This column is going to ask you to take a risk and make yourself uncomfortable. This might not work. You may dislike what I have to say about our society. You may even hate how personal this will be.
This column starts with a serious statement: Everyone is lonely.
Since when has loneliness become such a taboo? No one talks about it, no one admits it and hell, pigs must be flying if anyone is doing anything about it.
My goal is to make pigs fly.
Now I’m going to get a little psychological with you for a minute. I’m sure you won’t have a problem keeping up. The following is called the Naked Photo Test.
Say a photo turns up of you nakedly doing something that would shame you, your family and your kids – if you even get the chance to have them – for generations to come. This photo isn’t something that can be posted and laughed at on Imgur. This is something along the lines of bestiality. Now ask yourself: How many people in your life would you trust with that photo?
For me? One person for certain and possibly two. If anybody beyond that saw it, I would be part of the group of people that no one would ever mate with.
I would say if answering “less than three people” defines you as lonely, then I repeat: Everyone is lonely.
Loneliness is a constant ebb and flow. Trouble is, there is more ebb than flow, especially within this century. In their book “The Lonely American,” Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz point out that “according to the 2004 General Social Survey, one out of four Americans talked to no one about something of importance to them during the last six months.”
Have we made fewer friends? Or are we just talking to friends less?
Does anyone call it that anymore? Friendships are part of the past. Now we just have friends or “followers,” who are neither our friends nor our followers.
OK, maybe some of our friends are real, but let’s really look at how college students become friends. For many, friendships were almost forced. If you’re going to be living in a dorm, not being friends with the people on your floor isn’t too much of an option, is it?
On the other hand, plenty of students come up with reasons to not connect with others, in a dorm or not.
A friend of mine who studied psychology at the University of New Hampshire and transferred to the University of Wisconsin said, “I do think college students are lonely. I struggled with it a lot in college, especially at the beginning. I tried to be focused on my own studies, and everyone else seemed focused on theirs.” Eventually connections are made, as well as friends. But these connections now work in a much different way than they used to.
Prior to the digital revolution, we scheduled plans ahead of time with friends and we met up at that time and at that place. Any other friends who wanted to hang out would either join us or they would have to plan a separate time to hang out with us.
Now that we are the driving force of the digital revolution, our planning has changed. We now monitor the movements of all our friends and – in real time – we choose to do that which benefits us most, that which provides the most excitement and that which is most fun. We continuously analyze what situations we can place ourselves in and choose those providing the most gratification.
The same works with relationships.
UW-Madison Secret Admirers
T.S. Eliot observed early in the television age, “It is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time and yet remain lonesome.”
I would say the same for the popular Facebook page, “UW-Madison Secret Admirers” – it’s a medium which permits thousands of students on campus to compliment someone and yet remain lonesome and anonymous.
Secret admiration is a compliment but not a connection.
Here’s something to think about: Maybe so many people stay in relationships – good or bad – because they have no certainty that there are other people interested in them who might be a better match. They have no one else to monitor, compare or weigh options with. Thus, those who are lonely stay lonely.
“UW-Madison Secret Admirers” is the absolute perfect escape route by which to avoid doing what matters: connecting. Anonymously telling that girl your feelings or that guy how long you’ve been crushing on him is the easiest, safest thing you can do. It gives us the feeling we’ve connected, when actually we haven’t.
“UW-Madison Secret Admirers” is the reason we’re still lonely. We have to stop beating around the bush, playing it safe and avoiding connection. We’re going to stay lonely until we choose to sacrifice our fear of rejection, until we choose to sacrifice our embarrassment of blushing or choking up and choose to sacrifice the parameter of our comfort zone.
In regards to relationships and friendships, there are people all around you who are equally or even more lonely than you. Let’s connect. Let’s make pigs fly.
Garth Beyer ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism.