You know when you’re talking to someone, and they reference something you don’t get, but it feels like it’s important, so you nod along as if you know exactly what they’re saying?

I do this all the time.

Well, we do it because we think that if we show we’re different or that we don’t know the same social cues we won’t fit and we’ll be left feeling lonely.

Except, what often happens when we do this is that we end up feeling small and inadequate and more disconnected from the person in front of us.

The reason is because you know they’re not talking to you anymore; they’re talking to an illusion you’ve put forward. An illusion you’re going to have to keep up if you want to stay in the conversation.

This is why it’s incredibly freeing once you get in the habit of saying, "I have no idea what you’re talking about, but it sounds fascinating so tell me more."

That is a sentence I am working hard to build into my vocabulary by the way.

That might seem inconsequential but here’s why it's significant. 

When your goal is to fit in, and you don’t, you often feel shame; you feel embarrassed, you feel small. And every one of us has felt that before. I don’t care how popular I think I am (that was a joke).

On the other hand, when you know you need connection, and you recognize that “fitting in” can get in the way of that you can approach things differently. You can promise yourself you're going to show up and be seen and trust that others are going to reciprocate.

Now if they don't, it still hurts, and you might feel sad. You might feel disappointed. You might grieve. You might even be upset by it. But what you won’t have to feel is unworthy of love and connection because you're not the problem.

This is one of the ways to think about the difference between alone and lonely.

Alone is a function of our social circumstance and it can good, or it can be bad, and sometimes it’s truly vital to be alone.

Loneliness though is often a function of our sense of social value. A question of whether we are worth connection, whether we deserve to be loved, whether we are searching for intimacy or whether we are the barrier to it. The only way to overcome that is to show up and allow yourself to be honestly seen. 

Understanding the difference between "fitting in" and "being seen" can do a lot to shift our feelings of loneliness.