You know what would be great? If the key to fixing adult life’s nagging loneliness had nothing to do with actual people. And I don’t mean drilling your mind Sarah Palin-style into the wells of social media. What, arguing for three hours about cropped trousers on that menswear forum didn’t leave you socially satisfied? I mean ridding your body of all lonely traces without any communicative aid at all, as if loneliness were just a big pimple you could puncture at will.
It seems strange that, after over two centuries of industrialization tearing communities apart, no one has found a foolproof way to make meaningful connection something you can do by yourself. By now, I should be able to juice-cleanse away my sense of isolation while I watch American Idol reruns and wait for that recipe from my Microwave For One book to finish cooking. Sorry guys, I can’t meet you all for dinner tonight. I’ll be at home nursing a bottle of Social Drank™.
Thankfully, in the absence of magic juice, we have the social sciences. Researchers have long known that wearing symbolically-charged clothing doesn’t just broadcast your station in life to everyone you pass, it can change the way you feel about yourself even when your only companion is a photo of your dog because the real dog ran away. In 2012, a study from Northwestern University showed that subjects who wore labcoats answered test questions with greater concentration than those who wore painters’ coats. In a 2007 study, respondents reported feelings of competence and authority while dressed in garments they considered formal.
As these studies clearly suggest, all it takes to stave off loneliness is to dress like a social butterfly. Let’s envision the outfit: a suit with a lighter, more inviting fabric! Shoes made from a suede that says “come here everyone and feel my shoes!” Socks in a shade of orange that, if your friends were moths, would compel them to circle you in a beautiful spiral of confusion as they slowly starve to death! If scientists told their subjects to wear these things, they wouldn’t be able to collect any data. The subjects would have disappeared behind a swarm of all their new friends.
I’ll wait a moment for you to make your purchases. Feel free to bookmark this page and come back when the clothes arrive. They’re here? Good. Notice how you sit a little straighter, hold your head higher. You pour some wine and strike up a rousing conversation with the tiny cactus beside your computer. You smile knowing that if anyone else were here, they would love you. “You talkin to me?” you ask the mirror. “What took you so long?”
Ten stories below, crowds rove along the sidewalks, unaware of your new outfit. Had they stopped to look up at your apartment building, they would have noticed you standing against the window, lifting and lowering your trouser cuffs to expose your orange socks. The lone onlooker who knows morse code would have recognized the sock-flashing pattern as “Be-My-Friend.” They would have watched as you sank to the floor, disheartened by the sea of blank faces, to untie your suede shoes before rubbing them repeatedly against the window. What would have appeared to everyone as a silent scream would just be you inviting them to touch the suede.
Next time, we’ll stick to the juice.