It’s Time To Swallow Our Pride And Be The One Who Goes First

Stop waiting around for them to reach out.

Lonely woman, sitting in chair by phone as it reaches out to her cyano66, pixelshot | Canva

The feeling of being lonely is a uniquely human one, a far-reaching emotion that not only affects our mental health but our physical health, as well. In May 2023, the US Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, released the Surgeon General’s Advisory on Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation to address the public health crisis brought on by lack of social connection. 

According to Murthy’s advisory, more than one in five adults and more than one in three young adults in the US live with mental illness, which can be greatly exacerbated by feeling disconnected. Not only that, isolation increases the risk of premature death by over 60%.


Despite a universally acknowledged loneliness epidemic, we still find it hard to put ourselves in the vulnerable position of reaching out for the connections we so deeply need. This hesitance leads to a situation in which we self-sabotage, making us feel even more lonely.

Why do we wait for someone else to reach out?

On YourTango’s Open Relationships podcast, host Andrea Miller spoke with psychologist Guy Winch, who focuses on how to combat loneliness and increase connection by practicing what he calls “emotional hygiene.”

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Miller asked Winch where he first saw the signs of a humanity-wide loneliness epidemic, to which he replied, “My first exposure to this was in the mirror.”

Winch told the story of immigrating to the US for grad school, separating from his home, and living apart from his identical twin brother for the first time ever. He explained that his preparation for embarking on that new chapter never involved planning for feeling lonely. 

“Loneliness, for some reason, didn’t occur to me, as it doesn’t occur to many,” he said. “I was in graduate school and working so I was surrounded by people all day, that wasn’t the image of loneliness that I had in my head. I had the [image of] the 90-year-old man living alone, not the 20-year-old surrounded by people all day. But I felt it very, very profoundly.”

He recounted a pivotal moment from that time in his past that shed light on just how lonely he was, and how loneliness as an entity functions. On the day of the first birthday he’d ever spent apart from his twin, he waited for his brother to call, explaining, “The phone never rang.”


“It was such a lonely, lonely night,” Winch said. “And then when I woke up in the morning, I realized that in my pacing around and impatiently waiting for him to call I had kicked the receiver off the phone which meant there was a busy signal and no one could get through.”

He described the extreme toll caused by feeling isolated, explaining that “When you're lonely, you feel so alone, so raw, so rejected, so unseen, that the idea of reaching out and risking more rejection or a rebuff seems more than you can stand, so you don’t.”

Our fear of rejection can mean that we self-sabotage, and don’t reach out to the people we care about, who care about us.

In that way, we stay isolated, adding to that isolation the feeling of being unwanted, which can spiral into extreme self-loathing.

As Winch sees it, “That’s what loneliness does— It convinces us that the people who we have, who are dear to us, who care about us, don’t care as much. And then it makes us reluctant to reach out and that reinforces the loneliness and it’s a very difficult spiral.”


Miller noted how loneliness can build on itself, saying, “We’re always waiting for the other person to go first, and then we wonder why we feel alone and hurt and angry… Where then we have that story in our head that just exacerbates the situation.”

Social media has made the chasm of disconnection feel even deeper. Winch explained that the widespread prevalence of social media in our lives has “substituted in-person interaction with virtual interactions in a very profound way.”

He noted that Gen Z is a chronically lonely generation, in part because of the presence of social media in their lives. He described how the 18-24 year old demographic “are feeling more lonely, because they’re not having as much in person time, and then, it’s a comparative thing.”

“You see on social media, everyone looks connected, happy, in groups, with friends, and you’re sitting by yourself… and you feel like my emotional needs, my connection needs are not being met. And it’s that gap that creates loneliness,” he said. 


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“Loneliness is defined purely subjectively,” he continued.  “It doesn’t depend on the quantity of people around you, or on other people’s estimation of how connected you are, only on your subjective sense. So if subjectively, you don’t feel seen, and everyone around you on social media seems fully connected, it’s going to feel very painful.”

Despite these despairing elements of our social lives, there are actionable ways that we can get less lonely, starting with sending that text, making that call, waving hello, and connecting with people in our communities.

It’s time to be the one who goes first.

So many of us feel alone, it’s almost as though we are all alone together. Yet Winch maintains that emotional wounds, like loneliness, can be healed.


He said, “I speak of loneliness as an emotional wound, because if you think about it as a wound, something that needs healing– it needs the bandage, it needs the ointment, it needs the supervision. It needs proactivity on your part. Wounds, emotional ones, don’t usually heal just by themselves that well. They need an assist, like any other wound.”

He explained that thinking of loneliness as a wound in need of healing allows people to be proactive in their emotional care.

Winch stated that we seem to have lost our ability to connect on a deeper level, one that goes beyond hearting someone’s post on Instagram. In order to feel connected, “You need to be emotionally open, disclose, talk about your feelings… your hopes… your dreams, talk about what’s difficult. You have to show emotional vulnerability, and the other person [does] as well.”

Yet part of the equation is that one person has to go first. One person has to take that step off the precipice of vulnerability and say, “Hey, I’ve missed you. How have you been?”

As Miller framed it, being brave goes a long way, urging all of us to “be the one that goes first to make that connection.” 


She continued, “It feels like it’s the ultimate power move in terms of self-care, maturity, and wisdom— Quit waiting for the other person to go first.”

Winch explained that being the one to go first “will seem incredibly scary. It will all seem like a leap of faith… And [in] those moments of difficulty, you need to be brave, you need to start putting together the support as much as you can, and start advocating for yourself, and really start reaching out.”

He explained that we can reach out to our strong ties, family and friends, and with weak ties, saying, “The acquaintanceships, the service providers in our communities, the people we just pass and say ‘hey’ to on the street, if we cultivate those, those add up to a feeling of belonging, too. Those also add up to a feeling of community and village and tribe.” 


Miller affirmed that those small gestures, like saying hi to the people we see every day, go so much farther than people realize.

Real emotional connections can only be made by being brave. We have to open ourselves up, at the risk of being hurt, to let love in. We have to be the ones to go first. We have to stop waiting on others, and reach out, even when it’s painful, because the risk is so worth the reward.

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Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers mental health, pop culture analysis and all things to do with the entertainment industry.