Loneliness is recognised as a huge issue in the older generation, with countless schemes set up for the over 65s to stay active and stimulated by conversation. But what happens if you’re lonely…and 23? Louisa Davies investigates…
Your early twenties are meant to be your selfish years, consumed by countless parties, nights out, career changes, casual sex, gigs, festivals, holidays, impulsive purchases… They’re the years you find out ‘who you are’, you have your income to spend on rent and then whatever the hell you want, your friends are (largely) available for spontaneous nights out in bars that sell expensive cocktails, and you are expected to take full advantage of the freedom of your early twenties. Your calendar is meant to be booked up, and your weeknights are meant to be consumed with random dates, nights out to the cinema, bars…. The last thing you are meant to be is lonely.
So why does it feel so isolating?
A recent study showed that young people aged between 18-25 feel lonelier than people in their late 60’s, a worrying stat for a generation that ‘should’ be the most socially active. Loneliness is a silent killer, quietly eating away at you until you find yourself stripped of confidence completely, and more alone than ever as you shut yourself away from society.
There are countless schemes and community centres available for the elderly to increase their social activity, with John Lewis’ ‘Man on the Moon’ advert reminding us all to call our Nan’s more than we already do, and help those who are left alone in their old age.
But, whilst this is completely admirable and understood, what about the 19 year old who’s just moved to university, away from home for the first time?
The 21 year old in her first ‘real job’ in a city she’s never been to before?
The 24 year old who’s single, whilst her friends are loved up with their partners?
An increasing problem for our generation is our reliance on social media. We are young enough to admit that the apps we love are a part of our life, and a huge reason we CAN communicate so easily (Whatsapp groups are a saviour…), but old enough to crave the simplicity of communication less than ten years ago.
A quarter of young people in their twenties admit to hate phone calls, and never ring their friends, relying on Whatsapp/texts and Facebook messenger to communicate. They also have admitted they would prefer to talk about ‘difficult topics’ such as mental health, feeling and emotions via social media, finding it harder to articulate in person.
Is our reliance on social media preventing us from making real life plans? Is our dependency on the digital world softening how we take it when a friend is in need, and asking for help?
The argument that our phone keeps us connected could also be the very thing making us feel more isolated than ever, as we lose touch with physical conversation, depending on emojis and GIFs to portray our real feelings, softening the blow of serious topics.
Social media is also a constant feed of ‘best bits’, showing us how much fun everyone is having whilst you’re sat at home. Whilst you’re in on a Friday night, you are able to view all of the social lives of your best friends, having so much fun without you.
FOMO is real, and it’s affecting our mental health. We want the best, all the time, we want to be doing everything and anything. It’s never enough, because your friend is in LA, or another friend just got engaged. It’s important we learn to differentiate the real from the filtered, and realise that our feeds are curated to show people our highlights.
One day you could upload the image of you and your friends at a party, the next you’ll decide not to upload a picture of you on your own rewriting your CV. It’s difficult to remember a world before social media, but it’s important we do try.
Early twenty-somethings are also, largely, used to institutions. Whether it’s school, college, university, there was a permanent structure in our lives from aged 3-21, offering us friends at every corner, activities, homework, dissertations, clubs, societies…. There was an endless barrage of things to do.
Fast forward to post 21, and things are a little different. Our jobs are consuming, our friends are at every corner of the country, all trying to keep their heads afloat with lower salaries and higher rent, and it’s a difficult adjustment to make. The friendship groups we made are now restricted to Whatsapp groups, and monthly meet ups.
Loneliness in your twenties can be crushing, as you feel like a failure. You should be having the time of your life, what the hell is wrong with me? And sure, you make plans, you see people, but it doesn’t always appease those quiet evenings where you feel totally, and utterly, alone.
Reports also state that ‘millennals’ (what are we bloody like) are going out less and less, preferring staying in to paying high prices in bars for drinks. Clubs are closing down, and it’s difficult to congregate all your pals in your shared house in Tooting, with one small bathroom between seven housemates.
It can be isolating, lonely, and can also lead to larger problems such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, as you feel you simply aren’t good enough to congregate in social situations anymore. We are here to tell you, if you are feeling like this, that it’s OK. It’s OK to feel lonely, a little bit anxious, and maybe a touch scared about what the hell you’re supposed to do next.
Loneliness can be dealt with head on. It can be cured, it’s never the end, even though it can feel like that. A chat with a trusted friend or family member to tell them how you’re feeling, reaching out to your friends you haven’t seen in a while, or even making small/big changes to your lifestyle to get you out of the rut. This could mean joining a sports club, a gym, or even bigger changes like moving cities or jobs.
It’s completely up to you.
Your early twenties are meant to be enjoyed, but they’re also there to make mistakes. So never feel like a failure, it’s all a part of the journey, and there is always someone there to talk to. Even when it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.
Our pride is high in our twenties, and to admit you feel alone can be scary to say out loud. If you feel more comfortable telling a friend via Whatsapp, then utilise the technology. Or even better, pick up the phone and REALLY freak your friend out. Are phone calls vintage yet?…
Ultimately, it’s about looking out for each other. See someone on their own during Freshers Week? Say hello. Not spoken to your old college friend in a while? Give them a text and arrange a meeting.
You never know how much it would mean to someone.
If you’re feeling lonely, or are worried about your own mental health, call The Samaritans confidentially for a chat at any time of the day.
Written by Louisa Davies