Ways To Get Some Quick Social Contact When You're Feeling Really Lonely And Isolated
You might be a place in your life where you're feeling pretty lonely. You don't have any friends, or only have a few you don't see often enough. You're single. You're between jobs, or work on your own. You're not involved with any clubs or volunteer positions.
Long-term the solution is to meet people and make friends, find a job with more co-workers to talk to, get involved with your community, and so on. However, you probably can't get all those things up and running right away. If your loneliness is really getting to you at that moment, this article covers some ways to get at least some social contact to keep the worst of those feelings at bay. Yeah, in an ideal world none of us would feel so lonely that we have to seek out some emergency human interaction, but it does happen and hopefully this piece can help a little.
The suggestions below are things you can do on short notice and don't require a ton of preparation. So I won't list ideas like "volunteer somewhere" or "join a sports team" that may require you to sign up months in advance or submit an application. I'll also only list things that can let you interact with people, not just be around them (though that can help too).
Of course, some of the suggestions can be a way to meet people and form lasting friendships. But they also let you do some socializing even if you show up once, have some conversations, and never see anyone again.
In my experience if you're feeling really lonely then small doses of social interaction can partially relieve it. No, a conversation here and there can't totally replace having a solid group of friends you can really open up to, but it's much better than nothing at all. I think that's particularly true if you naturally have a lower need for social contact, so it doesn't take as much to make you feel "topped off".
After the list of suggestions I'll address a few concerns people may have about how doing these things may make them feel lame and desperate, or backfire and reinforce their sense of isolation.
Everyday ways to get some social contact
I realize you may not feel comfortable or confident enough to do all of these options, but you should be able to try some of them. A few are pretty low-stakes and give you natural reasons to start conversations.
Attend a meet up, like through a site such as Meetup.com
A good thing about Meetup.com is that you there's always a variety of events you can attend on short notice. If you need a hit of social contact you can see what's going on that day and pick something.
If you're feeling shy on top of being lonely, you can go to more-comfortable gatherings like a board game meet up, where the focus is on playing the game and you're under less pressure to keep a running dialogue going with everyone.
English conversation meet ups can be another way to have a lower pressure interaction. How they work is that English speakers and people learning it are paired up to chat. The conversation can be simple and halting, but if you're shy that can feel easier. No one's expecting you to have a super-witty, complicated exchange.
Show up at a drop-in class or event
For example, a dance studio has drop-in lessons for beginners every Tuesday evening. A library holds a weekly drop-in Scrabble night. A yoga studio hosts a free meditation seminar. The event itself may provide built-in opportunities to talk to the other attendees. If not, you may be able to strike up some conversations of your own, or speak to the organizers.
If you're religious or spiritual, attend a service
Show up early and stay late to see if you can chat to anyone before or after. Maybe you have a regular church, temple, meditation center, etc. that you just haven't been to in a while. You could also drop into a different one to see some new faces.
Spend time with your family or relatives
If you've got family in the area, you get along with them, and you haven't seen them in a while, see if you can get together. There can be a sense that family doesn't "count" as a source of social contact, but if you've been cooped up and isolated, dropping by your aunt and uncle's place and catching up with them for a few hours is still a way to get some human interaction.
Go to an attraction where you can chat to a guide or staff member
To list a few:
- A museum
- An art gallery
- A historical site
- A zoo
These places usually have staff or volunteers hanging around who you can approach to ask questions about what's on display. You can learn anything you want to know, and ask them a few things about their own interest in the topic, what led them to work there, etc.
Go to a public convention or trade show
A nearby auditorium might be holding a show for psychics, sports memorabilia collectors, orchid growers, or any number of things. You can poke around and chat with or ask questions to any vendors who catch your eye. You don't even need to be genuinely interested in the topics you're asking about. Just ask some basic things to get an exchange going.
Go to some stores and chat to the clerks as they help you out
You may not be able to have much of a conversation with every clerk, but sometimes you can end up talking longer than you'd expect. All in all, it won't be the most meaningful interaction of your life, but if you speak with several staff across an afternoon of shopping, you could get enough social contact to tide yourself over for the day. A few examples:
- If you're in the market for some new clothes, go to a smaller store and ask a staff member to help you pick out a few items. Odds are you can make some small talk with them as you try on some outfits.
