How To Beat Loneliness On Valentine’s Day, And Beyond
Giant red hearts abound, chocolate manufacturers are rubbing their hands together and the couples among us are panicking about what to buy each other. Ah, love! Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day. But while the most romantic of dates in the calendar might be the perfect excuse to show your partner just how much you love them, for those without significant others, it can compound feelings of loneliness. And loneliness, according to a 2010 meta-analytic review published in PLOS Medicine, increases your chance of death by 26 per cent. It can be as bad for your health as smoking.
For men, the problem of loneliness is exacerbated thanks to our seeming inability to, well, reach out. According to 2018 research conducted by the Movember Foundation, a staggering 47 per cent of us feel unable to confide in our friends. For Ms Sarah Stein Lubrano, head of content at The School of Life, which helps people lead more fulfilling lives via books, classes and therapy, loneliness can also be attributed to the way that life in the Western world is structured. “Many of us work long hours and have long commutes,” she says, “and the collapse of religion as a place of gathering for many has led to a lesser sense of community. Loneliness is, in part, a problem caused by modernity.”
Try as we might, we can’t escape modern life. But while travelling to a time in which community was a simple fact of life might be a bit of a long shot (OK, impossible), there are other ways to give loneliness the beat down this Valentine’s Day. Here’s how.
For more in our series on men’s health, visit the MR PORTER Health In Mind page.
Look for non-romantic love
Love, as the classic piece of modern cinema Love Actually shows, isn’t purely about romance. There’s love between siblings or friends, or even colleagues, and actively looking for love regularly in these non-romantic forms can keep loneliness at bay.
“Our society makes romantic love seem like the be-all and end-all, but other connections can be just as meaningful and profound,” says Ms Stein Lubrano. “Don’t equate loneliness with a specific need for romantic love. Reach out to old friends, relatives (don’t forget Grandma), people who’ve helped you in the past, to tell them how much that meant, and so on.”
Create new social connections
“One of the best things we can do to manage loneliness is to talk about it,” says Mr Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind. If you don’t have anyone you can talk to, forging new social relationships can help. “Doing this might be difficult if you’ve been isolated for a long time, so take it slowly and don’t feel pressure to talk to people straightaway,” he says. “Making new connections through a sports team, reading group or other social activity can help. Or volunteer, to help others and meet people at the same time.”
Ms Stein Lubrano suggests asking questions and then listening, hard. “Most people don’t get enough attention and time to talk their thoughts through,” she says. “It’s a gift, and the start of the most meaningful connections.”
We all know what it’s like to meet new people and, more often than not, small talk is the order of the day – topics such as the weather, the environment and politics. When it comes to questions, they usually involve people’s professional lives or hobbies, or where they live. For Ms Stein Lubrano, this is where most people fail to create the desired spark.
“Don’t ask questions about people’s surface selves, like what they do for a living, or which films they saw,” she says. “Dig down into what we call the deep self, their private joys, fears, regrets and hopes. Instead of asking what someone does, ask them what they wish they could do in a utopia and why. Instead of asking which films they’ve seen, ask them which films they wish existed and why. There’s a standard social script that people tend to revert to, but this often makes us a lot lonelier.”
Have the courage to be vulnerable
Consider Mr Clint Eastwood or Mr Steve McQueen – examples of the archetypal strong, silent man. Historically, these icons of Hollywood were the golden standard of male, erm, maleness. Men wanted to be like them and women wanted to be with them. But while strength has its virtues, so does vulnerability. Mr Andrew Scott thinks so, too.
“Too often we expect to be loved for our strengths,” says Ms Stein Lubrano, but it’s often our vulnerabilities that bring us together. “Would you rather go on a date with someone who tells you all the things they think are great about themselves or someone who admits they are a bit of a mess but well aware of it and managing with good humour? We suggest the latter might be a better partner. All of this holds true for friends as well.”
Learn to enjoy time spent alone
Being on your own is, unsurprisingly, more likely to increase feelings of loneliness, especially if you spend that time scrolling through your social media feeds, overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and failure. “Be careful when comparing yourself to others, particularly online where they seem to be having more fun, or spending time with more people than us,” says Mr Buckley. “We can’t know how others truly feel when their phones are off, and they might be as lonely as us.”
What if, instead, you could take that time you have on your own and harness it to improve your wellbeing and sense of self? Well, then you’d be neutralising some of loneliness’ sting. “Alone time is when we can most get into the state of flow and give deep attention on the things we love, whether that’s video games, books, writing and so on,” says Ms Stein Lubrano. “Because being alone is often considered inferior, especially for single people, it’s easy to forget that it is also valuable.”
Illustration by Mr Tommy Parker