Today, I have 425 friends on Facebook. I’m not bragging. Believe me, 425 friends on Facebook is like joining the Latin club in high school. I’m barely making it, social media-wise.
My very cool 20-something sisters, for instance, have 763 and 969. Not that I checked.
I remember very early on in my Facebook existence wondering how someone could possibly have hundreds of Facebook friends. I nearly dropped my account, in fact, when I realized how impossible it would be to actually have hundreds of real-life friends. Facebook was creating a false sense of social connectedness.
Or was it?
Because I work with different people than I go to church with, and because none of those people are part of my family, I have at least three very large groups of people in my life. Just my close family — grandparents, parents, siblings, and nieces and nephew — contains about 30 people. Not to mention my somewhat large extended family. At work, I come into contact with about a hundred people on a daily or weekly basis. And church would easily add about 150 more people I interact with regularly. Not to mention random friends I have picked up along the way, and neighbors, former classmates, colleagues.
If you do the math, I have almost as many real-life relationships as I do Facebook friends. That’s more than a Latin Club!
The problem is, I was right two years ago when I opined about the impossibility of that many relationships. And if you are married and have children, like most families, each person in your home has several of these large groups of people in their lives, creating near social gridlock when trying to develop closer relationsips with some.
Randy Frazee, in his book Making Room for Life, calls this “crowded loneliness.”
In reality, though, it’s possible to be in the company of others and still feel isolated. Community specialists call this brand of isolation experienced by the majority of Americans as “crowded loneliness.” It is the most dangerous loneliness of all because it emits a false air of community that prevents us from diagnosing our dilemma correctly. We have exposure to people but not a deep connection to people.
The solution to this disconnected loneliness, according to Frazee, is to move away from “linear” relationships – when the line from you to the people you know goes only one way – and toward a circle of relationships – where the people you work with and worship with are the same people who live in your neighborhood and play ball with your kids.
Sound remarkably like the small town I grew up in, but I don’t live there anymore.
So what else can I do to go from 425 disconnected friends to a vibrant community of circular relationships where I feel connected and secure? I certainly don’t have friends to shed. And yet maintaining so many relationships often feels overwhelming.
How do you create community in your life? Or are you in the same boat feeling the crowded loneliness that seems to go hand in hand with our modern lives?
By the way, I’m not done with Frazee’s book, where in just a few chapters, he is supposedly going to give me the answer to my communal woes. Stay tuned for real help for crowded loneliness!