Thousands of followers and zero friends.
That’s the Millennial Generation in a nutshell these days, at least according to a new survey by YouGov, which found that about 30 percent of the 22 to 37-year-old demographic “always or often” feels lonely. This means that, in comparison to the Boomers and Gen Xers, Millennials are now the loneliest and, ironically, most social media savvy generation in the country. In other words, we’re pros at making “friends” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, but when it comes to real life, well, not so much. The poll also evaluated responses from 1,254 adults ages 18 and older and found that 27 percent of Millennials have no close friends, 25 percent have no “acquaintances,” and 22 percent have no friends at all. Only about nine percent of the Boomers and 15 percent of Gen Xers reported having zero pals. As you can see from the numbers, we’re not exactly doing a bang-up job at the whole companionship thing.
Much can and has been said of Millennials over the last several years. I’ve personally written an array of columns about my generation’s tendency toward laziness, our affinity for choosing poor political candidates, and for making even poorer life decisions. (Skinny jeans and avocado toast not withstanding.) But rarely does anyone ever stop to ask what factors might be contributing to our problems. Rarely does anyone take the time to analyze why we do what we do. Our culture simply acts as if the modern day Millennial is some kind of mysterious extraterrestrial who crash landed in central California and emerged from a dented rocket ship sporting a man bun and clutching a participation trophy for his first successful spaceflight. Or maybe he’s more like the Rodents of Unusual Size in William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride,” lethargic, smelly, unkempt, yet always poised to viciously attack anyone who might dare enter his domain with a worldview that contradicts his own. Our society studies these bizarre creatures and airs documentaries on them, but only observes from a safe distance.
Of course, the truth is that Millennials are neither space aliens or giant swamp rats. They are human beings possessing the same spectrum of complex emotions as everyone else and are therefore subject to a whole variety of feelings and psychological tendencies. Among those is the capacity for loneliness.
But why do we feel this way? Who or what is to blame for our loneliness? While the culprits may differ in a few select and specific situations, I don’t think we can continue to blame technology and an addiction to social media platforms. That’s a massive oversimplification of an inherently complex problem. We honestly can’t even blame employment, environment, transportation, or finances. I’m an epileptic Millennial with a driving handicap, living at home, dependent upon my parents and friends for transportation, working part-time for my dad’s nonprofit organization and a local lifestyle magazine, while occasionally cutting grass on the side, and I still manage to find time for social interaction, dating, and the like. Enough with the excuses.
The real reason most Millennials “feel” lonely, and report a lack of friendship, is because they actively and intentionally choose to isolate themselves and avoid meaningful connections with other people. Something within their emotional and psychological makeup decides that they would rather get by in life without developing deeper relationships. Sure, they might spend eight to ten hours a day with their coworkers at Burger King or at the office, but when they clock out and go home to an empty apartment or to mom and dad’s house, they still feel overwhelmed by a sense of emptiness. Some of them might even go to church once or twice a week, but never take the time to form a substantial bond with another human being or have coffee with a few peers. They live lives of utter seclusion, totally cut off from the rest of the world, all while wondering why they feel so alone. This is not healthy.
Whether they’re glued to Facebook or textbooks is irrelevant, so let’s stop having the social media debate. We all know young people are typically active online and, more often than not, are glued to their smartphones or laptops. But even married Millennials often report feelings of loneliness due in large part to spending their days consumed by their jobs and only ever seeing their coworkers and spouses. These couples spend little time with family, friends, other couples, or a local church which, again, are all intentional choices. And at the end of the day, isolation is isolation.
I’m making sweeping statements here, but they’re accurate statements nonetheless. Many Millennials have fallen victim to a dangerous mindset that independency and the coveted solo-life are so desirable that, in doing so, they’ve completely ignored the truth that mankind was not meant to try to survive life alone. The numbers simply don’t lie. And I think it’s important to address this detrimental behavior and to issue a couple of reminders to my generation:
1) Don’t get ahead of yourself in life or become discouraged because you haven’t obtained certain social accomplishments like a career, an apartment, a house, a marriage, or whatever. Your peers and your Facebook friends might have those things, but it doesn’t mean that you need them yet.
2) If we’re ever going to break the cycle of Millennial loneliness, and negate all of these new statistics, it will mean getting out of your isolation bubble and making some friends beyond coworkers, classmates, or even your spouse.
These are basic fundamentals, guys. And I really don’t think it’s asking too much. Good luck and Godspeed.