For too many, Valentine’s Day increasingly feels like Christmas – a time when millions of us are surrounded by family, friends, spouses, and significant others but we still feel hopelessly and painfully alone.
Over the past few months, I have conducted a research study, hearing from hundreds of Americans about the most personal parts of their inner lives to learn about intimacy in our nation. It was sobering, and we all need to do a better job of connecting with others to stem this tide.
As humans, we yearn to feel close to other people – for them to understand and accept who we are. Intimacy is as basic a human need as food, water, and sleep. It isn’t just romantic love we crave; we crave an overall feeling of connection to those around us – family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and even the barista we see every morning.
Unfortunately, according to a survey of 692 people across the country and dozens of interviews my research partner and I conducted last year, many Americans feel isolated – surrounded by people in their lives but feeling that no one truly sees them. What the group photos and couple shots that dominate social media don’t convey is that Americans are starved for intimacy – and in some cases going to extreme lengths to feel less alone.
By the numbers, our findings are chilling. Nearly 45 percent of Americans report dreaming of deep emotional connections with others, only to wake up with nobody in their real lives with whom to share those kinds of connections. Almost 30 percent report that they are unsatisfied with their ability to open up to people they enjoy being around. Eight percent even say they do not have a single close friend.
Often, the people we spoke with struggle to make personal connections because they are afraid to be themselves around other people. They fear judgement or rejection because, for a variety of reasons, deep down inside, they feel they are unlovable and are deeply ashamed of who they are.
Many Americans feel isolated – surrounded by people in their lives but feeling that no one truly sees them. What the group photos and couple shots that dominate social media don’t convey is that Americans are starved for intimacy – and in some cases going to extreme lengths to feel less alone.
Almost one in four do not believe they have a single person in their lives that they can truly be themselves around. We feel shame or that we are not good enough.
Consequently, our neighbors are doing what they can to connect. As just one example, we spoke with an operator at QVC who told us she gets calls from people who are just seeking to talk with someone, not because they want to buy a product. While some call QVC, others are searching for a sense of intimacy from podcasts or Twitter or escorts – all with the purpose of connecting.
We need to start calling this what it is – an intimacy epidemic. And we need to put substantial resources into figuring out precisely what’s causing it and how to solve it.
However, there is a bright spot. Over 80 percent of Americans report having been inspired to open up and let others in if someone else goes first. So, this Valentine’s Day, whether you have a significant other or not, consider going first. Show someone you know the real you, and open yourself to a deep connection.