I Look at all the Lonely People

Dan Miller —  February 8, 2012 — 26 Comments

Remember the old Beatles song – Eleanor Rigby?  The main line was “I Look at all the Lonely People.”  The American Sociological Review published a disturbing study a couple years ago.  In 1985 Americans reported that they had three close friends.  By 2005 it had dropped to just two.  Today most people cannot name one.  In George Barna’s church research he shows that 70% of pastors do not have one close friend they can confide in.

Many people drive cars to high-rise offices where they take the elevator to an 8th floor cubicle.  At night they return home, hit the remote to open the garage door to their house and walk in alone.  The neighbor’s house may be 20 feet away but without a sidewalk, years may pass with no contact.  As this kind of isolation increases, we are at higher risk for a variety of physical, social, psychological, and spiritual ailments.

I sometimes joke that some of the people who come to me for coaching are just paying me to be their friend.  And yet I take that very seriously.  That is a real element that can’t be ignored.  If you are a counselor, coach or friend and feel that you have not added any new scientific insights or knowledge to the relationship, perhaps your most significant role has been to be a friend.  Think how often people go to a physician just hoping to have someone actually listen to them for 2-3 minutes.  Your listening skills are just as important as your technical or clinical knowledge.  People will consider you a great coach if you listen well.

The Beatles song concludes with:

 Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name

Nobody came

Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved.

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong? 

Are you the one person someone else can confide in?  Do you have two people with whom you are comfortable sharing your most intimate thoughts?

  • Rain

    This hit home for me. I am one of those people who have zero close friends. Most people just don’t make the time to even call each other anymore to say hello. It’s a shame. I’m working on my coach training, so I hope I can offer such friendship to my future clients.

    • Anonymous

      Rain – and that’s exactly what I would encourage you to do.  Take the initiative to be the kind of friend you would want to have.  

      • Barb

        Yes Dan, I have the belief that we must be prepared to put more into a friendship relationship than we recieve. I find when we are generous with out love we are richly rewarded by our wonderful Lord

  • Anonymous

    Another awesome pst Dan. A great reminder for me. It’s all about relationships and the more the better. This was part of my goal setting for 2012, I need to get to work on it. Thx for the inspiration!

  • Anonymous

    What a timely topic for me. I’m currently writing a blog post for caregivers about how stroke survivors and others suffering from long-term disabling conditions loose most, if not all, of their pre-stroke friends. In many cases, even family members stop coming by, stop checking-in.
    Dan, hopefully your post will help my readers see that caregivers and stroke survivors are not the only ones struggling in this area. Whether trying to maintain contact with friends or moving on to new ones, nurturing relationships can be a challenge and a great reward for us all.

    • Anonymous

      Connie – wow, that’s a very poignant area for lots of us – maintaining friendships with people who may not be the same as we once knew them.  i think that’s an extension of being the kind of friend we would want to have.  

  • http://emuelle1.typepad.com/ Eric S. Mueller

    It’s hard to be a friend to pastors because of their training. I know a couple of pastors, and somehow they always manage to direct the conversation back to me and my issues. Then I try to get them to talk about themselves, and get answers that might be three words longer than you’d get from a teenager.

    I’m sure pastors buy into the cultural conditioning. For some reason, people believe those involved in “spiritual” work are on some kind of higher plane. I’ve reached a weird place where when I talk to a pastor, I know they’re human, and face the same problems I do, if not harder ones. I also consider myself at least as intelligent and educated as they are, and that I could do at least some parts of their job as well as they do. It’s the parts of their jobs I wouldn’t want to do that keep me from trying.

    Having close friends is really important. I’m currently a geographical bachelor. I got laid off, and couldn’t find a decent job close to home, so I took a job about 150 miles away. I happen to be working for the same agency as my best friend (known since 17 years ago when we were in the Navy together), and that helps endure the trials. We usually commute back and forth to work together, attend the same small group at church, and get together on Sunday afternoons.

    • Anonymous

      Eric – changes in our own lives certainly does test our friendships. It reveals who are friends and who were just acquaintances.  

  • http://www.suttonparks.com/ Sutton Parks

    Interesting observation.  It holds true for me.  While drinking it was easy for me to meet people in bars and be social.  Once I quit I discovered I lack many of the social skills people  have developed.  It is something I am trying to be more intentional with and, as with any skill, there is some fear to deal with.  There are plenty of opportunities to meet new people locally through Meetups and other events. But no one will knock on my door, I have to knock on other people’s door to meet them.  (now that song is stuck in my head, haha)

    • Anonymous

      Sutton – like most things I think we can “learn” to be a great friend.  The principles are pretty clear – we can draw from things like “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  Hard to think that those skills are enhanced by being under the influence.  I’ve certainly been able to observe you developing your friendship skills – and I don’t think you’ve been on the sauce most times when I’ve seen you.  

  • http://twitter.com/MarianneClement Marianne Clements


    I’ve found that what the Bible teaches is true — we reap what we sow.  If we want friends, we have to be a friend.  Don’t wait for someone to call you or invite you to lunch — be the one to make the first step.  Show some genuine interest in other people and you’ll be surprised that people will want you around.

    Have a Victorious Day!
    Marianne Clements

    • Anonymous

      Marianne – you make a very important point.  Having deep friendships doesn’t just “happen.”  We must take the initiative to be the kind of friend we would like to have.  Thanks for your insights.

  • http://talesofwork.com kimanzi constable

    I have 3 other guys that are closer than brothers, we share eveything. I try and be the kind of person that’s willing to listen to others. You’re right, they might not have anyone else.

