Isn’t love a perfectly good solution to feeling lonely?
Isn’t love the deepest, strongest bond we can have with another person? Isn’t love the basis of all relationships that matter? How can we feel lonely with love abound?
The answer is the same to all these questions: yes and no. Love absolutely brings people together. When someone who’s been a stranger becomes a lover, in our eyes he becomes infused with an almost surreal importance. It can be hard to tell where you end and he begins…and you both like it that way.
But the majestic, heightened state of love has a flip side, one with which we’re all too familiar. Love is fickle. You could fall in love with someone who’s completely inappropriate for you. You could fall in love with someone who’s not available. You could love someone who doesn’t love you back. You could love someone passionately for a short period of time and then watch the relationship fizzle for reasons you don’t fully understand.
And it’s not just romantic love that’s largely outside of our understanding. Expectant parents will attest to the fact that we can love someone before he’s even born. We can love people after they die. Whom we love (and for that matter, when, where, how, and why we love) is largely outside our control. The notion that love is a reliable solution to loneliness is a myth because, simply put: love is a mystery. Closeness, however, is not.
We can pick up methods for creating closeness because we know what generates closeness between people and what doesn’t. I don’t think anyone can say the same about love. Love certainly reduces loneliness, given the right circumstances, but it also increases loneliness under unfavorable ones. Closeness, unlike love, always works toward reducing loneliness. Closeness is useful in a way that love is not. If you do certain tangible things with a receptive partner, you will see tangible results. The more effort you put into it, the more you will get out of it.
There’s also a specific way in which closeness is a handier solution than love: it opens up the possibility of less loneliness at work. It’s generally deemed inappropriate to love anyone at work. Even if you do have a strong connection or friendship with a colleague, it’s easy to see how calling it “love” makes the relationship instantly sound unprofessional.
But most of us spend a great deal of time at work, and there are likely lots of people we know professionally with whom we could build a meaningful relationship. Closeness gives working relationships the opportunity to matter as much as strictly personal ones.
The fact is, you don’t have to be lonely just because you’re not in love. And if you are in love, closeness makes that love that much more stable and reliable.
I see evidence for this point in the ample research that’s been done on marriage and divorce. The overwhelming majority of people who get married, at least in Western developed countries, say that they are doing it for love. In our culture marriage is seen as the ultimate expression of committed love. Most who commit to marriage also expect that the love that brought them together will last a lifetime.
Let’s pair this fact about how marriages begin with what we know about how they end. The Divorce Mediation survey conducted by Lynn Gigy and Joan Kelly found that 80 percent of divorced people said their marriages broke up primarily because they “grew apart.” This cause trumped all others, including the one we generally think of as the main marriage killer: affairs. Only 25 percent of respondents said an affair played any part in the decline of the marriage.
So what does this tell us? Marriage is all about love and divorce is all about distance. Even the relationships that are most filled with love will fall apart without closeness. Closeness is the foundation for all satisfying and long-lasting relationships because love really needs closeness in a way that closeness doesn’t need love.
You can feel close to someone you’re not in love with. And if you’re in love but can’t access your partner’s inner world, it’s inevitable that the relationship will slide down the spectrum to distance.
That being said, love relationships — particularly marriages — are excellent opportunities to create closeness. The great advantage marriage has over other relationships is that it’s an explicit commitment. It’s one of the few times (maybe the only time?) when you expressly choose a partner and they choose you back. This creates an environment of deliberateness — of conscious choosing — that is very conducive to creating closeness.
But don’t wait for a love relationship to find you before you can stop feeling lonely. You can create so much fulfillment and connection with others without waiting for love.
Kira Asatryan is a couple’s coach and a team coach who trains Silicon Valley startups to work cohesively. She is also a popular blogger on Psychology Today and other sites. Prior to becoming a full-time relationship coach and writer, she ran marketing campaigns across major platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Google Search. She lives in San Francisco, CA and her websites are www.StopBeingLonely.com and www.KiraAsatryan.com.
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