Millennials are great at killing things, but it seems we also excel at extending things, like loneliness, which experts believe millennials have extended well beyond its normal young adult duration, keeping loneliness alive well into our thirties. Do they give participation ribbons for that? Because I would very much like one.
Recently, Vice talked to some of the 11 percent of millennials who report “always” feeling lonely, based on a study by YouGov that declared millennials the “Loneliest Generation” and found things that are a bit hard to believe, like one in five people ages 23-35 reporting having not one friend. If that were true, wouldn’t more than 11 percent always feel lonely?
But Vice’s article did explore the modern paradox of being so constantly tethered to people via social media that we begin to feel disconnected from them in real life, citing UCLA researcher Letitia Anne Peplau as defining “loneliness as a distressing gulf between the amount of friends one wants and the amount that they actually have, a gap that young people—who feel pressured by social media and television to constantly be having fun and documenting it—feel especially acutely.”
One twenty-something interviewed for the article described the feeling of sitting home on a Friday night and seeing endless photos of friends and acquaintances out having fun. I remember that feeling very well from being chemo-sick in my very early thirties and often home alone, watching friends’ Instagram stories and vacation pictures. The instant access I had to other people’s lives without actually being part of them was both addictive and alienating, leaving me more lonely that I think I would have been had I just not known.
Another interviewee is a social media influencer who has trouble trusting whether acquaintances want friendship or collaboration, another problem that most likely didn’t exist on such a large scale before so much of our lives were shared online and sharing “perfect” looking lives became a career more for more people:
“The shallowness of her profession means that when she networks, she’s not trusting enough to make a real connection with her peers. “You have to be wary of the ones who want to use you,” she said. “‘I don’t like to be too close to anyone because people in this world use each other. They may want to be friends, sure, but they probably more likely just want to collaborate to get more followers.’”
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Other stories are sad but more closely resemble “traditional” tales of loneliness, like the new mother who used to be the “life of the party” but now worries peers find her boring. But it does seem like millennials complain more often of isolation than other generations, but maybe that’s just because we’re sharing more in general. Who knows? But either way, “The Loneliest Generation” sounds way more Rebel Without a Cause than “The Me Generation,” so yet another way we’re better than Boomers. Wish I had someone to high five.
Research about whether this millennial loneliness could be about to peter out for many of us is complicated. While previous studies have shown that loneliness tends to spike in early adulthood, then taper off in middle age and spike again for the elderly, new research around how dissatisfied millennials feel with their jobs and lives overall suggest that for elder millennials like myself, a new wave of John Cheever-ish loneliness could be still to come. So get ready for a renaissance of short stories about sad middle-aged people who thought there would be more and now can’t seem to figure out which goddamn swimming pool is ours.