Michelle Rupp: Channel family therapist, Ken Clark joins us now. Hi Ken.

Ken Clark: How’s it going? It’s good to be back. 

MR: It’s good. Yes, it is. It’s good to be back. It’s hard to believe we’re on top of another holiday. Valentine’s 

KC: Unbelievable. It never stops, right. 

MR: Never stops. No, not at all. But I did want to take this as an opportunity to maybe really kind of focus on loneliness. You know, we hear all the things about surrounding yourself with your tribe and your support team and all the things. But sometimes- and first I’ll talk about the people who live alone. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many people you surround yourself with. Especially if you’re living alone, you just get lonely. How can we counteract that? 

KC: Well, so number one, surrounding ourselves with people when we don’t have our person or a few people that are our core people can make the awareness of loneliness even that much greater, right? You can feel alone in a crowd. You can see all these reminders that you don’t have connections. Like other people in the crowd have connections. So, it’s great. It’s better than nothing for sure. You have to have a pole in the water to catch a fish. But it doesn’t solve the problem by itself. And it is a profound struggle for people that live alone. Especially later in life, later in career- kids launched. So, one of the things that we really advise is to think about the type of crowds you’re putting yourself into. Going and hanging out at a bar or at the local driving range is great. But, if we’re looking for human connection that transcends the surface-y stuff, we need to put ourselves in groups and conversations where people are talking about the deeper things in life, right? So, whether it’s at your church, a support group, a stage of life group. Anything where people talk about the real stuff including loneliness is going to be your best bet for overcoming loneliness. If we just stay in the surface-y crowds, it’s really hard to kind of punch through that and makes a connection. 

MR: And, and I would think that’s kind of a hard conversation to have to talk about being lonely because no one really wants to admit that they’re lonely. I don’t care if you are living alone or if you have twelve people in your household. I mean you can still be lonely with twelve people in your household. But, that’s got that is a difficult conversation to start to have. And you have to be choosy who you have that conversation with. 

KC: Yeah. And somewhere in our programming. Somewhere in our, our social script, we’ve picked up this notion that lonely people are needy people. And needy people are people that are exhausting or something. And so we were trained to not be needy, right? But the reality is for most of us, if somebody looked at us and frankly said I need somebody like you in my life. You’re a breath of fresh air. I wish I had more friends like you. We wouldn’t take that as needy. That would feel like the most incredible compliment. And so it’s one of these weird, you know, ironic, don’t do it things. And yet doing it- saying I’m lonely or I need more people like you or I wish I had more connection like this, is often the foundation for good connection. Because you probably just told another needy lonely person that they’re valuable. And why wouldn’t they want to be around that person who deems them valuable? So, you know, we wear our heart on our sleeve, we take a risk. That’s why it’s vulnerability. But, you can’t get the payoff without putting it out there. 

MR: You know, I think of course we talked back last year during the holiday season. You know, that loneliness really gets magnified, but it happens during valentine’s season as well because everybody’s coupling up. 

KC: Well and even within couples, right? We see a lot of people who realize how lonely they are in their relationship when they went to a $200 dinner and just stared at their phone the whole time. Right? You know that I’m with somebody, but the connection itself has drained away. Valentine’s Day is one of those ones that brings it to the surface for a lot of people. And, you know, the most important thing, like most things, is to not ignore the symptoms. So, when we see the symptoms of loneliness, we need to talk to our partner or our spouse or our kids, Or if we don’t have those people that were feeling disconnected with, then that’s where we see a therapist or a pastor or a trusted friend and ask for help. Ask for accountability getting back out there and getting engaged with people. And that’s what it takes sometimes. Is somebody holding us accountable and saying, I want you to get on Facebook or I want you to show up to this with me. So, if you’re stuck, ask for help. 

MR: You know, loneliness doesn’t just affect depressed individuals. You can be perfectly happy and really not have, um not have a lot of things that are going on, but yet still feel lonely. You don’t have to be suffering in silence with a mental illness to be lonely. 

KC: Well and sometimes even things going really well in our life can, can feed loneliness. Right? 

MR: So, who do you tell? 

KC: You know, when you’re the first of your friends to get a pay raise or a bunch of your friends are struggling with infertility and you and your spouse get pregnant or something like that. There’s a loneliness there even because for all the right reasons you’re being empathetic and don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings or make them sad. So, sometimes some of the most successful you know life going all the right way type people. Executives CEOs, leaders are some of the most lonely because there’s nobody else that gets what it’s like to be them, right? We know this from celebrities that their whole life is on stage performing for somebody. And nobody in the audience gets that pressure, which means it’s so lonely. So yeah, you don’t have to be sad or depressed to be lonely. Right? Sometimes having amazing things and nobody to share them with. An amazing sunset or a hike up a mountain and nobody to share it with is sadness by itself. 

