This is an interesting discussion to me, because there have definitely been times that I have had a lot of friends, but still felt very lonely, and other times where I’ve had a great relationship with my wife, and still felt lonely. Maybe it’s because there are two different kinds of lonely:
“Before we look at the research, let us distinguish the two types of loneliness more sharply.
- Emotional loneliness: An unpleasant feeling resulting from the perception that one is missing an “intimate attachment relationship” or that the existing relationship is inadequate. Emotional loneliness is a very common experience in people who have recently divorced or become widowed.
- Social loneliness: An unpleasant feeling resulting from the perception of not belonging, a lack of social integration, or experiencing one’s social network as deficient. Those more likely to experience social loneliness include people who have moved to a new school or job or migrated to a new country.”
I think it’s important that we understand our need for both. As science keeps telling us, we are social creatures. Even introverts like me need some sort of social activity and friends. We also need those intimate relationships where we can hit those emotional connections. Romantic relationships are an obvious example here, but other relationships can also be our emotional connection.
The lack of one of these will feel like loneliness, but the “fix” will be different. If I’m well-connected to my wife but missing out on the variety of social connections that a larger friend group might provide, that’s where my focus should be, and it might show up differently. The lack of an emotional connection would also look different and brings with it a different set of risks.
In the end, we need both. We need people we are social with and someone we connect with on an emotional level. Those connections don’t have one “right” way to exist, but they are things that can lead to loneliness and that can lead to some poor mental health outcomes.
It’s always good to learn more that can help us avoid those.