Block Loneliness: Chat Up Someone You Don’t Know

NOT in the slow lane, YET 

The blog is about living life after 70 with joy, resilience, and purpose. NOT in the slow lane, YET is a source of positive, helpful advice encouraging people to set and achieve goals  and find joy in life. The blog will cover personal experiences and thoughts and concerns. Topics of blogs will include health, retirement, fashion, travel, and  living in continuing care retirement communities. The blogs will be short and appear at least once a month on my website or by email if you choose.


Chatting up some street art in Iceland (2019)

United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a Surgeon General Advisory (May 3, 2023) calling attention to the public health crisis of loneliness caused by isolation and lack of social connection.  He said we could  help people feel less lonely and more connected  if we prioritized building social connections the same way we prioritized other public health issues like tobacco and obesity.  

Older people are especially likely to be lonely.  We may have friends who are dying. We may  be unable to drive, have hearing and vision problems, mobility problems, and financial problems.  We  may need to  move from neighborhoods with long-time friends to senior retirement communities  or to unfamiliar neighborhoods to be near families. 

Increasing socialization is important. Even weak friendships are worthwhile. I was emailed  a one-minute YouTube of a young man urging his dad to move to online  banking.  It would free his dad from tedious chores.  His Dad balked.  He would miss the bank tellers and personal bankers who greeted him when he did banking.  He saw them as friends.  A couple of additional urgings were met with a stone wall.  Weak friendships were important to his Dad. 

Weak friendships often give my days a boost.  The grocery store cashier said she missed me.  We spent a few seconds chatting. I felt a little burst of happiness  as I wheeled my cart toward the car.  The salesperson at the dry cleaner noted that I had not been in for a while  and said she was happy  to see me.   I commiserated with her about how uncomfortable  it must be working in the hot steamy laundry on a ninety-degree summer day.  She smiled as she pulled my dry cleaning off the rack.  She  appreciated my concern.  

Sometimes weak friendships not only give you a lift, but you learn from them.

I recently went to California to visit my gravely ill son. I left with a heavy heart and a grim thought of busy airports and five hours of flying.  I brought a book, but I knew concentrating on it would be a challenge.  I brought  along another possibility…a New York Times article, “Happiness Challenge Day 3: Chat up someone you don’t know.” (9-4-23, New York Times Wellness Series).  It suggested that brief interchanges with casual acquaintances and even complete strangers contribute to a sense of well-being.

I decided that I would do a “deep dive” getting to know my seatmate on each leg of the flight.  Maybe I would be rejected.  Maybe they would be boring.  Or maybe they would be fun, and I would learn something.  I opted for the latter.  

My first seatmate looked like a tough deep dive…a young man about twenty.   How does an octogenarian  lady  communicate with a young man more than  sixty years younger?  I started asking questions.  He said he grew up in the south and had not gone to college. What a delight he turned out to be!  He was a member of a rock band that had performed the night before at a State Fair.  He thought I would recognize the band.  I did not.  He does eighty concerts a year.   At his youthful age, he already had two businesses that were an outgrowth of his band experience.  He hoped some day they would be successful enough so he would not need to travel so much and  could be a hands-on dad and standby husband to a young woman he would soon marry.  When he left, he took my name and the name of my memoir book, and we both agreed that we had a special visit.  I learned about rock bands.  I met a special young man I really liked even though I would not have much in common with him  in my everyday  life.  I felt calm and had a  sense of well-being.  Our brief, but rewarding, friendship took place in a chat on an airplane.  

Want to know more about loneliness?

New Surgeon General Advisory Raises Alarm about the Devastating Impact of the Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation in the United States