Dear Harlan: I moved to take a new job in a small town about six months ago. It’s a college town without much around. There’s one Walmart here and not much open after midnight. I don’t have family or friends within driving distance. I thought I would make new friends, but it has been very hard for me. Most of the people at work are married or in a different place in life. It’s been lonely. I go to church on the weekends and volunteer. I’m doing all the things someone is supposed to do to make new friends. It’s been much harder than I imagined. I can’t leave my job until I’ve been here for at least a year. Do you have any ideas what I can do to tolerate the loneliness and isolation?
Dear Struggling: I’m sorry you’re going through this. It’s hard to feel so alone. According to a recent survey from Cigna (based on the UCLA Loneliness Scale pioneered by the University of California, Los Angeles), over half of Americans view themselves as lonely. When you’re in a new place surrounded by new people, this can happen. The most important thing you can do is not fight the loneliness. This doesn’t mean accepting it as the new normal. Instead, it means giving yourself permission to feel it. Once you feel it, you can face it. Once you face it, you can start finding new ways to walk with the feelings. And once you walk with them, you can create new ways to fill your time. It takes a good year or two to find connection and community. Start with finding a therapist. Then find people in a similar age group who have been in town for a couple of years. Then find more places to build connection and community. Put together a six-month plan. Focus on you. Be selfish. Have fun. Go on an adventure. Then decide how you feel.