Andy, you are doing what we all commonly do; noticing effects (symptoms), but regarding them as primary causes. In your mind, if you could remove the symptom you’d solve the problem. A contemporary example is the notion that by banning guns or drugs, society will be better off. That was the thinking that led to prohibition in the 20’s.
Attacking symptoms as though they cause the problem never works in the long run, and in fact just complicates matters. Only when symptoms are clearly seen as symptoms and not causes do we have a chance to look deeper, and maybe discover and resolve underlying causes. This is how the field of modern medicine works, for example. Dwelling on the symptoms cures nothing. We must look deeper, and deeper still, to know the underlying forces at play. Note: My final post, Taoist Thought deeply examines the circumstances that account for most of the worrisome symptoms, like loneliness, we see in civilization.
In your case, for example, you are fixated on the modern breakdown of social relationships. You see the interdependent social conditions that existed millennia ago as the ‘good old days’, a kind of ‘Eden lost’. Thus, in your view, if we had that kind of intimate social interaction as part of our lives today, all would be well, i.e., just eliminate the symptoms of social isolation and we’ll cure the cause of social isolation. This approach may be like taking aspirin for a viral infection. Relief is fleeting and the infection worsens.
Let’s look deeper… Your fixation on social conditions is a symptom of your own difficulty with relationships, not only relationships with people, but to life in general. Simply put, you paint yourself into a corner with your own expectations (needs, desires, ideals). Your standards, esthetic or otherwise, are two edged. They evoke a pleasurable sense of self and of personal control (free will) on one hand, yet serve as a barrier to feeling connection to ‘other-ness’ on the other hand. The more you prop up your sense of self, the “I am”, the more isolated and disconnected you’ll inevitably feel. All in all, is this not simply a case of unintended consequences? We experience a separate self and its loneliness drives us to seek re-connection through whatever path seems promising.
Nevertheless, as I see it, you view social isolation as the primary cause of your sorrow and feelings of disconnection. You persistently try to assuage this pain through social interaction. That persistence, that need to interact socially, or to have a ‘relationship’, is simply proportional to the discomfort caused by your sensations of disconnection. All of this, on the surface, must appear obviously straight forward: Social isolation causes disconnection; thus establish social re-connection and the problem will be solved.
Of course, we are all driven to re-connect through social relationships. We also attempt to reconnect through other paths as well, e.g., worldly success, work, alcohol, religion, travel, shopping, sex, food, music, reading,… However, our impulse to re-connect through social relationships is among the deepest drives we have for we are nothing if not innately social animals. Thus, most of our other paths to re-connect exist within a pervasive social context.
No matter which path we favor at the moment, the more disconnected we feel the greater we feel the need to pursue it. The $64 question: Is this a straightforward case where satiating the need resolves our sensation of disconnection? In a simple case of ‘circumstantial disconnection’, like when one of my ducks gets separated from the others, the cause is temporary and resolvable. When they reunite all is well. Our sense of disconnection is deeply psychological for which no activity can resolve. It is spawned in the mind and can only be resolved from within the mind. Our brain is simply too ‘sharp’. Like a sharp knife, our discriminating mind is a superb survival tool as demonstrated by how efficiently we circumvent any natural forces which stand in our way. But, the other edge cuts deep into our sense of connection with ‘other-ness’, or as a Taoist might call it, ‘mysterious sameness’.
* As used here, expectation is synonymous with, or related to, lust, want, need, desire, craving, ideals, longing for… as Buddha noted so long ago, “The cause of suffering is lust”.