How to Have Meaningful Relationships in an Increasingly Digital World


Our lives are becoming increasingly intertwined with technology in both good and harmful ways. And that is not going to change. Nor should it—we just need to learn how to use technology for good before we allow it to harm us too much.

And certainly, one of the ways we will learn how to navigate this new world is by never forgetting or neglecting the importance and value of meaningful, in-person relationships.

Despite the many benefits technology brings, including connecting us with people across the globe and facilitating relationships that might not have otherwise formed, there’s a growing sense of loneliness and isolation shadowing our advance into the new frontiers of technology use.

In fact, recent studies highlight a concerning trend: as our world becomes more digital, rates of loneliness, anxiety, and depression are on the rise.

In 2023, the Surgeon General labeled loneliness and isolation an epidemic. And a recent Harvard survey found that 61% of adults from ages 18 to 25 reported feeling serious loneliness (compared to 39% across the general population). Additionally, 51% of young mothers report those same feelings of loneliness.

This rise in digital connection seems to have ushered in a decline in real, heartfelt, meaningful connections.

I understand the argument that human relationships are changing and I can see, to some extent, why people argue that digital relationships are just a new form of relationship. But the stats seem to run contrary to the argument and belief that online relationships are the same as in-person.

As humans, we are made up of body, mind, and spirit. It is true that we connect via mind and spirit through a screen, but that’s not all that makes us who we are. There is a different level of connection that takes place when our physical bodies gather in the same location.

The texture of a handclasp, the warmth in a smile, and the comfort of a shared silence—these elements of human interaction are irreplaceable and essential for our well-being. That is why an in-person conversation can leave us feeling so much more satisfied than a phone call or FaceTime.

As we navigate through this digital age, it’s important we strike a balance.

My goal with this article isn’t to downplay the opportunity of technology in each of our lives. In many ways, technology allows me to do the work that I do.

My goal is to call attention to and serve as a gentle reminder of the importance of nurturing our in-person connections. Because they are just as important today as they were yesterday—maybe even more so based on the numbers and studies that are being reported….

If you sense a greater need for meaningful relationships in your life, here are some practical steps and ideas to bring them about:

Admit the Need for Them

This world, it seems, is continually pushing us toward technology as the solution to our problems. Chat with your friends online, scroll social media, hold your meetings over Zoom, talk to your friends while playing video games at your own home, hang out in the Meta-verse. There are even tools to watch the same television shows as your friends at the same time—but while you are in different places and sitting on different couches.

Therefore, the first step to finding meaningful relationships is to realize and admit that those virtual spaces will never replace real places for deep and fulfilling friendships. They serve a purpose, but they cannot fulfill the need inside each of us for in-person relationships.

Make Time for Relationships

In our busy lives, it’s all too easy to let meaningful interactions slip through the cracks. And if we haven’t taken the first step of admitting our need for them, it’s even easier to fill our days and free time with unintentional time-wasters.

On the other hand, scheduling time for face-to-face meetings, whether it’s a coffee date, a walk in the park, or a simple meal together, is an important step to creating and finding opportunities for deeper connection. These moments allow us to share experiences, emotions, and the simple presence of one another, bringing a sense of belonging and understanding.

Put Down the Digital Device

For many of us, the best way to make time for relationships is to put down the digital device. All of them. Less social media, less television, less YouTube, fewer podcasts, fewer video games. This is a step that we need to take both before and during our relationships with others.

Deciding to spend less time in front of a screen opens up opportunity for interaction with others. And intentionally setting aside our devices during conversations shows respect and appreciation for the person in front of us. It signals that we value this time together and are fully present, ready to engage and listen deeply.

Ask Questions

Curiosity about another’s life, thoughts, and feelings can be the key to unlocking meaningful exchanges. By asking open-ended questions, we invite others to share more about themselves, which can lead to a deeper connection.

Just ask questions is still one of the best pieces of conversation advice I ever received. As a bonus, this practice not only enriches our relationships but also broadens our perspective on the world.

I was recently chatting with a new friend who told me that his goal in every conversation is to let the other person talk 80% about themselves while he talks 20% about himself. “But you’re always asking me questions,” he said with a smile, “you always give me a run for my money on that goal.” I loved hearing that!

Be Selfless and Loving

Genuinely meaningful relationships will always, always require selflessness and love. Only trying to “get” from a relationship will never result in anything lasting or fulfilling.

So even though your goal may be to meet a need in your life (meaningful relationships), you’ll only get there by trying to serve and love others first.

If it helps, approaching relationships with a selfless attitude will quickly transform superficial interactions into meaningful bonds. Acts of kindness, understanding, and unconditional support speak volumes about our care and commitment to those around us. And bringing that attitude into any and every interaction is the quickest way to discover exactly what you’re hoping to find.

Be Vulnerable When Appropriate

Vulnerability is the cornerstone of trust and intimacy in relationships. Sharing our fears, dreams, and challenges with trusted individuals can create a safe space for both parties to be authentic and supportive.

We may impress people with our successes. But we connect with people through our weakness.

Share Experiences Together

Participating in activities together can strengthen bonds and create lasting memories. This can be especially true for men who bond quicker over shared experiences.

Whether it’s a hobby, a sports game, a book club, or a volunteer project, shared experiences allow us to see different facets of each other and build a shared history that enriches the relationship.

Celebrate Each Other’s Successes

As your relationship grows and matures, take great joy in the achievements and happiness of others. There is no room for jealousy in genuine friendships. As the old quote goes, “Always clap for your friends, even if their dreams come true before yours.”

Celebrating successes, no matter how small, shows that we value and take pride in each other’s accomplishments.

Look for Relationships Outside Digital Meet-ups and Dating Apps

It is true that there are countless apps and websites designed for the sole purpose of creating relationships—both friendship and intimate (in every possible definition of the word).

And there is not a doubt in my mind that some of you have found wonderful relationships through those platforms. But there also exists an entire world of community outside those platforms. Clubs, groups, churches, and community events are happening all around you. Look for them. These settings allow for organic, face-to-face interactions that can lead to more efficient (and better) decisions about friendship and connection.

It’s almost surprising when you think about it. Surrounded by a digital world that offers unparalleled opportunities for connectivity 24/7, we are struggling more than ever to find it in meaningful ways.

Work hard to develop meaningful relationships in your life. You won’t regret it in the short-term or the long-term.

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