Only the lonely

There's a woman I know who used to be the minister at the church I used to belong to. (That's a lot of "used to"s, I know.) She has often said or written things that make me think. I appreciate that.

Today on Facebook, she shared an article by Vancouver Sun writer Shelley Fralic called One is, indeed, the loneliest number. In it, she lamented her loneliness from living in a city and the lack of community connection she feels.

The solution favoured by my minister friend, being as she is a minister, was to find a church. Fralic was lamenting waking up on Sunday morning feeling lonely, and there's no question that Sunday morning is prime church time. The minister wrote of churches being intentional communities, meaning communities we form on purpose and for a purpose, and places where people can connect with other like-minded people across generations She implied that anyone could find one that fits.

I replied that there are intentional communities other than churches. And I would say the same to Fralic. People seem to be adept at forming communities, even in a place as notoriously isolating as Vancouver.

For some people, I'm sure a church that fit them well would be a good answer to loneliness and lack of community connection. The few years that I was a member of that church were good in a lot of ways. I met some truly fine people, and indeed people from all generations, which is not something most of us get much opportunity to do. I helped with some social justice projects and even was part of putting on an all-candidates debate. We did some cool stuff.

Before long, however, I realized that the last thing I wanted to do on a Sunday morning was to head out my door, unless perhaps to go to brunch. Even that I'm more likely to make myself. On Sundays, I sleep in a bit, not too long, but I need to catch up from being sleep-deprived (by maybe an hour a night) during the week. Every other Sunday around 10 o'clock, I speak with my mother on the phone. I relax. Unlike Fralic, I'm fortunate to have a partner with whom to spend a lazy Sunday morning. I understand very well that finding such a person later in life is difficult.

The minister also was assuming that community is the answer to loneliness and isolation for everyone. Even though I like feeling connected to something larger than myself, I find that being in large groups can actually reinforce loneliness. They can be places where you realize just how different you are and how you don't fit in, even though "on paper" it seems that you should. But what I like most is getting together with one friend or a few friends, for food or drinks or just to chat. Those are situations in which I feel most connected. Those are situations in which I can share deeply. For me, a larger group can't help but stay closer to the surface.

Large groups can, however, be helpful at allowing a lonely person to meet other people. I have close friendships that started from being part of a group. In a group, if you're lucky, you find the one or two or however many people with whom you can truly relate. And if you're really lucky, relating turns into a friendship

I think Shelley Fralic should check out Meetup.com.

Some people seem to enjoy their isolation. I find that a little strange in evolutionary terms, but humanity is diverse. And there are clearly some people for whom a larger intentional community is their favoured way of connecting. But as extroverted as I am, my best connections are more intimate.

And curiously, as extroverted as I am, my semi-pseudo-religious rituals are intensely private. So that's another reason church doesn't work for me. My rituals are one thing I share with almost no one.

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