Loneliness has always existed, but the technological age has made it epidemic. We don’t sit down to dinner as a family anymore. We don’t sit on the front stoop and talk to our neighbors. We don’t small talk with passersby.
We text. We email. We even text when we’re sitting in the same room with each other! Intimacy is in the toilet and loneliness rules.
Fortunately it’s easy to repair. All you need are three words to create intimacy. Ready for it? They are, “How are you?” That’s it! Three magical words. If you’ve ever felt, “I just wish someone would ask me how I am!” you know what I mean. Here is how it works.
When you see someone you want to connect with become present, look them in the eye, and ask “How are you?” Continue eye contact, be silent inside and out, and wait for the response. If you get an auto-reply answer like, “Fine, and you?” they are not ready, willing, or able to connect. Let the moment pass and try again later or try with someone else.
Auto responses are avoidances of intimacy. It could mean that the other person doesn’t want to get close. It could mean that it’s not a good time to be close. It could mean that the other person needs a bit of reinforcement to believe that intimacy is safe and wanted.
If the other person feels safe and wants to disclose, you will hear a response that reveals more. Something along the lines of, “I’ve been a bit distracted lately. I don’t know what’s going on with me” invites you to come in.
Now it’s your turn to decide if you want to come in! If you give an answer that distances you from that person (Oh, I am sorry to hear that. Maybe today will be better) or flips the focus to you (Me too! Today was crazy. I can’t sleep. My mind is jumping from place to place…), the door to intimacy closes. If you stay with it and continue to engage in back and forth sharing, intimacy is created and sustained. These three words can lead to deeper and deeper connection.
It really is that simple. It works with kids, the elderly, neighbors, friends, and lovers. The desire for connection is hard wired into all of us. We all want a safe place to feel connected. Sometimes you are going to need to teach others how it’s done, but once learned, it is something that we can all do. It’s a gift we can easily give each other.
If you want to change someone else’s the world, provide a safe place for them to share their world with you. If you want to change your own world, allow others to do this for you. Open up. Share what’s inside with appropriate people at appropriate times. Intimacy and loneliness are opposite sides of the same lifestyle choice coin. Which will you choose?