- If you're into a particular hobby, go to a store for it. The staff are going to be into it too, so you might be able to speak to them for a bit ("I'm thinking of getting this game. Have you played it? What do you think?", etc.)
- If you're interested in trying out a new hobby, go to a store for it and pick an employee's brain. Like if you've always been curious about learning to play the drums, go to a music store and ask any questions you have.
Be more chatty and friendly than usual as you go about your day
If you normally say little to a cashier, ask how their shift is going. If you live in an apartment and usually ignore your neighbors in the elevator, smile and make a few moments of small talk. If you're out for a walk and see someone with a cute dog, ask them what breed it is. They may not seem like much, but these friendly little exchanges can add up. They can make you feel that little bit more connected to your community and the outside world.
Chat to someone you needed to hire anyway
For example, while going to a barber or masseuse. If you already needed your hair cut or to have your back worked on, you can also get an hour-long-ish conversation out of it.
Go to a public place where people gather to take part in a hobby
Then strike up some conversations with whoever's there. Of course it helps if you're into that pastime too, but if not you can approach it as a curious onlooker who has some questions:
Depending on your interests and demographics these won't all fit you, but some examples are spots where people gather to...
- Play a sport, where anyone can show up and take part
- Fly remote control planes, helicopters, or drones
Go to a pub and chat to the other patrons or the bartender
Yeah, this one is a cliche. I also realize not every pub is out of some movie, where you can grab a seat at the bar and instantly start up a conversation with one of the regulars. But it can sometimes work. There may be a quiet place in your neighborhood where you can watch the game, and talk to the bartender or the other customers here and there.
Go to a nightclub or concert and start conversations with random strangers
I fully realize this one is more advanced. Not everyone has the guts or conversation ability to go out alone, then start chatting to people they don't know. However, if you're able to do it, it's one more way to get out of the house and get some human contact at a time when you really need it.
I know, I know. Talking to someone online isn't the same as a face-to-face conversation, but it can scratch the same itch. I don't think it should be dismissed as a way to connect with others. Also, if your circumstances keep you from going out at the moment, talking to people online may be all you can do right now. Again, why write that option off?
Play a multiplayer game
I mean one where you can voice chat at least a little with the other players. Most of your talk will be light banter about the game, which may not be your ideal loneliness-relieving conversation, but it's still a way to interact with other people.
Chat with a random streamer
Apps like Twitch.tv let people livestream themselves as they play games, among other things. Most streamers interact with their audience through chat while they play. More than you'd think, it can give a sense that you and a bunch of other people are hanging out. So go on Twitch, or a similar site, pick a game you're interested in, then find a streamer who only has a handful of viewers. Start watching and type some messages to the chat. Hopefully you can get an interaction of sorts going with them and the other viewers. If not, try someone else. Keep the conversation light, as streamers aren't therapists, and the other viewers aren't a support group.
Go to an online chat room
The heyday of chat rooms is long past, but there are still plenty of them up and running if you do a search. Honestly, I included this one more out of completeness than because I think chat rooms are a top-tier social resource. You may be able to get into a somewhat meaningful conversation if you keep looking, but you'll have to wade through a lot of spambots and horny dudes.
Mental health services
Some people feel ashamed about using mental health services, but they're just another source of support. We all go through rough patches. Many of us struggle with issues like depression or anxiety. If there are resources that can help you get through it, why not tap into them? Also, if you're lonely and isolated because you're quite socially anxious, these could be a safe, logical place to start.
Go to a drop-in support group
Many communities have drop-in support groups for people who have mood disorders, are struggling with an addiction, are on the autism spectrum, and so on. Even if you don't have a formally diagnosed condition, if you're experiencing any feelings of anxiety or depression around your loneliness, it would be appropriate for you to attend.
The format of each group varies, but usually they start with everyone checking in and giving an update on how life's been going lately (though no one's obligated to talk). After that the group might have an open discussion about some topics that came up during the check in.
