We can be surrounded by people all day and still feel that bitter isolation.
Loneliness is a creeping, crawling feeling that can sneak up on you, while you’re grabbing your morning coffee, sitting at a red light, during a mid-dinner conversation or late at night.
It’s a hard emotion to pin down because unlike other emotions that fill us up, loneliness is the empty feeling of absence. Imagine having something to say without someone to say it to.
Ironically, you are not alone in feeling that loneliness. In fact, over one-third of adults feel lonely.
It’s even harder as an adult to create new, supportive friendships and find welcoming communities. Where do you find friends? Maybe from church, fitness classes, work or school? The options seem rather limited.
The good news is that the internet has completely taken down the barriers that had previously separated people by geography or time zones. Instead, the online world has made it easier than ever to find people who share the same interests and hobbies as you.
You no longer have to be alone – there is an online community waiting for you to join. It might seem overwhelming to start and you need to be cautious in the online world. We’ve made a list of ways to find the perfect online community for you.
1. What interests you?
Shared common interests can be the foundation for strong, long-lasting friendships and community. What activities energize you? What are the topics that you could talk for hours about? Create a list of the activities, hobbies or topics that you would be interested in exploring. It could be gardening, watching or playing video games, sports, your favourite TV show or podcast, astrophysics, historical non-fiction books, painting, or travelling… the choices are endless!
Your list will give you a good idea of what kind of communities you would like to join. No matter how specific your interests are, there will be a community out there that is dedicated to it.
2. Where do you look?
Start with the platforms you’re already on.
Social media is a great way to find communities because many platforms already have those features built into them. For example, Facebook and LinkedIn have groups that you can join. A little more indirectly, you can follow people on Instagram or Twitter that have a close-knit follower community that you could become active in. Similarly, you could follow your favourite creators, writers, YouTubers, streamers, podcasters or researchers on social media as they might already have an active community that you can join.
You can also branch out onto other platforms like Discord and Reddit that will have specific channels for a variety of topics. If you’re new to Reddit or Discord, I would recommend checking out A Beginners Guide to Reddit and What is Discord and How Do I Use It?.
Communities online can be limitless but if you’re interested in communities that have the opportunity to meet up in person you can narrow down your search to location-based forums or groups. Some groups chat online but schedule regular meetups that you could attend.
3. Okay, I’ve joined a community… now what?
The first crucial step is creating your profile! Creating a profile should strike a balance between making a genuine summary of yourself that people can connect with while not sharing too much private personal information about yourself.
Share only what you are comfortable with. You could use your full name, only your first name or even a nickname. If you can add information about yourself in a bio, give a brief sentence or two about you or your hobbies. Don’t forget to add a profile picture! Building a profile helps your new community see you as a real person that they can become friends with.
Remember everything you share on the internet is permanent. Caution against sharing too much information. It can be hard to know where the line of being open and honest and sharing private information but a good rule of thumb is:
- Don’t share anything that is the answer to the verification question (for example, your bank account probably has a verification question like “what was your first pet?” What’s your mom’s maiden name?”)
- Don’t share your address or pictures of the front of your home.
- And this is probably a given, but just to confirm, don’t share your passwords!
Once you’ve joined a community and set up your profile, you are ready to go! Depending on the community you joined, it might make sense to make a post introducing yourself to the rest of the group. Otherwise, a safe place to start is to comment on posts and start conversations with others.
Like friendships in the real world, online connections also take time to develop. Putting yourself out there can be scary, but if you’re patient, brave and consistent in your activity in the community, friendships will happen naturally.
4. What are the red flags for an online community?
Red flags are the signs that the online community might not be healthy or a good fit for you. If you see any of these red flags it might signal to you that you need to start searching for a different community. Red flags include:
- Inactive communities – in your search for new communities, you may have stumbled across a forum that discusses your interests perfectly, but with only one drawback – the last post was months ago. There is a chance that the community could be revived, but more often than not it’s better to continue your search.
- Toxic communities – the word “toxic” gets thrown around a lot these days, but in this case, it describes communities that focus on negativity. You want your community to be a source of positivity, leaving you feeling engaged and energized. Negativity comes in many forms, but in forums it could look like shaming people for not holding the same views, discriminating against people or using slurs and encouraging people to harass or harm other communities. It could be more personal: specific members could send hurtful messages or that leave you feeling worse and afraid to engage in the forum.
- Be aware of scammers – particularly in public communities, scammers may be a concern even if they are in the minority. Scammers could be people asking for money or fishing for information that they can use to access your private accounts.
- You’re disconnecting yourself from the outside world – connecting with online communities can give you a sense of belonging that is often hard to find. That doesn’t mean you should dedicate all of your time to them, though. It’s healthy to balance out your time so you can maintain your off-screen relationships and hobbies.
Finding the right online community for you can really help reduce loneliness and increase your social connections. Safely engaging in these can drastically enrich your relationships.