Why does San Francisco feel so lonely?

How I feel writing this. Photo by Elle Wildhagen

I was walking down Mission street to attend an event at the Jewish Contemporary Museum. Let me rephrase. I was forced to walk, as my phone battery died when I would normally take a Lyft line. I was forced to look up, right, left and in between. Off my screen into the street. And what I saw while very familiar, woke me up for the first time since I decided San Francisco would be my home, 4 years ago. Homeless people were lying ALL around, like corpses in a battlefield with no one alive to take them home. Groups of men and women, healthy looking with their Dreamforce badges, rushing around, some dressed in suits, others in hoodies, talking loud, avoiding with their eyes the sight of not so professional humans dosing off around them.

The sight left me in a state of sadness and disbelief. How can a city full of intelligent, ambitious people trying to save the world feel so disconnected? How can it feel so lonely? I finally decided to come out through a facebook post, about how I feel here, to find out that many feel the same. We live in a city that has a lot going in it, and a little going on for it. Why?

1- Lack of diversity

Don’t get me wrong nothing is wrong with being an engineer or rich or work in tech. But when most of the people who can afford living in a city work in specific type of job, and in a specific industry, that leaves us with lack of diversity, in this case less magical interactions, variety of ways of thinking, being and connecting. For example, if you live comfortably you probably don’t think you need community or others as much. You are more likely to isolate yourself.

Another example is engineers, who are solving many of the world’s problems but behind a computer. How do you make a city feel less lonely? You get strangers to talk to each other. You connect with a homeless person in need. You meet your neighbors. Less likely to happen when your passion is not exactly connecting with strangers.

2- Focusing on making it big = no time for people

While research and studies show that more money does not bring you happiness, many who move to San Francisco are chasing the American Dream or some version of it. It is not the city for the non scalable. And the scalable requires a lot of work. I have been there. I would work so hard in my day job, in the evening on my start-up that the last thing I want to do is learn more about my Lyft driver’s challenges in paying his mortgage.

3- Being single = lonely x 10

I am not a person to conform. But being single in San Francisco is even lonelier than I ever imagined. People are either coupled up and planning to move to suburbia, or in pre existing communities, hard to get into, leaving me with a few dating apps and a glass of wine on Saturday. I wonder how many are spending their Saturdays similarly.

4- Too many on demand apps = we do not need each other

While this one is obvious, it is the most harmful. When an app can deliver you anything, why ask your neighbor to borrow something? When an app can find you dates, why approach a woman in public? Our on demand apps make things easier but life lonelier.

5- Too much technology allowed

I remember when my Brazilian friend was visiting, she called me rude for looking at my phone while at dinner. Then two days later, she deemed the whole city rude. In San Francisco it feels like because we are a tech city, that the usage of tech has no boundaries.

6- Too many networky events

Meetups? Check. Dolores Park Hangout? Check. High flaking rate? Check. Creating and feeling like you are part of a community and not alone requires consistency of showing up. But how will I show up to my Wednesday’s friends dinner where there is 20 events going on the same day, that might benefit my start-up, widen my network, or just give me a unique experience. That is surely a big city problem and not just San Francisco’s.

What am I doing about this? My passion is action. I started by connecting with my neighbors #onemoreneighbor. I went on an impromptu breakfast with one, when I told him I was feeling lonely. I am planning a building bar b q with another neighbor. Today, I started a more formal conversation with friends around building community living in San Francisco. It was refreshing to hear that there are some people there, who also are yearning to create belonging.

My biggest learning from this experience is to say that you are feeling lonely. It is a legitimate feeling and you will be surprised how many other people feel the same way and are afraid to share. And most importantly do something about it as this study suggests. Do not make yourself lonelier by isolating yourself. If you are single don’t let that be your excuse to force a relationship. And remember, we are designed to live in tribes.