Having a social life can feel like a full time job

As someone who teaches and fosters social skills any way she can, I’m often struck by the unfairness of it all. Why do we live in a world where acquiring and maintaining one of the most basic human needs is such a struggle?

Why does it all feel so forced and artificial?

Aren’t we all busy enough just trying to keep body and soul together without having to run around looking for connections, friendships, etc.? Is it any wonder that social isolation is on the rise, and that many people lean wayyyyy too hard on a few key relationships (like parental or romantic ones) to fill all their social needs?

If you find yourself nodding in agreement with any of this, I’m here to tell you you’re not wrong. We are at a point in our culture and our history where having even a minimally adequate social life is far too much work. It’s not fair. It’s not right.

It wasn’t always this hard

In the book Bowling Alone, the author describes a host of factors that have conspired over the past century or so in western society to push us apart. Car culture, consumerism, urban design, the cult of individualism, the rise of TV and other screens, and other influential elements have created a world in which the path of least resistance is to be alone.

There was a time when, for example, people tended to work and live in smaller geographic areas. That meant they were likely to walk to their daily destinations and would casually cross paths with others doing the same thing. Seeing the same people in passing every day, either on the street or at the corner store or what have you, naturally built up acquaintanceships with the potential to blossom into more meaningful relationships.

Before the advent of screens, the amount of time a person could hang out inside their own house without boredom driving them out to a pub or community function or sports team or whatever was limited. Now, it’s the easiest thing in the word to stay home indefinitely, endless entertainment right at your fingertips.

Back then, as soon as a person left their home, they naturally started running into other people, often the same people repeatedly. Hey presto: social lives would ensue. Naturally, organically, and without anyone having to take a course or be a wizard of charm and relatability.

We’ve largely lost that. We are now set up to be alone by default. And it’s bad for us.

Which is why, as much as it sucks, it’s a lot of work to be a social person now. Whenever we do put in the effort required, we are fighting against a tide of factors pushing us the other way. So of course it’s tough.

It’s worth it

But that doesn’t make it any less important. This is work that’s worth it. Maybe one day, with good urban planning and other innovations by wonderful creative people intent on shifting things back to a healthier social state, it won’t be so tough.

But until then, it’s the job of every one of us to resist. Every time we reach out to an old friend, every time we host a party, every time we make time for that coffee date we’ve been meaning to schedule, we are pushing back against the tide of isolation that wants us to pretend we don’t need other people, and that will ultimately saddle us with all the burdens that isolation inevitably brings.

We can do this. We must do this. But it’s ok to admit that it is much harder than it ought to be.