Dr. Ruth, America’s favorite psychosexual therapist, talks about loneliness in this new edition of the fun and comprehensive guide to sex. You want to know how to overcome loneliness? Start by getting out of the house and engaging in conversation with real people.

You can read article after article about scientific findings that say loneliness is at epidemic proportions, especially among young people. This really worries me.

It turns out that no matter how many online friends you have on Facebook or followers you have on Twitter or Instagram, they’re no substitute for real, live human beings.

In this video, get some more advice from me, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, about how to cope with loneliness in healthy ways.

Real friends, not just Twitter followers

I have about 90,000 followers on Twitter, but that does me little good if I’m sitting home and want some companionship. I recognize the importance of social media among teens, and older folk as well. But social media is what they call a two-edged sword. Yes, if you’re bored you can find lots of ways of occupying yourself on your phone. Rather than make you feel less lonely, at the end of the night you’ll actually likely feel more lonely.

To alleviate your feelings of loneliness you need to be with other physical human beings. Look, if you were thirsty, you’d go to the refrigerator, not your sock drawer. If you’re lonely, you have to go to places where there are fellow human beings and not go looking for real companionship online.

Dating conversation takes practice

Is the ability to be able to carry on a conversation something that makes you nervous about dating? Do you worry that you’ll have nothing to say? I worry that the art of conversation is disappearing because people spend so much time on their phones doing everything but talking on them. So not only is this phone time making them lonely, but it is causing a lack of skill in a key part of dating, conversation.

Dating conversation ©Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock.com

It’s called the “art” of conversation for a reason. I’m sure you’ve talked to people who bore you silly. Oh sure, they can talk, but who wants to listen? To develop any art form you have to practice, so not only do I want you to talk to your friends and family as much as possible, but do it in a constructive way. Don’t just blather about what you bought at the supermarket, but come up with interesting conversation. How do you do that? You make an effort to be informed. You know those cat videos that go viral? Stop watching them and seek out stories that would make for good dating conversation topics and then go practice.

Is there a place for humor in the dating scene? Of course, but my suggestion is to treat humor like a spice rather than a main course. If something funny comes to mind, go ahead and see if you can get your date to laugh. But if the two of you are doing nothing but trading zingers, you’re not learning anything about each other. If you’re using humor to hide your true feelings, I would guess you’re not going to be building a relationship that will stand the test of time.

Stop using your smartphone as a crutch

So, here’s another dichotomy you face. You don’t want to be lonely, and your smartphone offers you many different ways to alleviate your loneliness, but at the same time it’s causing your loneliness. Are you going to give up your smartphone? Not likely. It’s become too important as your calendar, GPS, music player, not to mention as a means of communication. So, your phone is going to stay with you, but at the same time you’ve got to realize that when you’re using it as a crutch to avoid feeling lonely, you’re making matters worse. If you’re trying to overcome loneliness, go spend some time with some fellow human beings, not just online friends. Not on a date necessarily, though that would be good, but just hanging out would be fine too.

Of course, by hanging out with a friend I don’t mean two people together at a coffee shop, each staring at their phone. That’s the cause of the problem, not the solution. Put your phones away and talk to each other. (Someone needs to invent a condom for smartphones so that you can just wrap it up in order to promote good conversation!) If nothing else, it will give you practice so that when you’re on a date with someone you really want to make a connection with, you’ll be better able to do so without being distracted by that phone in your hand.

Research has shown that smartphone owners touch their phone 2,600 times a day. The harder you find it to put your phone aside, the more important it is to do so. If necessary, use the timer app on your phone to help you. Set it for 15 minutes, and then put your phone down. Turn off notifications that alert you to any form of contact. Then slowly add to the time your phone is out of your hands so that you can wean yourself off of it as a crutch. That way, when you’re on an actual date, you’ll have trained yourself to be able to put it away without having that constant nagging feeling that you should be staring at it.

About This Article

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Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer is America's favorite sex therapist. Author of over 40 books and host of several TV shows on human sexual- ity, she frequently lectures around the world. Pierre A. Lehu has worked with Dr. Ruth for decades as publicist, writer, and friend.

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