Several years ago when I heard that "Loneliness is the disease of this era," I'd look around and claim it couldn't be so. Now, I know better.
We have this mental picture of a lonely woman as that cranky, unlovable, unkempt woman who sits in her dark house all day, surrounded by boxes of stuff. Her blinds are closed. Her house reeks of litter boxes. She seemingly has no family and never married. We pity her.
Who Are the Lonely Women?
In actuality, the truth is that loneliness permeates all boundaries. The profiles of lonely women surprisingly have more in their ranks who are successful, beautiful, social, networked, savvy and powerful. These women are changing the world, starting businesses, raising children and seem to be connected to everyone on Twitter. And yes, many of them are married.
It doesn't shock us as much when single women admit to feeling lonely. We still mistakenly make the connection that once she's married, she will fill that lonely ache.
Unfortunately, as so many now know, simply getting married doesn't cure the loneliness. In fact, as stated poignantly in "The Mirages of Marriage," "The most intense and excruciating loneliness is the loneliness that is shared with another person."
Research continues to reveal that when a man gets married, he feels more connected and reports less loneliness. The same isn't as true for the female counterparts. Our sense of being known and cherished doesn't always correlate to our relationship status.
Why Are the Married Feeling Lonely?
Whether related to the fact that our expectations increase in marriage, or that our new obligations decrease our chances to connect with others as much, many who are married are still lonely.
At least when most women were single they tended to have a more active social life. Now, as married women, many with kids, there is just too much to do to add girlfriend time to the schedule. And with research showing a decrease in our confidantes, when women do have time to get away, we frequently choose to spend this time alone since it takes less energy to be alone than to make new friends.
Having unmet emotional desires leaves many women feeling trapped in their sense of disconnection. The false belief that marriage will automatically lead to a sense of being heard, seen, known and loved may cause some women to enter into relationships that make their loneliness worse.
We are keenly reminded that loneliness has more to do with the quality of our relationships -- not simply our relationship status.
Responding to our Loneliness
It's one thing to feel lonely when you expected to. It's quite another to be surrounded by family and a network and still feel the pangs of disconnection. The temptation is to accept our isolation, as though there are no other options.
Fortunately the current research is too compelling for us to ignore our symptoms. A sense of disconnection is twice as damaging to our body as obesity and is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Lonely brains release higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which impairs the cardiovascular system and can increase the risk of heart disease. Depression rises in conjunction with our lack of meaningful connections. To turn a blind eye to our longings for belonging helps no one.
Hunger pangs, yawns, thirst and pain are ways for our bodies to say to our brains: feed me, put me to bed, give me water and care for this injury. Being able to feel our loneliness means we are in touch with our souls and can hear the hunger for more meaningful community. This is good.
John Cacioppo, a University of Chicago psychology professor and author of "Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection," describes loneliness as "an aversive signal whose purpose is to motivate us to reconnect".
To respond to our need for more meaningful community, we will need to continue to make new friends and invite other women into our lives. Beyond social chitchat and networking. We have the opportunity to heal our bodies and fill our hearts with nurturing friendships. And in this need, you are not alone. Nearly 50 percent of the members of GirlFriendCircles.com are married. There are more of you than you realize.
The line has now become famous: "A man is not a financial plan." And the same is true when it comes to our sense of connection. A man can enhance, add to, and contribute to our relational fulfillment. But a circle of friends, he is not.
What has been your experience? Is making friends easier or harder when married? What has worked for you to ensure that you are surrounded by friends that matter? What are you currently doing to make sure you're fostering friendships?
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Shasta Nelson is happily married to her best friend, but participates in Girls Night every Tuesday with four girlfriends and talks to two friends on the phone weekly. And still feels a wee bit lonely sometimes, as is normal.