“There is something immaculate about loneliness which only lonely people can understand. – Munia Khan” .

Many people surely relate to this sentiment; Feeling as if they are navigating the overtly bleak and anxiety-inducing world alone, trying to find connection, meaning and light. For instance, the Gen Z generation in the US is reporting increasingly higher levels of loneliness, with 73% of people between the ages of 18-22 reporting that they feel lonely on a regular basis.The issue seems to span beyond just not seeing friends often enough, with many reporting that they lack trusted people to rely on or people that understand them. In the US, this increasing epidemic of loneliness is often being attributed to the lack of public or communal spaces to socialize in, as well as the all-encompassing and all-consuming work culture. As more and more spaces around us are coming at a material/financial cost, people are increasingly struggling to meet this cost barrier, and so they feel like there are fewer spaces available for them. In addition, even if cost is not an issue for some, the simple lack of public spaces available to socialize in makes it hard to meet friends regularly.

For others, it is simply a time issue. Many young Americans report that the pressure to work more makes maintaining a social life difficult. If you work 10 hours a day, it is tiring to try to see a friend after, especially when trying to juggle the array of other commitments, like a family or hobbies.

After reading multiple articles and reports about the lack of third spaces and loneliness in North America, especially in the U.SI was very intrigued about how the state of loneliness was in Europe.

With the help of a survey conducted at Europe and Me Magazine, we asked a diverse group of young people in Europe what loneliness and community means to them, and how they are navigating and understanding connection and community.


Being lonely

So, are Europeans or people residing in Europe lonely? The answer depends. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the levels of reported loneliness in Europe increased, following a global trend.The forced isolation and solitude from it provoked more people to report feeling lonely. Young, unmarried people from across Europe reported feeling lonely, be it due to their inability to access friends due to lockdowns, or because they had found themselves completely alone and far from their social network, like studying abroad.

For many, distance from family, online learning and the inability to go out and see people left them feeling isolated, and these feelings sometimes didn’t go away with the pandemic. 13% of Europeans report feeling lonely most of the time, if not all of the time. The fact one in ten Europeans feels lonely all of the time was also reflected on our survey. The majority of the respondents reported having felt alone at some point of their life. But these feelings of self-reported loneliness, did not seem as stagnant as reported by many youth residing in North America.

For most people loneliness didn’t seem to be as straight forward of a concept as one would imagine. It wasn’t necessarily about not having enough people around, but also about not having the right kinds of people around. Many respondents reported feeling that while they had friends or people around them, the type of connections they had didn’t feel fulfilling enough.

Some felt that they were often with a community, but not part of it. For some the internet made this worse. In a climate where even our private lives are rendered a tool for competing with one another,  seeing everyone else seemingly having a better time, a better life and a better friend group increases their feelings of loneliness and isolation. Social media, according to many studies, increased these feelings. And while many recognized that social media could also allow them to stay in touch with their loved ones,it didn’t really help them build a community that was fulfilling.. After all, many rightfully asserted that it’s impossible to hug someone through instagram,. and this made it difficult to truly feel close to people, because after all, physical proximity is also key..

“With friends that live far away, it makes me feel more connected, but with friends {who live} closer by it makes me feel more lonely.” Woman, 23. 


For some respondents it was not even about the lack of meaningful connections, but also about the internal anxiety they feel about not being accepted, or about the effort required in building community.. Respondents often said they fear rejection, not being accepted by others for who they are, and that they worry the emotional vulnerability they show to establish connection would be used against them, and their emotional effort would then “go to waste”.. While negative experiences made people weary and anxious, it also made them crave human connections much more.


“Somehow, even if you are surrounded by nice people, you still feel lonely. Especially in the beginning of making uni friends, you do not know yet how much you can rely on them like family while your family is away, that feels extremely isolating.” Woman, 21. 


“I feel vulnerable, I can only count on my wife and she can only count on me. We have no support to take care of our daughters…we cannot be both sick at the same time for example”. Man, 41


Anxiety seemed to be a recurring theme for many respondents, be it about not feeling accepted, or about not having enough time.. Not enough time both to see friends, but also to make friends because they might have graduated or changed paths and “missed the right moment”. .


“After breaking up with my Dutch boyfriend, I realized I was very isolated and didn’t have a deep connection with anyone here in the Netherlands. We were together for 2 years (basically since I arrived here) and I hung out with him or his family all the time. Now the people that matter to me are back home in France so I call them by phone but it’s not the same as spending every day with them.” Woman, 20 years old. 


For some, the effort to continuously build community feels tiresome. Many respondents seemed to be migrants or third culture kids, who’ve had to move and go through the effort and experience of rebuilding their lives in new places on a regular basis. While for some this was an overall positive experience, allowing them to learn about many cultures and places, building diverse communities where they feel at ease, others reported that it made the task of having to build new connections far from home rather daunting.

“I felt really alone moving to a new place and not having any social network, it was a lot of walking around by myself for a month. I didn’t want to feel so disconnected and I focused a lot on what I saw as negative about myself .” Woman, 25.


The most interesting kind of loneliness I saw from respondents was loneliness while being in a relationship. Many respondents said that they felt lonely due to the amount of time and priority they put into spending time with their partner, making it harder to balance work, friends and community. While some respondents seemed to recognize that they should try to balance efforts made for their relationship and friendships, for many making initiative was very difficult. And it was not only people in  relationships that felt this way. Many people felt that everything one has to handle in their daily life and the constant stimulation of the world made it too tiresome to keep trying. For many the current speed and state of the world is exhausting. Therefore, the continuous effort to keep seeing people and doing social activities might just become too much.


“my energy levels, i work out 4-5 days a week (elite sports) and work close to 40 hours in retail, while having just moved out of my parents place and trying to apply for a masters.” Woman, 24. 


So, in conclusion, similarly to the reality in the US, many young people residing in Europe feel very lonely. For many life simply does not feel fulfilling. The difficulties of managing time, money and work alongside relationships is very difficult. But, it’s interesting to note that many respondents showcased that loneliness is not a fixed state of existence. It’s complicated, with many overlapping layers and contributing factors ranging from personal finances to anxiety. Many young people recognized that their loneliness could potentially be helped with going out more, but did not find it very easy to make time to go see people. And the pressures of life, time and even what spaces they wanted to be in made it very difficult for them to try to put themselves out there more. And for many, social media also made their relationships with loneliness more difficult because it could make them feel left out, like their lives aren’t fulfilling enough,, but while also having the potential to be a tool that kept them close with their loved ones.

Loneliness is complicated. It is an essential human need to be part of a community. But for many, the fear of being alone and lonely often can make them feel as if they are not part of a community, pushing them to deeper levels of feelings of isolation.

Image:Pexels/Lukas Rychvalsky

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    Originally from Finland, Nelli thinks sex and consent are topics we can never talk about too much. She studied International Relations in Leiden and is now doing a Masters in Public Policy, Economics and Development at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam

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