  • http://www.MamaSaysNamaste.com NamasteMamaRose

    Wow, this is so sad but true.  Unfortunately, oftentimes the people who cannot think of one friend are married as well.  Whatever happened to being best friends with your soulmate/spouse?  I have to say, the Beatles had some incredible lyrics. How sad to have your name buried with you.

    • Anonymous

      Ashley – yep a lot of people struggle to create deep friendship even with their spouse. Keep being a great example of how to do that well !

  • Iriskippy

    I would fall in the statistical data.  I can’t really think of anyone that I would consider as someone that I could actually be honest with about what is going on in my life.  I feel that I have to keep myself splintered, depending on who I am with.  It has got to the point where I feel uncomfortable talking to people because I feel that they don’t really want to hear what I have to say.  Though the kind of friendship that you are talking about is what I really want.  Interesting article.  Provided lots of room for thought.  

  • Larry

    This is so true. In about 1990 or 95 I had 3 good friends now I’ve only got 1.It seems nobody trust anybody enough to be best friends any more. Sad really.

  • http://www.liveitforward.com Kent Julian

    One of the great things about finding work that authentically fits us is that it causes a people to come alive because they feel like they are contributing something of value and significant to the world. That’s so energizing! 

    Additionally, when people are energized, they tend to connect and network with others more often and more effectively. Pretty cool how it’s all interrelated.One more thing…this blog reminds me of a cartoon that I posted today. This approach to life probably contributes to loneliness as well:http://www.liveitforward.com/career-guidance-you-dont-want-to-use-5/

  • Laurabeez

    The sad thing is even my young adult kids are having a hard time making & keeping friends. It seems expecially hard if they are not partiers or bar people.

  • http://twitter.com/mom2cats Mary Beth

    I just left a job that I’d been at for almost two years. I was the payroll and accounts payable coordinator. I was so surprised how many of the employees came by to wish me well in my new job; same for vendors that I had dealt with by phone or emails. But not one of the executive staff said goodbye or even spoke to me about my departure. So many people told me I was the only one who had listened to them and treated them as fellow humans. I am so sad that my genuine acts of kindness (treating others as I wish to be treated) were viewed as something so special and apart from their everyday experience.

    I’m hoping that my new position will let me leave good feelings on a whole new employee base! I’ll miss the wonderful friends that I have made but we’ll get together again AND I’ll have the opportunity to make some new friends!

  • kp

    What is even sadder, people are replacing real relationships with social networks, posting and sharing things that they should be sharing with true friends. Many people trick themselves into thinking that they have true friends based on the number of followers on twitter or the friend count on facebook, only to realize that they have never shared an intimate interaction with most on their list of friends and followers outside of their computer based experiences. Furthermore, people only share good things on these sites. When they really need a friend, they are faced with the reality that social networks cannot provide they much needed shoulder to lean on.

  • BB

    Dan, thanks for this article. Robert Meuller’s comments below about befriending pastors are also interesting. As the daughter [,..granddaughter, and great-granddaughter] of pastors I can say that I have observed from the inside how very difficult it is to make trustworthy friends from within a congregation. 

    My father and grandfather in particular would easily say that their wives were the best and closest friends they had, and this was entirely true. I have seen many marriages without anywhere near the deep respect, love and friendship that my parents and grandparents had; mostly because they had to rely on each other for deeper confidences and time relaxing because they were living in public roles. I think that is true of many other people living and working in a public role. You do have to chose your friends wisely. Perhaps more so as when these leaders are relaxing they make themselves vulnerable and need to know that the friends they have understand the public nature of their role. 

    I have seen parishioner ‘friends’ of my own parents turn around, within a congregation, and slander and use personal information, given in confidence, against them. If God is cleaning out His own house then surely the friendships within the church between lay people and leaders will improve as we all begin to conduct more holy and loving friendships.

    A very deeply felt and interesting topic. Thanks for your article.

  • Luc Tijssen

    Thanks for the reminder. I know you like the action also, so I contacted a friend through Facebook to meet him. I did not see him al long time, but he wrote some time ago he wanted to see me. Maybe I can be a friend for him. 


  • Dianah

    Dan, your article gives me pause.  My best friend lives far from me – many states away.  We have been friends for well over 30 years.  We used to see each other several times a year but, since I lost my job three years ago, we’ve seen each other only twice in three years.  Lately when I call her – not often enough I admit – it seems she is always doing something more important that conversing with me.  And she very rarely calls me.  Your words reminded me that if I want this very important friendship to continue I must step up to the plate and remind her how much I love her and how important she is to me.  If she doesn’t have or want to take the time to work at our friendship in return well, at least I will have done all I can to let her know I cherish her.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=549113262 Jared Angaza

    I think the most widely accepted hierarchy of priorities typically puts work, money and time far above relationships. I also think this is completely backwards from how we are created. Thus we are experiencing a societal breakdown that is causing many to crash. They realize their whole life has been centered around a group of priorities that don’t actually bring them happiness. 

    I think we’re on a brink of a relational revolution, though. People crave connection with others. Ultimately, I believe society will come back to a mindset that values relationships over time and money. But it’s going to take some serious time and commitment from people willing to invest in our collective quality of life, rather than individual wealth and accomplishment. 

    Society needs to take a good hard look at it’s priorities and make a shift back to human connection.  

    • Christian Orpinell

      I just wanted to tell you how much I agree with this. I personally as a teen (17) can agree with this statement,

      “I think we’re on a brink of a relational revolution, though. People crave connection with others. Ultimately, I believe society will come back to a mindset that values relationships over time and money. But it’s going to take some serious time and commitment from people willing to invest in our collective quality of life, rather than individual wealth and accomplishment.”

      It’s going to take much time and effort on our parts to help others around us in our day-to-day lives know that friendship and brotherly / sisterly love is something that cannot be replaced or even acquired by money, wealth, or a perceived sense of authority.