What do you do when a friend tells you they are lonely? Do you shrug them off? Get annoyed? Roll your eyes?
Perhaps you think if someone is lonely it's their fault, or that since you're so busy you couldn't possibly do anything to help. Loneliness can hit anyone from time to time, but if you've failed to help a lonely friend, here are some tips for doing better next time.
Things Not to Say to a Lonely Friend
It's easy to blow off a friend's comments about loneliness, especially when you have a life full of people and you're busy. You might even think it's stupid or childish to admit that you're lonely.
But being lonely doesn't mean someone is a social misfit or lazy about friendship, it simply means they don't have the deep connections in their life that you do. There could be a number of reasons for this. Perhaps your friend just doesn't have the family support that you do, maybe their close friends have moved away, perhaps life circumstances have pulled them away from some of their friendships, or any number of things that can happen to anyone at any time.
Another misconception is that lonely people just aren't busy enough. Here are five more things that people get wrong about loneliness.
Avoid saying these things to a lonely friend:
- Lonely? Ha! I never get lonely! I'm so busy.
- Why don't you have any friends?
- Oh, I'd love to have some quiet time like you have.
- I wish I was lonely! My kids keep me running.
- You'll be fine. You've got: (fill in the blank: your kids, your dog, your job.)
These statements make you sound smug and uncaring, even when you have the best intentions at heart.
What to Do With a Friend Who Is Lonely
One reason people avoid helping a lonely friend is because they already feel stressed out and think that their friend will be a drag on their precious time. In fact, you're probably more likely to call a busy friend who doesn't have time for you than a lonely one that needs your support. So starting today, change this approach. Lonely people don't expect you to be there for them 24/7, but they do need some kindness.
Here are some ideas for including a lonely friend in your life, even when you're busy:
- Invite them along to a regular get-together you might be having with another friend.
- Ask them if they want to come with you to run an errand. You can chat and get to know each other as you both grocery shop or run the kids to their appointments.
- Ask them over when you have a family dinner. Your family has to eat, and so does your friend. Combine the two.
- Help them make a connection by introducing them to your other friends.
- Feel like chilling out in front of the TV? Ask a friend over to join you.
- Call to check in on them occasionally.
Don't Use Your Lonely Friend as Your Backup Plan
Some people think that because someone has admitted they're feeling lonely, that must mean they just don't have enough to do. But what lonely people lack are relationships, not tasks. So avoid taking advantage of lonely people.
- Call them only when you need a favor or babysitter.
- Say "let's get together" and then never follow up.
- Promise a time to get together ("let's have dinner next week!") when you have no intention of doing this.
- Wait until "you've got some time" with nothing better to do than give them a call.
- Call them when you want the attention placed on you, like a party or celebration, and then turn down or ignore their invitations.
Be cognizant of how you come across to lonely friends. If you're not too busy to call them when you need something, then you're not too busy for a lonely friend. Be more self-aware when you're dealing with a friend who needs you.
As a final note, don't judge people who admit they're lonely. Many people who feel lonely don't have the courage to say this and instead suffer silently. Most of the time a number of circumstances have caused loneliness, and these can happen to anyone. If you're blessed with friendships or positive relationships with family members, extend that blessing to people who need it.