Millennials, Loneliness, and the Crisis of Intimacy

Last year, Kerry Cronin wrote an insightful article for C21 Engage on young people, loneliness, and intimacy. Here are some of the article’s key points:

  • What really concerns young adults—what really scares them, what fascinates them, what moves them—is not really a question of sex but rather a question of intimacy.
  • Despite their seemingly constant connecting through all modes of social media, the students I meet speak overwhelmingly about feeling quite disconnected, lonely and fundamentally not known by others. This strikes me not as the death knell of relationships, or men or sex but as a crisis of intimacy.
  • While we regularly reduce its meaning to the closeness of a sexual relationship, there’s little doubt that intimacy characterizes other relationships in our lives, those of parents and children, siblings, and good and caring friends. Isn’t intimacy with God what we strive for in our prayer lives?
  • Common to all of the intimate relationships in my life is one central and abiding fact: that I have the distinct feeling that I matter to the other person.
  • And I in turn am willing to try to enter into the meanings and values of their lives and take their cares and concerns on as my own, not as facts and data, but as something meaningful and moving, because they matter to me.
  • As JPII rightly surmised and wrote about beautifully in his Theology of the Body, intimacy involves truly being seen by another.
  • It is in the gaze of someone who thinks I truly matter, who wants to value what I value, who desires what I truly desire, who wants to understand what I mean when I speak and act, that I begin to be recognized and known in the way I really long for. That is the way of love that God wants for us, because it is the way that God loves us.
  • In the lives of young adults, this isn’t easy to come by. Everyone has her own set of needs and worries, and the pace of keeping up and getting ahead means that really stopping and seeing another person or being seen demands so much time and asks perhaps too much of us. But again, intimacy is keenly felt in its absence, and young adults suffer its absence tremendously.
  • What haunts them most is not ever being seen, or recognized, or loved by anyone outside of their own family circles. In worse cases, their fear is not mattering to anyone even within those most important first circles. In the very worst cases, there is the darkness of feeling that you do not matter even to God.
  • In most cases, young people can identify at least one friend who fits the description of Aristotle’s “Friend of the Good,” the highest and best type of friendship depicted in his Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle points out that this type of friend sees and loves what is good in me, brings out what is good in me, and wants the best for me. But to truly wish the best for someone, you must know her well enough to identify what is best for her. And that involves knowing and seeing who she really is, not merely who she is for me.
  • Intimacy that is found in friendships like this shows us the best parts of ourselves and bring those parts out into the light. They also build in us a capacity for seeing and being seen, knowing and being known.