23 Feb

Lonely Together

I like that you’re broken
Broken like me
Maybe that makes me a fool
I like that you’re lonely
Lonely like me
I could be lonely with you

Life is not a love song that we like
We’re all broken pieces floating by

Life is not a love song, we can try
To fix our broken pieces one at a time

Songwriters: Christian Medice / Mitchell Collins / Samantha DeRosa

broken lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, BMG Rights Management

When I first heard this song on the radio I was immediately taken with the lyrics because of their psychological sophistication.  I was equally impressed with the success of a song that goes against the grain of popular culture.  I am more accustomed to hearing people say that finding someone to love will cure all that ails them. Or seeing people who have been in a committed relationship for years and feel depressed or disappointed because it did not cure them of the problems they had before they were married.

Finding love with the right person can be extraordinarily therapeutic. But, ultimately, people must still deal with the problematic issues they had before getting into a love relationship.  The infatuation phase of a relationship, which creates new energy, enthusiasm, and offers relief from previous anxiety or depression, slowly fades away over a period of 3-5 years.  (The average length of a marriage in the United States is eight years.  Since it usually takes a couple of years to wind down a marriage and another year or so to get a divorce, you can see how often people end their marriages when they no longer offer the anti-anxiety or anti-depressant effects they once did.) Falling in love again with someone else will restore those effects, of course, but who wants to find a new romantic partner every 4-5 years?

As the song says, finding love is about finding someone who is willing to be there while you work on your broken pieces.  We could add, of course, that most people want someone who can also support their aspirations and dreams, and celebrate their successes.  Accepting and loving another person for who they are, rather than some idealized version of a romantic partner, is the source of real intimacy and, to my mind, relationship longevity and contentment.

I think some of the success of “Broken” can also be explained by the epidemic of lonliness that has hit this country. Everywhere you look there is a new article or survey about lonliness.  And the consistent news is that living with others does not cure loneliness (Psychology Today). What we do know is that real communication—being self-aware and able to communicate your feelings to someone who can receive them, leads to decreased feelings of lonliness.

Unfortunately, the emphasis in our culture (think Facebook) is on being happy all the time and going to fun places and doing fun things.  I cannot count the number of clients who have told me that going on Facebook makes them feel like failures, frauds, or makes them feel even more insignificant and lonely than they did before.  If you are going to post on Facebook or similar social media sites, you have to be willing to participate in the narrative that says your life is filled with nonstop fun and lots of people who want to be around you (and have their picture taken with you). But the reality is that no one’s life is compose of one fun event after another.  And popular social apps offer no recognition that life can be hard—let alone that much meaning is derived from these challenging periods.

Finally, since our culture does not promote emotional honesty, it seems apparent to me that people are not as good at identifying and expressing their feelings as they used to be.  It’s one thing to choose not to express your feelings because you think people don’t want to hear about them. It’s quite another thing to not know what you actually are feeling.  And the suppression of emotional intimacy inevitably leads to less self-awareness.  Psychodynamic psychotherapy is built around helping individuals to identify what they are feeling and to learn to manage and express those feelings.  So, if you are feeling a lack of connection, both with others and yourself, you might want to consider going into therapy.  And keep in mind that everyone is broken is some way.


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