharing Physical Space

This false-color satellite image shows Manhatt...
There is, I am sure, someone here to talk to ...Image via Wikipedia

Get out of your home. Get off your computer or gadget.

Go sit in a bar/cafe/restaurant/bus/train/airplane/ferry boat/park. Strike up a conversation with someone who is a total stranger to you. Face to face. Share physical space and conversation with that person — unless they are endangering you — for a minimum of 15 minutes.

Can you do it? Will you do it?

It’s cold. It’s rainy. It’s too hot. It’s too windy. I’d have to put my kid in a stroller. I feel fat today. There’s a big zit on my nose and no one will talk to me. They might not talk back. They might be mean or boring or stupid or not even speak English. What if they hit on me? What if they don’t?

Yesterday, I had a business meeting in Manhattan, in the lower 20s at Broadway. There are plenty of fun and cool restaurants nearby but I headed for one of my absolute favorites — The Old Town Bar, on 18th. Street, in business since 1892. The ceiling is dark brown painted tin. The lights are low-hanging and dimly-lit. The booths are battered wood, the floor old tile. The cash register has plastic keys and is made of metal.

I sat at the bar, as I almost always do whenever I am out and eating alone, and read my book and ate my burger. The guy to my left, a 20-something Master of the Universe in his $600 sport coat, Persol eyewear, his skis (?) propped against the bar, spent the whole time staring into his Blackberry. The guy to my right, two stools over, was nice enough to watch my coat while I went to the bathroom.

He looked to be in his late 30s, short, graying hair, wedding ring. I thanked him and started a conversation.

Turned out to be a smart and interesting computer guy originally from Ireland, in NYC as long as I, who came here for work with the same (God help us) stars in our ex-pat eyes. He and I shared notes on our favorite Manhattan 19th-century bars — “geezer bars” as he called them, The Landmark, Fanelli’s, The Ear Inn. Then I told him about my book and he suggested a writer I had never heard of whose ideas will likely be deeply helpful to me.

We both took a chance. I’m engaged and live with my partner, but I talk to strange men, and women, all the time. In person.

The moment wasn’t a flirtation in any way; he was wearing a wedding ring and I was only looking for a bit of chat. Two strangers, briefly and happily and thoughtfully, connecting. We didn’t trade business cards. Not the point.

What is so terrifying about sitting down and talking to someone you do not know in the same room?

You can always get up and leave. (Maybe not on a airplane, but just about anywhere else.) Maybe they will insult you. Maybe they will laugh at your jokes. Maybe you’re wearing the same color or love the same music on your separate little Ipods, but if you don’t take the risk of speaking, you’ll never know.

Even famously grouchy selfish New Yorkers are now — yes, really — sharing cabs. And liking it.

From today’s New York Post:

Who needs Facebook?

New Yorkers are making new friends and business partners in the back seats of shared taxicabs.

In just its second day, the cab-sharing program proved to be a great networking tool for several riders commuting yesterday from the Upper East Side to Midtown.

David Alper, a hedge-fund manager, and Adam Gehrie, a corporate financial-services lawyer, swapped business cards and agreed to set up a power lunch after grabbing a group ride from the stand at 72nd Street and Third Avenue.

“We should get together,” Alper suggested as the two exited their ride at 42nd and Park, the farthest the discounted rides will take up to four passengers

Along the way, they bantered about their educations: Gehrie said he attended Georgetown Law School, while Alper reported on his days at Antioch Law, both in Washington, DC.

“It’s a lot of fun to meet new people. I’d do it again,” Gehrie said.

Human beings are not cable channels to flip through at will and click away from the second they annoy or confuse or bore us. We need to connect. We need to connect deeply and intimately.

We are all going to die, some of us much sooner, some in truly agonizing ways that none of us even want to think about. I want my funeral filled with people who knew me personally, face to face, and cared for me. I want people all over the world — and they exist — to notice my absence, whether Matthew, the ggggggorgeous young man I met in 1980 on the train station platform in Huelva, Spain and traveled with for two weeks or Guillemette, my dear friend from Paris, or Pierre, the French truck driver with whom I shared his cab for eight days driving from Perpignan to Istanbul.

We couldn’t shower the whole time — hotels and motels cost money. My hair was filthy and my face broke out from constant road filth. We slept in the cab, his bunk maybe a foot below mine. I had never spent so much time so physically near anyone, let alone a strange man who spoke not a word of English.

I was 25 and he was 35 and we had never met and everyone I knew (it was for a story) thought I was insane.

Insane. How could I possibly do anything so risky?

Best eight days ever!

The way to make connections with strangers is not in ten-second clicks. The way to meet new people and learn how they think or feel or believe or pray or vote (or don’t) or what they eat for breakfast or who they read is not from the stupid safety of your machine.

Look into someone’s eyes two feet from you. Enjoy their perfume (or hate it) or their choice of socks or notice the little scar over their left eyebrow. Maybe they’ll tell you how it got there.

When I was 20 years old, I spent four months traveling along throughout Portugal, France, Spain and Italy. It was a really, really long time to be alone. If I wanted emotional contact with people I did not know, I had to negotiate it and do it safely. These are life skills.

You will not meet or get to know anyone when all you have to do to flee them is hit “next”.