I Have Friends But Still Feel Lonely (And What It’s Taught Me)
I’m in the middle of a hard breakup right now. We lived together for seven years and were dating longer than that, so I don’t question why I felt lonely after he moved out.
Of course, I would feel that way. Who wouldn’t?
I have a great group of friends who want to be there for me but sometimes I struggle to talk to them about my breakup. Honestly, it feels like no one understands what I’m going through except myself and my former partner.
So I don’t really discuss it with them, even though they are my friends and doing what friends are supposed to do: Be there for one another.
I just can’t connect with them lately, at least not about this — and it’s made me realize that it is possible to feel so alone, even though you have friends.
In this article, I’ll cover:
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing series The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types that we might experience over the course of our lives.
Why People Can Have Friends But Feel Lonely
A study done in 2021 found that only 59% of Americans say they have a best friend and 12% say they feel they have no close friends at all.
But friendship loneliness doesn’t necessarily happen only to people who are without friends.
You can struggle with loneliness while having “tons” of friends just as easily as you might if you had no friends at all.
Many people have plenty of what I consider to be “surface-level” friends — folks who exist in your periphery but with whom you don’t have a deep connection.
When you’re lacking that sense of connection with others and feel like you don’t have anyone to feel close to, however, you may struggle with loneliness regardless of how many friends you have.
In my case, I have friends — good ones — but I don’t feel like I can talk to them about my breakup. I’m missing that connection with them, and feel lonely because of it.
Friendship loneliness may arise from:
- A move to a new town or city, resulting in the loss of your friend group
- A new job or retirement and the loss of work friends that comes with it
- The death of a close friend
- A fight resulting in isolation from a friend or friend group
- Feeling unseen or misunderstood by your friend group
- Depression, anxiety, or social anxiety
- Chronic or internal loneliness
- Mobility issues due to disability and being unable to go out
- Lacking friendships because you’re considered “too” attractive
- Struggling with something personal that you feel you can’t discuss with your friends, such as a breakup, divorce, or an illness like cancer
- Becoming a new parent with limited opportunity to spend time with friends
- Being childfree when all of your friends have babies or children
- Living in lockdown or quarantine during a pandemic, such as COVID-19
A major life change, even if it’s transient and short-lived, can cause you to feel lonely because of the acute change in friendships that occurs. They might become more distant — or severed completely.
If you are someone who has a hard time connecting with others to begin with, starting over from scratch after a relocation or change in employment can be intimidating and may leave you feeling like you’ll be perpetually alone.
Other times, friendship loneliness can be rooted in depression.
When you are suffering from depression there isn’t much that anyone on the “outside” can do for you aside from being there when you need it — but you may not ask for their help (or advice).
You might even spend a lot of time bored and alone at home.
After my breakup — and still having not fully recovered from the pandemic — I’ve been depressed and lonely.
I know that my friends would be there to listen if I asked them — but I find that I just don’t want to.
It feels like they just have no way of understanding my specific situation — even if that’s not true — so any advice they might offer wouldn’t mean that much to me.
On top of it all, the emotional exhaustion that I experience whenever I talk about the breakup doesn’t feel worth the effort.
In the end, it’s kind of a vicious cycle. I feel isolated because I isolate myself.
How To Deal With Loneliness And Reconnect With Friends
When you’re struggling with friendship loneliness, it might feel like you’re going to experience it forever — or you might even be afraid to be yourself. Thankfully, it’s often just a transient period of our lives that we have to push our way through.
Unfortunately, though, it can take some work on our part!
- Connect with the friends you have:
If you are feeling lonely or disconnected from your friend group, make a concerted effort to forge a connection.
Don’t be afraid to tell your friends how you’ve been feeling!
It can be hard to admit feelings of loneliness and depression because of the way we stigmatize them, but it’s nothing to feel ashamed of.
I know what it’s like to feel unable to open up about something. I’m going through that, myself. There’s a relevant saying that goes something like, “If you can’t be a good example, be a warning.”
So reach out and connect with your friends; they might relate to what you’re going through more than you realize.
If you find yourself hanging out in a group setting that makes you feel lonely, set up a date to have some one-on-one time with one friend, instead.
A more intimate setting can help you connect and alleviate loneliness, and sometimes it’s just easier to open up to one person rather than a group.
- Put yourself out there:
I know it sounds cheesy, but if you’re feeling lonely without any friends — especially if a life change or situation has made it impossible to spend time with existing ones — put yourself in a position to make some new connections.
Join a local league sport, a club, an organization, or sign up for an evening class that’s teaching something you’ve always wanted to learn.
Yes, it can definitely be scary to attend a group activity by yourself, but one thing to remember is that others in the room are likely experiencing the same thing.
So you can be scared, together!
All joking aside, that mild anxiety can be an effective ice-breaker.
All it takes is for one person to say something like “I was a little nervous about attending this class by myself, but I’ve always been curious about [insert topic here].”
At least one other person is going to connect with that comment — and respond.
- Take a social media break:
We all know that what we see on social media isn’t necessarily real — it’s a filtered version of reality — but scrolling through Facebook or Instagram can still make you feel like everyone’s having all kinds of fun without you.
A 2017 study found that people who spend more time on social media have a greatly increased rate of perceived social isolation.
And that makes sense.
Social media posts are filled with happy news, group photos of so-and-so’s birthday or retirement party, engagements, weddings, and a host of fun social engagements you either didn’t attend — or weren’t invited to.
That can take a toll on anyone, even on our best days. We feel isolated from those social interactions because we’re essentially looking at them through a fogged-up window while we’re standing outside in the cold.
So take a break from that nonsense.
Spending some time away from social media can help you to be more present in your real life while giving you an opportunity to stop comparing yourself to people who you perceive to be doing much better than yourself — whether that’s true or not.
- Make an effort to enjoy your time alone:
If a situational change has caused you to lose touch with your friend group, use this time as a chance to learn how to enjoy being by yourself — even if you just do it at home.
Being alone doesn’t mean you have to feel lonely and sometimes, solitude can be energizing.
Go on a long walk, enjoy a nice meal, work out, take in the latest blockbuster movie, or just snuggle on the couch with a good book at home.
Being by yourself can be rejuvenating, but spending time alone is also a great way to make a deeper connection — with yourself.
- Try therapy or counseling:
If you have friends but still find yourself feeling alone, some help from a professional might benefit you.
Depression is hard to suffer through by yourself, but even if you’re struggling with a situational adjustment, a counselor or therapist can offer an ear and some helpful insight.
Simply talking through what you’re feeling can help a great deal, but it’s also good to receive an objective opinion on your situation.
The bonus is that therapy and counseling are done confidentially — so if you’ve got things to get off of your chest and feel you can’t confide in your friends, a professional can fill that void.
No matter the reasons why you’re personally struggling with friendship loneliness, know that many people have experienced this same thing.
It can be embarrassing to admit that you feel like you have no friends because it makes you feel “pathetic.” (You’re not!)
Admitting to your friends that you feel lonely despite their presence in your life can be difficult, as well, because you don’t want them to think you take them for granted — or that they’re not “good enough.”
Both of these situations are very common and neither is anything to be ashamed of.
Everyone goes through dark periods in life — loneliness being among them — but you will find a way to cope and reestablish meaningful connections.
We all do.