Why Midlife is So Lonely (And How to Find Community Again)

Why Midlife is So Lonely (And How to Find Community Again)

Mid-life is such a funny term, mostly because we really can’t pinpoint exactly when our mid-life will occur. Coupled with that, we all do things at different times. I got married when I was 22, but one of my best friends waited until she was almost 30. My oldest and her oldest are nine years apart, so even though we are essentially the same age, our life stage feels very different. What we’re both experiencing in our middle years looks and feels different. As such, the reasons behind our feelings of loneliness vary.

The harsh reality is, though, loneliness can hit at any age or any life stage and all of us who struggle with these feelings are putting our physical health in danger. Recent research reveals loneliness has a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is just as bad for us as obesity and physical inactivity. In fact, if you’re continually experiencing loneliness, the chance of your mid-life occurring while you’re in your 40s-50s is greatly diminished—loneliness increases your mortality rate by 26%. This is just a courtesy heads-up: No matter what age you are, if you’re feeling lonely, keep reading for some helpful tips embedded in the following reasons loneliness feels acute in the middle years.

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  • 1. We falsely believe that connecting on social media takes the place of face-to-face connection.

    1. We falsely believe that connecting on social media takes the place of face-to-face connection.

    If we use social media to replace instead of enhance our relationships, we are setting ourselves up for psychological damage. Connecting with someone face-to-face is different than connecting with someone online. If we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize what we exchange when we give up physical interaction: true authenticity for comfort, deep conversation for superficial connection, complex friendships for the illusion of companionship. “What has been seen is that social media simply does not produce the same levels of psychological ‘well-being’ as real-world interactions have, which is why ‘direct’ interaction is still so important, as shown by the Public Library of Science’s study.

    What to do?

    ·  Take an honest look at how much time you spend on social media. What new limits might you set for yourself to free up more time to engage in person with people?

    ·  Note your fears. If you find yourself hiding behind social media, be honest with yourself and with God. Ask Him for help in tackling those fears and stepping out of your comfort zone.

    ·  Pick someone. Invite them to coffee. Go to dinner. Make a date. Repeat.

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  • 2. We feel we must keep up appearances so they match our social media feeds.

    2. We feel we must keep up appearances so they match our social media feeds.

    Sometimes I think we’re afraid of being “found out.” The thought of keeping up the same front in real life as we do online feels exhausting and fraught with peril. But there’s a reason for that—because it is. It is exhausting to not live whole-heartedly throughout your whole life. We feel pressure to measure up, to build a façade, because what we’re really fearful of is being fully known. But here’s the kicker—we will never know that we are fully loved if we are never fully known.

    What to do?

    ·  Take an honest look at what you are posting. Are you just hitting the highlights? Are you only posting the big wins? Are you oversharing? Consider what it’s like to be on the other side of your posts.

    ·  Take an honest look at why you’re posting. Do you use it as a pick-me-up? Does it fill an empty hole (temporarily) in your heart? With what would God rather fill this hole?

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  • 3. The kids are more independent.

    3. The kids are more independent.

    I’m a Type 2 on the Enneagram scale which means I’m a helper. Sometimes I’m an over-helper. But I do this because of my “fatal flaw” — I need to be needed. As my kids have grown more independent, I realize I’m needed less. This doesn’t mean I’m not called in when things get hard or puzzling. It’s just that I’m no longer always the first to know or even the first resource, because, well, I’m The Mom. We’re also past the age of arranged playdates where, if I’m honest, were as much for my connection with other moms as it was for the kids to socially interact. Less of my life is in direct contact with the life of my kids, so I don’t have that natural pathway to fill my “people cup.”

    What to do?

    ·  Find gratitude for how your kids have gained independence and how your dedication has helped them to be the people they are.

    ·  Think through the connections you’ve made through your kids. Who are people you’d like to reach out to further that relationship without your kids even being involved? What new adventures are you experiencing now that the kids need you less? 

  • 4. Our schedules are so full that we don’t leave time for meaningful conversation.

    4. Our schedules are so full that we don’t leave time for meaningful conversation.

    It’s hard to go deep when your time for real conversation is limited to the five minutes before the church service or when you run into your friend at the grocery store. Many of us are busy with legit stuff. We’re continually juggling multiple facets of our lives all at once. But just like we carve out time to work or fix dinner or exercise (because we are exercising, right?), we have to carve out time to invest in relationships. As a plant does not grow without water, relationships do not grow without time. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we simply do not have the capacity for one more thing. But what if community—filled with real, authentic relationships—actually added to our capacity instead of draining us? Yes, I know you introverts need your alone time. I’m an extrovert and I need alone time. But neither of us need to be alone all the time because God made us for relationship.

    What to do?

    ·  Look at your calendar. Where can you create space for relationship? If you look in your phone settings, you can see how much time you spend on social media. Add up those minutes. Take those minutes out of the “phone-time” category and reallocate them to the “in-person” category. It may not be easy. It will take coordination and planning, but it will also help you grow in incredible ways.

    ·  Give encouragement. Part of being a brother or sister in Christ is meeting with other believers and giving them encouragement. It’s not optional! Often, when we give encouragement, we will receive encouragement in return. 

    Photo Credit: Thinstock

  • 5. We’re afraid to talk about meaningful things, lest we start an argument.

    5. We’re afraid to talk about meaningful things, lest we start an argument.

    Somehow, we’ve lost the art of agreeing to disagree. The basis of friendship is not total agreement on all things. The basis of friendship is mutual respect. You can love someone and not love all their ideas.

    What to do?

    ·  When hot topics come up, do what Jesus did—ask questions. Be curious as to what makes them tick. What is the foundation of their beliefs? What life experiences shaped them? The point of growing a relationship is not to prove that what you think is right and make them align with you, but rather to allow your experiences and ideas to refine each other.

  • 6. Our demographics change.

    6. Our demographics change.

    Change is hard and as we fumble through, the loneliness can be overwhelming. When we go through the loss of a spouse (divorce or death), the loss of a job, the loss of our health, sometimes this also means the loss of the community we thought we had. Even positive changes (retirement!) can cause a shift in our relationships.

    What to do?

    ·  Grieve. Grief is overwhelming when you deal with it. It is even more overwhelming when you don’t. Acknowledge the change in your life and process through it with the help of a friend, pastor, counselor, or support group. Find others who are struggling and ask them to journey alongside you. Even if you think they seem to be navigating “just fine,” there’s a good chance it’s just a façade! Being authentic and vulnerable about your struggles can be a hugely important key to unlocking someone else’s heart.

    ·  Understand your worth. Your value isn’t tied up to your job or your marital status. You aren’t less now that you’re struggling financially or with your health. You are valuable because you are you. You don’t have to “qualify” to be in community. You just have to be.

    Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. She and her husband, Craig, have shared their own hard story in their book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography and are also creators of the Marriage Matters Prayer Cards. They continue to help couples along in their journeys to freedom and intimacy at The {K}not Project. Jen is also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.

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