Our resident agony aunt Rhona McAuliffe has a solid game plan for how to build a new social life
I’m 27 and have never felt more isolated. I’ve always been highly sociable, was an active member of the Ents team throughout college and am still close to my childhood and school friends. In the last five years, one by one, they’ve headed off travelling or relocated for better work opportunities. I love my current job and feel incredibly lucky to have it so wouldn’t jeopardise it for anything. But as well as feeling left behind, drowning in FOMO, I’m also now a certified Billy No Mates. I’ve moved home and commute to my job as can’t afford Dublin rents but I also have no-one to move in with. The hot weather recently has really reminded me of what I’m missing out on. Scrolling forever on Instagram is also not helping. At this age, I just don’t know where to start meeting people without looking desperate. I’ve suggested meeting my work mates at weekends or for drinks after work but they just don’t seem to be up for it. I know from college that Dublin is incredibly clique-y and really can’t see a natural way of meeting anyone! I’m also not a club joiner or sport player but am feeling increasingly lonely so need to do something. Help! Where do I start?! All By Myself, Carlow.
The excellent news is, you’ve already started. Now we just need to nail down your strategy. This sounds ruthless when we are programmed to believe that real friendships evolve organically but at your life-stage – post-college, pre-Kidmageddon - that is rarely the case. So, buckle in and expect to plough more energy into Friend Quest than you ever devoted to scoring love on Bumble, Tinder or Feeld combined.
As humans, we are inherently social animals. We want to be with friends and family to share fleeting thoughts and talk about the minutiae of our lives: the slug we found in our salad at lunchtime, the podcast that made us cry on the train home, the laser hair removal appointment we have finally booked. These seemingly insignificant happenings are the fabric of our day to day. Perhaps unconsciously suspicious that we’re living a Black Mirror-style simulated reality, we all crave someone to bear witness to the small stuff. It really does matter.
And despite loneliness hitting ‘epidemic’ levels worldwide, it is still considered to be one of the last social taboos. Dr Keith Swanick, chairperson of the Loneliness Taskforce in Ireland said that the problem is now “the most unrecognised health crisis of this generation.”
I know that you’re not quite there yet, that you’re simply reeling in the dust of your departed besties but the farther you edge into isolation the harder it is to motivate yourself to break out. You’re also ahead of the game. If you can open up your world now, building resilience and confidence, you’ll know what to do to stay connected in future.
This is going to sound touchy-feely but before you really get stuck into the task at hand, you’ve got to like yourself first. This doesn’t mean that you need to track down your local Shaman and sign up for an Ayahuasca ceremony to connect with your one true self but you do need to know who you are before you put yourself out there. Friend hunting can be a disheartening, rejection-soaked pursuit so acknowledging your best bits from the outset will both help you to present your most positive self and also buffer any set backs. Set up a Whatsapp group called Things You Love About Me and add your closest friends. That should get the ball rolling if you’re stuck.
While you’re at it, set up another group with all of your friends who’ve gone travelling or relocated. Lead with a brutally honest mission statement: your friends are no longer with you in body and so you are cultivating a new tribe (Team B, as it were). That tribe will be made up of the friends-of-friends who have been left behind a.k.a. The Outcasts. Sex it up, sell the movement and ask them to add their Outcasts to the group, pronto. Once you’ve got a decent number added, organise a night out. Chances are, by simply extending your existing circle you’ll click with some like-minders.
Similarly, you could try this with old college groups. Fire out a reunion mail and see where it lands. Don’t be picky about who does and doesn’t go - people change! Having said that, don’t force an alliance. Follow up with your favourites after a meet and brace for the silence. Try not to take it personally. Remember, you’re competing with Love Island, Netflix and an endless Insta-scroll. Plus they might already have friends, partners and a football team worth of siblings etc.
So that you don’t lay the burden of your future happiness and sanity on the shoulders of one virtual stranger, cast your net far and wide. This is the spread betting of friend procurement. Be proactive – yes, that means joining a club. It could be a running club, book club, evening class or even voluntary work; something that happens once a week that you are genuinely interested in. There’s also GirlCrew, Dublin https://www.girlcrew.com/tag/dublin/, who organise weekly and monthly events, as well as Meetup https://www.meetup.com/cities/ie/dublin/?_cookie-check=6a4zvPOE17fI8PG_ to keep growing your network.
Take the pressure off your work squad. They may be avoiding drinks as they know you’re vulnerable and a potential cling-on. Once you take the power back, ease off the ‘just because’ gifting and resume your Chill AF status, they will be inviting you to everything. Okay, maybe one thing.
Meanwhile, I would further explore a house share in Dublin. I’m not suggesting you bunk fifteen to a room but reclaiming your independence and three lost hours to commuting every day will only be good for your head and social life, even if some big financial sacrifices have to be made.
And finally, focus on nurturing real connections; think quality not quantity, finding people you can be your full self with. Otherwise what’s the point? As A.A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh says: “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like ‘what about lunch?’” Good luck!
Rhona McAuliffe might not be a trained therapist but she does have very big ears, quite a long nose and a gaping heart. If you have a problem that won’t just go away, she’d love to hear it. Write to Rhona at [email protected]