MR: So the first thing is that we want to find those people so that we can share those experiences with. Pick up the phone, or take a picture and text it to the friend or something. 

KC: Absolutely. It’s about putting ourselves out there, Right? It’s like a middle school dance. If you remember middle school. All the kids on the wall, not wanting to ask anybody else to dance, you know. But everybody’s wishing somebody would ask them to dance. We don’t grow out of that, y’all. It’s the same thing as adults. Nobody wants to be the person who stands up in the cubicle farm in the middle of your office and says, “Hey, who wants to come over for bunco this week,” Right? Like, we’re all scared to do it, but we’re all dying for somebody to do it. So, that’s number one is you’ve got to take the chance. Number two, we know that experiences both rally and bond people, right? That’s saying to somebody, “Hey, you want to do something sometime” doesn’t have nearly as much traction or success as saying, “Hey, I’ve really been wanting to go see this exhibit at the museum or this new park open and I really want to take my dog. Does anybody want to go?” If we add specifics to the requests that we’re making- especially things that are things that you enjoy- you’re going to attract like-minded people. It removes some of the unpredictability by just showing up and hanging out with Michelle for the next five hours. Is there a start and end time, like how do I get out of this if she’s really awkward? Right? So, when we add experiences and details to the invitations we extend, you’ll get a lot more people that will take a chance and say “sure it’s an hour, what’s the worst that could happen?” Right? So, make sure you add specifics to your invitations. And then follow up with people, right? We all do this, right, This is, this is one of the jokes. How soon do you call the other person after the date? You know, do you call them first? Do you wait two days? Do, you know, do you want to look needy? When you have a good time with people, tell them. Text them a day or two later and say, “Hey, that was super fun, we should do it again sometime.” Let them know that you enjoyed it because when they don’t hear from you, they’re probably wondering, you know, did my breast smell bad? You know, what’s the deal there? So, make sure you close the loop by saying “that was good, let’s do more.” 

MR: Yep. And this happens- I mean, we can struggle with this all year round, it doesn’t have to be Christmas. Doesn’t have to be Valentine’s. I wouldn’t know this, but I guess you probably could be lonely sitting at the beach. 

KC: Yeah, we tend to get lonely when there’s big cultural events of any kind. So, Valentine’s day. You know, homecoming at the local college and everybody’s going to tailgate with somebody, and you don’t have anyone to go with. So, when there’s big cultural events that everybody in society seems to be doing and we don’t have a companion for that. That’s when we really noticed it. 

MR: Yep. And let’s touch- because the pandemic and the isolation didn’t do anybody any favors here with quarantining and staying away and isolate and be by yourself. No- I mean, yes- but no. 

KC: Yeah. So, what the pandemic has done, it’s really weird. It’s given us a lot of venues to connect more than we ever have, right? I mean, a lot of us jumped on zoom on the holidays with people that we haven’t seen in years, and in some ways, that’s more connected and we think it’s really cool. What the pandemic has removed is a lot of the opportunity for play and misadventure, right? I mean, we get together, and one of the first things we do is tell stories of when things went hysterically wrong. Or that time we were driving to Dallas and we ended up in Albuquerque instead, but it was the best time ever. And we saw a concert last night. I mean, we need adventure, misadventure, and play. And that’s one of the things that even though we’re in some ways more connected, we’ve lost the opportunity for spontaneous memories. And so, as we’re rebooting here, and we’re trying to find safe ways to connect, we want to make sure that even if we’re doing it six ft apart, we’re creating room for spontaneity, chaos, serendipity, chance, whatever, right? For play. For people horsing around. For making memories. That’s got to be a part of this. If all we’re doing is connecting and talking That will take a toll. Therapy is great. I’m a therapist. I love when people come to therapy and talk that way, but it’s also exhausting, right? Like, if that’s the only way we’re connecting and talking about the heavy stuff. I mean it’s better than nothing, but come on, we’re playful creatures. So, look for opportunities to inject play and spontaneity, and chaos into the connection. 

MR: Well Ken, is there anything else in our final moments that you would like to add? 

KC: I just want to circle back around and remind you that loneliness is a given. It’s part of the human experience. We all go through bouts of it, seasons of it, moments of it. That every human, including the most popular gregarious charismatic, talkative, outgoing people, you know, struggle with loneliness. The only question is are we going to wear it on our sleeve and say that sometimes I get lonely. To which most people will go, “oh me too, let’s hang out.” So no, it’s normal, and the best thing you can do is just say, “Hey, I need some company.” 

MR: Alright Ken, we will land the plane there. Thank you so much. Love having you here. Thank you. And thank you so much for joining us this week. We’ll see you back here next Wednesday for more AFMC TV.