For the first time in my adult life I am living alone, and you can count my true friends on one hand. From childhood up to grad school, I had a plethora of close friends. Most had been my roommates at my alma mater, historically Black Morgan State University. Back in college, I always had sister friends to hang out with, to cross with over the Alpha Kappa Alpha line and form lasting bonds.
After grad school, I married my beloved, Otha. When I walked down the aisle with my late husband, I knew he was my best friend. Otha became my everything. During our four-decade marriage, we raised a family. Meanwhile, I did not call or meet up as much with my college friends because marriage altered the course of my life and relationships.
Otha became ill and transitioned. Within 18 months of his passing, I also endured losing my parents. I did not have close friends to call or lean on for support. I remember moving with my children into a big house to grieve and heal together. We became closer — as friends rather than as parent and children. Having them near shielded me from isolation.
“Not having friends to talk to when feeling down was very hard; it was even more challenging when I had good news or even something silly to share. Being lonely as a Black woman cuts deep because of our rich traditions of kinship and community.”
However, when the pandemic began, I returned to the condo that Otha and I had shared as empty nesters. For the first time in my life, I am living alone. I did not reach out to people for comfort. I immersed myself in the lives of my adult children to distract myself. But not only did I miss the company of others, I missed those parts of myself — humor, empathy, spontaneity — that being with others ignited within me. So, I began a solo mission to rediscover them. In the process, I fell in love with myself again.
My journey revealed how necessary and nourishing a few close friends can be. Not having friends to talk to when feeling down was very hard; it was even more challenging when I had good news or even something silly to share. Being lonely as a Black woman cuts deep because of our rich traditions of kinship and community.
The Way Back to Community and Closeness
That needed to change! So, I explored five life-changing actions:
Our stories only get richer with time; there is no age limit for journaling. We can begin (or begin again) whenever we decide. It’s great therapy! My journal helps me cope. The writing process can help foster the safety and self-awareness that supports developing any new relationship. I am a writer at heart, having been an English major. I love tattooing crisp pages with my experiences and with life lessons I’ve gleaned from other authors.
Bad day? Journaling allows us to express and release thoughts and feelings without judgment whatsoever. Journaling’s proven benefits include boosting mood. As you acknowledge and process experiences, then accept the lessons, you connect with yourself.
You will likely feel more open toward others! I also selectively shared from my journals by starting a blog. This became another way of communicating with others authentically. When you make a close friend with whom you can share, do not stop journaling! Instead, document and celebrate your shared moments.
Get out of the house
This made a huge difference for me. Exercising can build muscle. Engaging with others, even casually, builds our social muscles. Explore the world beyond your social media account and doorstep at least once a week. Face-to-face interactions (even via video call while we’re concerned about COVID safety) fertilize friendships.
It will not always be easy. But understand that this practice is toning your friendship muscles. If you’re vaccinated and taking commonsense precautions, consider trying a line-dance class or attending a social event. You can introduce yourself, share a little about your life and ask friendly questions. If comfortable, exchange social media follows and contact info. Try not to allow several days to pass before touching base.
Reach out to your new acquaintance
You can react and leave a comment on their social media posts. You can give them a quick call to check on their day or to further discuss what they posted. You might reminisce about a meaningful or enjoyable moment shared during your last encounter. After a few of these interactions over time, ask your new pal to attend another event with you or meet up for brunch or lunch. Continue conversations about activities you enjoy, such as travel, favorite wines, music, interior design or home improvement. The more conversations you spark, the more comfortable you’ll become in doing so.
Allow your talks to go deeper or longer
Authentic sharing is a tremendous tool to engage socially and make friends. Starting a conversation is one thing. Holding one for more than a few moments and beyond small talk is something that many people find challenging. Keep a list of topics in your mental back pocket. For example, you can discuss the latest news, trends related to natural hair, your favorite styles and clothing designers, the jobs you’ve moved on from, your alma maters, your grandkids or your career plans. Sharing a story about something funny, surprising, gratifying, frustrating, enjoyable or even ironic can spark inspiration and kindle their interest in knowing more. Save talk about distress or trauma for those you trust and are closest to. Studies show that scammers often target people going through tough times. Likewise, if a new friend shares about a hardship, windfall or emergency and then requests money, consider this a red flag and don’t reach for your checkbook or buy gift cards.
The other half of meaningful conversation is listening. Do so with interest and empathy. You may find, when you’re back in solitude, that reflecting on these talks makes you feel less alone.
Support intimacy with frequent interaction
Although it happens, you aren’t likely to become instant besties. Intimacy is incremental. So, reconnect regularly via a common interest such as a volunteer project, book club, fitness class, weekly happy hour or worship service. Listen. Learn. Affirm. See the world from their perspective. Let them see you and know that you see them.
I’m so grateful for the wonderful people I’ve invited into my life through showing up and sharing. The truth is that the longer we live, the more friendships expire or change. So, get up, go out to a safe, public and populated venue and make small talk with strangers. Who knows? You just might gain true friends and lose chronic feelings of loneliness.