Loneliness is, apparently, felt more acutely in the US by people under the age of 30 than in any other age group. Can you believe it? How bloody sad is that! Young people have more chance to interact with others, through the internet and social media than at any other time in history and yet loneliness is becoming as big a threat to their health as obesity.
They can share every aspect of their lives with their friends and friends of friends and complete strangers, they have hundreds and maybe thousands of connections with other people. The thoughts and feelings they share will be ‘liked’ or commented upon or criticised ad nauseam and I can’t help but wonder how much this affects the things that they share in the future. The advent of ‘selfies’ means that our image is constantly popping up on social media and, again, the pictures we post can be ‘liked’, commented upon or criticised; how does this affect our self image?
Let’s imagine that a teenage girl finds a dress she loves for her prom. She feels great in it, thinks that she looks amazing and feels more confident about her appearance than she has done for ages. She heads off to prom with one of her best friends who is also dressed up to the nines. They have that special bond that only teenage girls can have and are full of expectation as they chat and giggle about the night to come. They admire each others outfits, hair and make-up and describe to each other, in great detail, how they’ve imagined the wonderful night ahead; they’ve probably not thought about, nor talked about, anything else for weeks!
The inevitable selfies and group photos are posted online within minutes of their arrival; they get some ‘likes’ from their close friends but then the comments start:
“Not sure about that dress on you Jane but I love your hair”
“Mary looks so hot but Jane – what were you thinking LOL!”
“Yeah, Mary’s got an awesome bod why’s she always with that dog Jane?”
And so it goes on. The pack on social media smells blood and suddenly complete strangers are praising Mary to the hilt and tearing Jane’s self-esteem into tiny pieces. The comments keep on coming and the night of Jane’s dreams has turned into a nightmare because it was shared with her online ‘friends’.
Her real friend, Mary, has become the centre of very positive attention but Jane is left isolated by mocking laughter and resentful of the girl that she was so unfavourably compared to. Their friendship may recover from this virtual assault but its unlikely; so much about teenagers lives in shared online that their attackers have the means to really hurt them readily available. Jane will drift away from someone that she was genuinely close to and will probably seek out those who defended her; they may well be complete strangers but they will feel like friends because they tried to protect her in her hour of need. The Worldwide web is exactly that so the chances of any of her defenders being in close enough proximity for her to have an actual relationship with them is unlikely so they chat online instead.
Jane will feel isolated in her real life because those around her will have been witness to her humiliation on prom night; they will have actually seen her tears of mortification and maybe even mocked her for her weakness. Fortunately she will have her new virtual relationships which will give her a chance to express herself and unleash her feelings so she will increasingly spend time in front of the computer in her bedroom or huddled in a corner somewhere frantically tapping away on her phone.
Unfortunately, the online ‘friends’ who really know nothing about you but were happy to jump on a bandwagon crusade on prom night will soon stop sending messages of love and support and may, instead, start telling you to “grow a pair” or “stop being a cry baby”. Jane will again feel like a victim, misunderstood and with self-confidence in tatters.
Eventually turning back to real life she will realise that Mary has moved on and no longer really wants to be best friends; after all she did nothing wrong and felt hurt and betrayed when Jane turned away from her. It’s at this point that Jane will start to feel truly lonely; she has access to virtually everyone on the planet but she does not love or feel loved – is it really a surprise that loneliness is becoming such an issue for so many young people?
I’d really love to hear about your experiences, especially if you are under 30 and feel the burden of loneliness. The tale of Jane and Mary came from my imagination but please, tell me, is it really like that for some of you?