Lonely and Losing It

By Robert Goldman

November 19, 2020 6 min read

It was a close call.

For a moment there, it looked like our COVID-19 crisis was clearing up and you would soon be going back to work at your actual workplace. It was a transition that would bring you many advantages, none of which you were sure you really wanted.

On one hand, it would be hard to give up working at home. Coming into the office in your jam-jams or attending meetings without your pants would probably not be welcome when you were welcomed back to the office. On the other hand, working in your wonderful, peaceful home was beginning to drive you moo-moo-goo-goo, a not-uncommon reaction to working alone, 24/7, as your therapist told you, if that little blob on the TeleMed screen was indeed your therapist and not an escapee from the The Sims setting up a side hustle by listening to your whackadoodle complaints.

And how great it would be, you told yourself, to no longer have to see your work pals as fluttering two-dimensional images on a tiny Zoom screen. Going back to work, at work, would mean you could see the old gang in VistaVision and 3D.

Yes, it would be great. Or would it?

Ashley Fetters, a reporter at The Washington Post, falls in the "yes, it would be great" camp. In a recent article, "Your Work Friends Knew Exactly What Kind of Week You'd Had," Fetters worries that "the subtraction of office culture from adults' daily lives inhibits two kinds of relationships that play important roles in preventing (chronic loneliness)."

Brigham Young professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad agrees. Without the day-to-day scrimmage that is office life, Holt- Lunstad is concerned about the loss of "weak ties." This refers not to relationships with co-workers who are really weak but to social interactions with people who aren't close family and friends.

"These types of relationships can increase our sense of belonging and happiness," the professor proffers, "which can reduce social isolation and help stave off loneliness's detrimental health effects."

Weak-tie relationships can occur between co-workers, who see one another every day, but they can also include the occasional interactions you have with folks outside your everyday work group, like Perry from Personnel and Henry from HR. As opposed to team members, with whom you have strong ties, you can enjoy friendly banter with these weak-tie types without being expected to remember their birthdays or spend holidays at their homes. (I must warn you that if you ever expect to get reconnected to Slack on your office computer, you better plan on spending Thanksgiving with Eric from IT.)

It was in search of weak ties that forced Austin, Texas, video game developer Robert Morrison to develop new online friendships, "interacting virtually with strangers all over the world."

It's a wonderful idea, but be aware that your global BFFs may not share the same concerns that lead to casual friendships in the break room at your workplace. For example, your inability to obtain your favorite goat cheese gouda or a pound of organic turducken at the local boutique grocery may fall on empty ears — and empty stomachs — with your new friend in Moldova, whose entire shopping list consists of one loaf of bread.

The second powerful deterrent to loneliness, which is not assuaged by Zoom meetings, is access to "meaningful relationships."

At the other end of the social structure from weak ties are the super-duper-close ties that can develop in a work setting, since "for many adults, the office is a space where real friendships flourish."

It's true! Like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, playing footsy under the conference room table or meeting for cocktails after, during and, eventually, before work are a few of the favorite things that can turn workmates into married mates.

Seeing your soon-to-be significant other once a week across a crowded Zoom screen can't generate the same closeness as staring deeply into each other's eyes over a couple of Negronis.

Even if the office relationship you left behind was not headed for the alter, at-home workers do miss the adult relationships an office environment can provide. You may think your co-workers act like children, but consider the situation of Meredith Schleifer, a remote worker in Rockville, Maryland, who "has been finding that the company of her children isn't quite like that of like-minded adults."

This is understandable, but I wonder if Schleifer has really made an effort to connect with her children. Asking them to join her for cocktails after work would be a very good start.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected] To find out more about Bob Goldman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: StockSnap at Pixabay

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