When I accepted my latest Facebook friend request I noticed that I now have 900 ‘friends’. The irony of it almost made me cry because I’ve never felt as lonely as I did the past couple of months.

Despite being married. Despite having adorable little boys climbing all over me most of the day. Despite having friends and family I know care for me, and an amazing mom who keeps reaching out and cheering me on as much as humanly possible from a distance.

If all this is true then it’s fair to ask: ‘Why?’ Why do I still feel lonely?

And why does this feeling keep driving me to a screen? That head down, thumb up zone where I automatically open one social media platform after the other – searching for something to fill the void.

Perhaps I can argue that I don’t have many non-screen alternatives for connection at the moment. At least with other women my age. With my language abilities at the level of a one-year-old in a Chinese city where most people can only speak Mandarin. I have not seen a single female ex-pat since we arrived here in August 2019, and I can count the conversations I’ve had with adults (other than my husband) on one hand. Most of these conversations were only possible with the help of a translation app (so technically not screen-free either.)

Sometimes I wish I could be more like my hubby who can wake up one morning and decide to delete all his social media accounts without even blinking an eye.

“It’s not real.” he reminds me.

But to me, it will feel like I’m cutting a lifeline, one of my last connections to the outside world. One of the few ways I still get to stay in touch with my real-life friends.

I also see social media as a personified news-feed. I don’t just want to know what’s happening in the world, but how it affects others.

I know it’s more than the fear of missing out that keeps me scrolling, posting, and engaging. More than my natural curiosity, love for stories and funny memes that keep me coming back for more.

If I have to be completely honest, I have to admit that I’m afraid if I leave no one will even notice – and in time everyone will just forget about me.

I can live with being isolated, even feeling lonely, but being completely disconnected will be my worst nightmare come true. It is bad enough to be stuck behind a firewall and having to navigate time differences when sending personal messages.

So here we are and – if you’ve read this far – I’m pretty sure you are also familiar with this battle. I bet you have your own unique set of circumstances making it challenging to connect with friends or loved ones. Time. Distance. Differences. Insecurities.

Maybe you’re also trying to fill the void with constant scrolling. Or it would at least be worth considering how we can turn these feelings of ‘loneliness’ into motivation for true connection.

I wonder how many of my 900 ‘friends’ feel lonely too? How many are going through hard seasons and deep personal struggles they can’t even imagine posting about on social media?

What are their reasons for still showing up in these spaces regardless?

This is the tragedy of the time we live in. How the tool that was intended to help us connect became our biggest distraction.

So what do we do?

At least those of us who do not want to quit (just yet) and believe there may still be some ways to help turn it all around for the greater good.

This is why I chose “connection” for my word of the year. And my only resolution for 2020 is to figure out creative ways to truly connect with God, loved ones, my new neighbours and old friends.

I’d love to hear some of your experiences with loneliness and how you navigate connecting with others on- and off-line.

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