Loneliness is painful. This is not a metaphor. The pain of loneliness lights up the same parts of the brain as physical pain. When you experience the pain of hunger you go and find some food. When we experience the pain of loneliness, it’s time to connect with someone. Without food the body dies. Without connection the human being is sad, withdrawn, angry, depressed, anxious, and at risk of early mortality. So says the research. (Here’s an article on Slate summarizing the research.) One of the benefits of shared housing is that it can alleviate this pain.
So Many Chronically Lonely
We live in a time when astonishing numbers of people are chronically lonely. In the United States some estimates are as high as 60 million people, 20% of the population. (Source here.) The numbers are equally high in Europe. Why are so many people lonely, chronically lonely?
In our contemporary life it’s so easy to get disconnected! We no longer need to interact with others for our basic survival. We obtain food in impersonal supermarkets. Heat, light, and water arrive in our dwellings automatically. All our basic needs can be taken care of without connecting. We move to destinations in cars that prohibit interaction. Many, many people live alone. A full twenty-seven percent of households in the United States are single occupancy. This rate is higher in cities.
How do you fix loneliness?
How to Connect
The usual recommendations are join a club, take a class, do volunteer work, or smile at a stranger. These recommendations go in the right direction but by themselves are not enough. It’s possible to do all those things and never make a connection. We have to engage. Small talk is the beginning. “How are you?” “How’s the weather?” “Why are you____(taking this class? doing this volunteer work? ) Following up and going further in the conversation. Gauging whether the other person is interested in engaging with us. It doesn’t happen immediately. It takes time to build connections, it takes encountering a person and having an exchange, a conversation. It takes doing this multiple times as we learn about the other and reveal something about ourselves. Do we like this person? Do they like us? What is “liking” anyway?
How we build social connections and make friends is a complicated subject! Time and opportunity are essential elements.
A smart way out of social isolation is to share housing.
Living with others allows for regular, often daily, social connection. While a home-mate is not automatically a best friend, he or she is someone to whom you can say “hello” and “how was your day?”. You might fall into conversation, you might choose to share a meal, and you might be able to help each other. You build a home-mate relationship. As you have experiences of the little things that build connection, the pain of loneliness eases. We are meant to be connected to one another. It feels good.
Having the lights on when you come home at night is comforting.
Finding a Right Home-mate
Of course, it is essential to have a good home-mate. I’m convinced there’s someone for everyone where you are a neatnik or a slob, a night owl or a morning person, a introvert who is happy doing stuff at home or an extravert always on the go. Select carefully and you might have a home sharing situation that lasts for years. Two places to start your exploration are to read Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates and or take our course The Five Key Benefits of Shared Housing. You might also enjoy reading about people who are sharing housing. There are interviews here.