Do you get lonely? I do. There have been times in my life when I have felt so lonely that I've struggled to think of one person in the world I can turn to. Times when I’ve cried into my pillow at my failure to make meaningful connections with someone, when there are seven billion people out there to choose from.
Not one of these times, though, have I admitted out loud to another person that I feel lonely.
Forging connections seems like something you should be able to just 'do'. Humans are social creatures, we are told. Everywhere you look there are people talking to one another. Walking down the street, sitting together in cafés, posing together on Instagram. Recipes make food for two, four or more people; restaurants have tables for two; cinema deals are two for one. You’re meant to be 'with' people if you're living your best life, aren’t you? It is this mentality, I think, that goes some way to explaining why it is so hard to admit that we are lonely. How can you let people know you’ve 'failed' at something that seems to come so easily to everyone else?
Well, the truth is, it doesn’t come so easily to everyone else. A significant number of people – especially young people – are struggling with loneliness. Five percent of British people say they feel lonely 'often' or 'always'. Sixteen to 24-year-olds are three times as likely to be lonely as those over 64, and women are way more likely to feel lonely than men. What this all means is that if you're feeling lonely, it's not just you.
If you'll allow me to quote dad musician Sting: You are "not alone in being alone". In his hit "Message in a Bottle", Sting describes casting a message of loneliness out to sea, expecting nothing in return – only to receive a hundred million loneliness notes back, all in bottles, all washed up on the shore.
Sting, it seems, was onto something – and it wasn't just tantric sex. If you’re feeling isolated and alone, then so are thousands of other people. Which seems counterproductive. How can we all be lonely if we're all in this together?
Last year, we ran one of our most popular articles ever. It was from a young woman who described her loneliness in heartbreaking detail. The responses (and there were hundreds), were honest and brave. "I feel like I didn't do my life correctly, because I don't have this huge group always around me," said one. "I find it difficult to make friends, I don’t really know why. All you see on social media is #squadgoals and it can feel like I’m missing out on some secret club," said another.
"I remember lying on the floor in my bedroom crying because I felt like I was the only person in the world who was sat in by themselves," yet another shared. "There is no one to go home to, have dinner with, talk about my day... I used to cry in the car sometimes going home and my only relief was to sleep and eat after a long shift."
It went on and on and on. How can so many women be so lonely? I think it's because loneliness is taboo – and to admit it out loud feels wrong. It feels like confessing a grievous sin. Like owning up to having failed as a person. But unless we get real and open up, how are we going to fix the situation?
This week on Refinery29, we're opening the doors to the Lonely Girls' Club; a week all about feeling alone. From women isolated due to health conditions, to women feeling alone in bad relationships, to women experiencing solitude through their age, because of motherhood or thanks to social media, we're going to hear from everyone – from teenage girls to women in their 90s – to prove to you that it's not just you.
We're also going to be looking at how to tackle this issue. From the women making friends in new ways thanks to technology, to introducing you to the networks and organisations across the UK connecting women IRL through book clubs, sports teams, or over food and cocktails. We'll even be talking to the women who found a community in one of the most remote locations on Earth – a place with no phone signal, no pub or road to the mainland.
If you'd like to join the conversation at any time, please do in the comments, or join our Money Diaries Facebook group and find yourself a 10,000-strong community chatting all day, every day about money and all the problems that come along with it. And if you spy a comment that resonates with you, check in and respond. You never know, you might make a new friend.
All in all, please remember the Lonely Girls' Club motto, brought to us by, of all people, Sting: You are not alone in being alone. Sometimes, it just takes one person to be brave enough to stand up and say it out loud – "I am lonely" – before the friendship comes flooding back their way, washing up on the shore.
If you're struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety, don't stay quiet. Reach out to your GP or alternatively contact mental health charity Mind on 0300 123 3393.