Loneliness, Big Cities and a Sense of Belonging

lonelinessYou know that Kelly Clarkson song  What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger?  There’s a line in the song  “doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone” & that has rung true for me and my living arrangements the past three years.  That’s probably one of the number one questions I get asked, “Are you lonely?” (yes, sometimes, but mostly no…solitude and loneliness are completely different)  I come from a family with four siblings and was with my ex-husband for 33 years…so I love to be around, and live with, people and had only lived alone for a brief time before I got married.  It got me thinking about loneliness and how people get their sense of belonging.  I don’t have to leave my little sanctuary to hear dogs barking, kids squealing, people conversing….and classical music…which all makes me feel part of a bigger community, even though I live alone.  I’m thinking maybe that’s why I like cities…whether NYC, SF or little Balboa Island.  The weird thing to me is that one of the reasons people give for not liking big cities is that they’re too impersonal, without a sense of community, but studies have proven the contrary….hence the myth of urban loneliness. So what makes people feel like they are part of something…and less lonely?

Belonging , feeling part of something, is so important in our social lives and when trying new experiences in order not to feel isolated and lonely.  A study at the University of Chicago concluded that “extreme loneliness can increase an older person’s chances of premature death by 14 percent.” So…how to avoid it?  Prof. John Cacioppo, who lead the study and is one of the nation’s leading experts on loneliness, said “older people can avoid the consequences of loneliness by staying in touch with former co-workers, taking part in family traditions and sharing good times with family and friends—all of which gives older adults a chance to connect with others about whom they care and who care about them.”  …this can be said of any age group…stay connected!

my new friends

I don’t know any of these people, but we bonded over our excitement and
love of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade back in 2010!

A friend of mine moved to California from Europe years ago and we had a discussion about the feeling of loneliness she had when moving from a city to suburbia when she first arrived.  She overcame that feeling by joining social circles, sports and clubs.  I happen to have lived (and will be moving back) to the most amazing suburban neighborhood in Orange County and never felt isolated, but I can totally see how one could feel a sense of loss when moving from a city to a more rural or suburban place.  At the time, 3 years ago, when I was feeling especially vulnerable, I think I moved from that great neighborhood down to Balboa Island because I wanted, and needed, to literally be living in a smaller cocoon-like home with close proximity to a bunch of people, whom I could hear talking right outside my window…it felt less lonely and it gave me the feeling of belonging.  In some suburban locales people drive into their garages, close the door and never wave at a neighbor or talk over the picket fence.   When you’re in a city environment there is always something going on around you.  All you have to do is walk out your door to be around people.  Just being part of a group of people feels less lonely and more engaging, whether you are interacting with them or just sitting on a park bench people watching.  People watching is one of my favorite things to do whether at home or when I’m traveling….trying to fabricate a person’s story just by watching their interaction with whomever they’re with or how they react to that place in time….or just enjoying the clothes and personalities that pass you by.  I guess, then, that loneliness relates more to how you interact with your environment, whether city or suburban, and whether you make the effort to get out and create your own sense of belonging?  I am HOPE-ful that I’ll live with someone again someday and enjoy the companionship and everything that goes along with it….but until then, sure, I may be lonely at times, but mostly I’ll be an active participant in making myself feel less so.


Aaaahhh…the city life!

So, how do you combat loneliness?  Wickihow has some suggestions and the steps to take to get you there.  Having a sense of inclusion is up to the individual to make it happen…and in the process become less lonely.

 You cannot direct the wind, but you can adjust the sails! 


  1. Yet another great post, Jeanine.
    My all time fav author on the subject of belonging, solitude, intimacy and loneliness is John O’ Donohue (very apt considering St. Patrick’s Day yesterday). His book Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong is beautifully written and full of insights. I found great solace from reading this book years ago when I was wandering around the world and longed to belong. The book helped me place my yearning in a wider spiritual context and understand the paradoxical need for freedom and intimacy.

    The book is lyrically written and full of profound understanding, “We long to belong because we feel the lonesomeness of being individuals.” he posits at one point. Then further on asserts that, “The wonder of being a human is the freedom offered to us through our separation and distance for, other person and thing.” and “When you suppress your wild longing and opt for the predictable and safe forms of belonging, you sin against the rest of Nature that longs to live deeply through you.”
    Such a great take

    On another note, what do you think of the current social media trend (facebook, twitter, selfies etc.) – a need to connect, share or stave off feeling of a feeling of invisibility?

    1. Thank you Verinda…I’ll have to read that book, sounds great! I think all of the social media is fun & helps people connect on many levels…as long as it doesn’t replace one’s physical interaction with people which is soooo important, in my opinion.

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