Of course, these groups have many benefits, like providing a safe place where you can share some of your struggles with nonjudgmental people who get what you're going through. They can also just be a social experience. You get to spend about two hours in a friendly group's company. You can chat to the other members during the break or before the meeting officially starts. Yeah, the subject matter can get heavy at times, but there are also moments where everyone jokes around or speaks about everyday topics. The other group members aren't all scary "mental patients" who you'd never be able to relate to. They're regular people from all walks of life, who happen to be living with a challenge like depression, bereavement, or chronic pain.
Some support groups also organize community outings, to provide opportunities for the members to get together and socialize under lighter circumstances. Like everyone may meet at a local cafe for lunch, go for a walk, or go bowling.
See a counselor
Obviously it's not a good use of your money to hire a therapist just to have someone to chat to. Though, if you were thinking of seeing one anyway, know that talking them for that hour can do its little part to fill some of your needs for social contact. Normally it does take some pre-planning to see a therapist, but some community counseling agencies have walk-in days where you can show up and see someone within a few hours.
Seeing non-mental health counselors, like pastors, can fall under this point as well.
Call an anonymous crisis support line (but keep the call brief)
If all else fails and you're feeling super-lonely and really, really need some human connection, you can call a distress or crisis line. They're not only for people who are feeling suicidal. Many of their callers are isolated, want someone to talk to, and have trouble accessing other options. The volunteers who man the phones are happy to make some light conversation. Though while they're able to chat, they do have other callers to get to, so keep your call to under fifteen minutes and only phone in occasionally.
What if using some of these methods makes you feel flawed or desperate?
Society can send the message that there's something wrong with people who don't have a giant group of friends. If you're lonely and need some social contact you may feel ashamed for wanting it at all, or for trying to get it in non-traditional ways. Here are some things to consider:
- Know we're all vulnerable to falling into lonely periods. It doesn't mean you're a bad person. Sometimes our circumstances make it very hard to have a regular group of friends, like if we have a health condition that limits our mobility. Try to take the attitude that you'll do what you have to do to get the social contact you need, in order to stay happy and healthy.
- Know there's nothing shameful about wanting social contact. It's a basic human need. If you weren't getting enough to eat you wouldn't hesitate to try to find some food. Why beat yourself for finding a way to have some human interaction if you've been on your own for too long?
- Just because you feel like you're weak or desperate for using certain methods, it doesn't mean you have to act that way while you're carrying them out. For example, if you go to a store just for an excuse to make some brief small talk with the clerk, by all outward appearances you can come across as an everyday friendly, chatty customer. No one will be able to read your mind and know you're secretly starving for social connection.
What if trying to get a smidgen of social contact backfires and drives your loneliness home to you?
Being lonely is hard. There are times where it can make you feel really down about yourself. It's possible that going out and looking for a small dose of human interaction will backfire and make you feel even more disconnected and depressed about your circumstances. Like I said, loneliness is rough and there's no easy answer to the pain it can cause. Still, here are my thoughts:
- If a specific method of trying to get some quick social contact makes you feel down, try another one. Some may not bother you as much.
- Just because looking for a dose of social contact makes you feel down once, it doesn't mean it will happen the next time. Maybe one weekend you were in a bad headspace, and going out and trying to be social left you disheartened. The next weekend you may be in a better mood, and getting some human connection will uplift you.
- Try to take the perspective that if you're lonely, you're going to feel bad about it at times no matter what. You might as well try to get some social contact, which has its clear benefits.
- Even if going out and trying to talk to people leaves you in a dejected mood, it may make you feel better in the long run. First, if you do have some conversations, that may alleviate your loneliness a bit, even if it does discourage you on another level. Maybe in a few days you'll look back and be glad you went to that meet up. By getting out there you may also gain a sense that you're taking charge of your situation and trying to turn things around.
- Realize that if you want to address your loneliness, you may have to do things that feel a bit worse in the short-term, but are helpful overall. By never talking to people, you may spare yourself the emotional discomfort of being reminded of your isolation, but you're also letting the lack of human contact build and build, which may lead to worse problems down the line.
- If you're seriously feeling depressed about your loneliness, to the point where any attempt to get some social contact makes you feel even worse, consider seeing a therapist and getting some more intensive help.