Do you have a deeply trusted confidant, a friend so special
and so dear to your heart that you feel totally at ease talking
to her about your deepest secrets, your most profound sorrows,
and your greatest joys?
Do you have more than one?
If you answered yes to one or both of the above two questions,
you are part of a very fortunate but ever-shrinking group
of Americans, according to an important new study about the
widespread growth of social isolation in the United States.
Lynn Smith-Lovin, a sociology professor at Duke University,
and one of the key researchers involved in conducting this
in-depth, comprehensive study, says the findings indicate
that one fourth of Americans reported feeling that they have
nobody with whom they can discuss their innermost thoughts,
worries and woes.
According to Shankar Vendantam's recent Washington Post article
about this study, this is "more than double the number
who were similarly isolated in 1985. Overall, the number of
people Americans have in their closest circle of confidants
has dropped from around three to about two."
What Katrina Can Teach Us About Our Increasing
Social Isolation and Our Decreasing Sense of Social Obligation
The latest research indicates that more of us are feeling
more socially isolated than ever be
Like all Americans, Smith-Lovin was particularly struck by
the deeply disturbing images of so many of our desperate,
stranded fellow citizens waving from the rooftops of their
ravaged homes in the wake of Hurricane
Indeed, in the Washington Post article about her study, Smith-Lovin
is quoted as saying that the Katrina images resonate with
her so profoundly "because
those people did not know someone with a car. There really
is less of a safety net of close friends and confidants."
In addition, Smith-Lovin and her colleagues maintain that
there is a direct connection between our nation's ever-growing
sense of loneliness and social isolation and another, equally
vexing social problem: a significant decrease in our collective
sense of social obligation. Specifically, what sense of moral
obligation do each of us feel toward our fellow citizens,
especially when they are going through tough times-as so many
did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?
What are the forces behind this dramatic increase in social
isolation, and the corresponding drop in our sense of social
Not surprisingly, sociologists such as Robert D. Putnam,
the author of Bowling
Alone, cite numerous causes, including the dramatic increase
in television watching over the past several decades, the
similarly dramatic increase in the length of our commutes
to and from work, and the fact that fewer and fewer of us
are joining clubs (such as bowling leagues) and other social
The question about whether the latest advances in communications
technology (cell phones, email, the Internet, etc.), are bringing
us closer together or driving us further apart remains unanswered-though
of course sending email messages and "surfing the Net"
do tend to be solitary activities for most people.
Certainly the older we get, the more effort is required of
us to create and maintain new, lasting friendships with like-minded
people. Children, teenagers, and even young adults have greater
access to potential friends in their neighborhoods, schools,
sports teams, summer camps, etc. At college, in particular,
where many young people share the same living environment,
they often have ample time and opportunity to engage in wonderfully
long, late-night discussions about their innermost hopes,
fears and dreams.
But as we age and become more wrapped up in the day-to-day
responsibilities of managing
our over-booked lives, we end up having less and less
time to devote to the rather time-consuming but profoundly
worthwhile task of building close, lasting friendships.
For this reason (among others), some adults come to regard
their spouses or significant others as their one and only
true confidants. But what if that one special person leaves
or dies? It may sound morbid or depressing even to speculate
about such things, but this is why people do need to have
more than one close friend in their lives.
Exactly How and Where Can
Busy Adults Meet Potential Close Friends and Confidants?
The good news is that there are many ways to expand
our social horizons and form deep, lasting friendships.
Join a pre-formed group that fulfills a particular need.
For instance, if you are a stay-at-home parent of small
children, consider joining a parenting group such as Mom's
Club, chapters of which can be found in many communities
throughout the U.S. Or, if you have a specific hobby or
interest, join a group that is based on that hobby, such
as a gardening club, an adult soccer league, a bowling
team, or a book club. You can go to your town hall (or
check your town's website) to find out more information
about local clubs.
If you are shy, or if your job requires you to engage
in public speaking, consider attending some Toastmasters
meetings, both as a way to enhance your social confidence,
and as a way of meeting potential friends, who may also
understand how it feels to struggle with shyness.
If no group focused on your interests currently exists
in your town or neighborhood, consider starting one of
your own. For instance, I have a friend who moved to a
new town, and as a way to meet some of her new neighbors,
she decided to launch a book discussion club, a club that
continues to meet monthly to this very day. Through this
club (that she took the initiative to start), my friend
has met several very nice people, including one person
who has now become one of her closest confidantes!
Many people find (or rediscover) a profound sense of
community and social connectedness by starting to attend
(or returning to) religious services at their local churches,
synagogues, mosques, and/or other places of worship.
If you are a busy single parent, consider attending
a dance sponsored by your local chapter of Parents
Without Partners. Not only is it possible to meet
potential romantic partners at such events, but it's also
possible to meet potential friends who are also single
parents. and who therefore already understand many of
the joys and challenges that you face every day.
Consider volunteering at a hospital or community organization,
where you are likely to meet other, equally civic-minded
people (and potential good friends).
If you don't already know your neighbors, consider striking
up a conversation the next time you see one of them. You
never know-sometimes simple, good-natured, neighborly
small talk can lead to more interesting and profound conversations.
Consider taking a continuing education class at one
of your local colleges or universities, and, once you
get there, talk to the professor and the other people
you meet in the classroom, not just about the subject
at hand, but about any interesting topic that comes to
Make a point of taking an interest in everyone you happen
to meet. Almost every individual who crosses your path
has at least one fascinating story to share, so ask questions
that are not excessively probing and personal, but that
do manage to show your genuine interest in your fellow
Consider reconnecting with a former dear friend who
you have fallen out of touch with in recent years. You
might be surprised to find out just how easy it can be
to "pick up right where you left off" with certain
great friends from your past.
Real Friend Test: How To Understand Who Your Real Friends
and Why To Teach Kids To Care: What Amazing New Studies Suggest
To Make All Your Relationships Work
Without Partners, Inc.
SixWise.com contributing editor Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW,
is the author of the e-book, Loving
Simply: Eliminating Drama from Your Intimate Relationships, published
in 2006 by Fictionwise.com, and the print book, Welcome to Methadonia:
A Social Worker's Candid Account of Life in a Methadone Clinic, published
in 2000 by White Hat Communications.
Her articles have appeared in Social Work Today, The New Social Worker,
New Living Magazine, Conflict911.com and other publications. After earning
her MSW from the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work in1997,
she provided counseling services, first at a methadone clinic, and later
at an outpatient mental health treatment facility.
Ms. Baldino has been quoted about managing anger in relationships in
Kathy Svitil's 2006 book, Calming The Anger Storm, which is part of the
Psychology Today Here To Help series. She has also been quoted in such
magazines, newspapers and online publications as For Me Magazine, Conceive
Magazine, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, The Albany Times Union, The
Tallahassee Democrat, Bay State Parent Magazine, TheBridalBook.com, Babyzone.com,
Momstoday.com, The Newhouse News Service, and Indianapolis Woman. She
lives with her husband and children in Massachusetts.