Jennifer Lawrence feels alone - but she's not the only one. Welcome to Generation Lonely

Jennifer Lawrence at the Mockingjay premiere
Jennifer Lawrence has said she feels lonely every Saturday night Credit: REUTERS

Jennifer Lawrence is the star of the Hunger Games franchise, a Hollywood A-lister, and loved by millions for her refusal to stay quiet over sexism in the film industry.

But she's also lonely.

“No one ever asks me out,” she told the latest issue of US Vogue. “I am lonely every Saturday night. Guys are so mean to me. I know where it’s coming from, I know they’re trying to establish dominance, but it hurts my feelings.

"I’m just a girl who wants you to be nice to me… I feel like I need to meet a guy, with all due respect, who has been living in Baghdad for five years who has no idea who I am.”

Lawrence's loneliness is quite specific - after all, most of us non-celebs don't need to find a partner who has no idea who we are.

But the 25-year-old has hit on something that will make many women feel a pang of recognition - famous or not. Because our late teens and twenties can be one of the loneliest periods of our lifes.

It happened to me at university.

Everyone told me that being a student was going to be THE BEST TIME OF MY LIFE. They raved about it, backed it up with their personal experiences, and repeated it so many times that I couldn’t help but take it as fact.

But when I got to uni, aged 18, I realised something was seriously wrong.

Because my experience was not the 'best ever' – it was passable at best. Sure, I had some great nights out and met some amazing people, but I had just as many horrendous nights where my quickly-changing social circle crashed all around me.

From the look of Facebook, everyone else was fulfilling the promise of having the time of their lives. They had perfect sets of friends, while I was still trying to figure out who I actually enjoyed spending time with.

It felt like they were doing uni properly; I was not.

It meant that I wasn’t particularly happy – I was actually quite lonely. Even though I was rarely alone, I didn’t have anyone to really talk to and connect with. Even worse, I felt like I was the only one having those feelings.

"Forget Generation Party, we’re more like Generation Lonely."

Months later, I realised that wasn’t the case. I finally admitted how I'd felt to my friends (yes, I eventually made some) and found that they’d all felt the same way - they were just too embarrassed to say it.

That’s when it hit me. We under-30s, or millennials, are expected to be the happiest generation around. We're so often free from responsibility and are free to party - putting off the trappings of 'adulthood' until later in life.

But we're not. Forget Generation Party, we’re more like Generation Lonely. And even celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence can't escape it.

Studies back this up. A recent AXA PPP poll found that 18-24 year olds are four times as likely to feel lonely “most of the time” as those aged over 70. It follows a summer ONS report that found Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe.

We tend to associate loneliness with elderly people, but we forget that young people feel isolated, too.

Loneliness affects young people too Credit: Alamy

Sam Challis, information manager for mental health charity Mind, tells me this is dangerous: “Loneliness and a lack of friendships can contribute to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, so taking up opportunities to share worries and problems with people who have similar experiences can be invaluable.

“In an age dominated by social media and with ever greater pressures on time, face to face contact with people who can provide meaningful and supportive relationships has never been more important.”

It’s true – social media can make loneliness even worse. Watching people’s filtered lives on Instagram and Facebook can leave you with FOMO (fear of missing out) or even MOMO (mystery of missing out), where someone’s social media silence can leave you stressing out that they’re having more fun than you.

" I’d left the safe bubble of my school to live with a bunch of strangers I was expected to start flat-hunting with after one term."

But it isn’t the root cause of loneliness. When I was sitting in my university halls feeling alone, it wasn’t just because people were posting fancy dress photos on Facebook; it was because everything was changing. I’d left the safe bubble of my school to live with a bunch of strangers, who I was expected to start flat-hunting with after just one term.

Catherine Sweet, of young people’s charity Get Connectedsays this is typical. The charity’s phone line receives a huge number of calls from students feeling lonely and depressed at uni, mainly because it is a big turning point in our lives.

“It’s a point of transition,” she explains. “Particularly if you’re going through the education system or you haven’t got a stable family life. It’s such a broad issue but I think it’s a hard place to navigate through when you’re dealing with home pressure, education pressure and potentially work pressure.

“For 18-24 year olds particularly it’s a very difficult landscape to navigate, in a modern world.”

Times are tough for millennials Credit: Jenny Matthews/Alamy

She thinks it’s getting worse - especially with the recession, a rise in rent prices and a lack of jobs: “The sheer numbers of calls we get show this. We’re getting lonelier than ever.”

Laura, a 23-year-old, who lives with her boyfriend and works full-time in marketing, tells me she’s struggling with these feelings right now.

“I guess I just feel alone. All my money goes on rent, so I can’t go out that much and I end up just hanging out at home with my boyfriend. I don’t want to moan to friends about it, but it means I don’t really have anyone to talk to either.

“I’m working so hard because I really don’t want to lose my job, and I barely have any time to do anything. If I’m honest, I’m probably pushing myself away from people too, but it’s because they’re having fun and I don’t want to be a downer.”

Laura isn't the only one - members of Generation Lonely typically don't like discussing their loneliness with anyone else. Instead they keep it to themselves, assuming that Instagram is telling the truth and everyone is living the perfect life that’s somehow still eluding them. Saying otherwise becomes “embarrassing”.

"We should applaud Lawrence for speaking up about an issue that affects so many young women, from all walks of life".

Sweet agrees: “It can be hard when you’re expected to be happy all the time. Personally I think it’s about perception and trying to keep a face on for other people.”

This is the problem. Young people are a prime target for loneliness, with external pressures from social media making millennial life harder than ever. There’s still that unspoken expectation that we're meant to be having ‘the best time ever’.

Anyone who feels lonely is pressured into keeping it hidden, and then has to deal with a sense of failure as well as crushing loneliness.

And I can only imagine, that if you're an A-list actress - loved the world over and living a life most of us can only dream of - the pressure to suppress any loneliness must be huge. That's why we should applaud Lawrence for speaking up about an issue that affects so many young women, from all walks of life.

When so many of us are having the exact same feelings, perhaps it’s time we finally laid this stigma to bed. Because whether you're a star like Lawrence or just another student, it's clear no one is immune to feeling lonely.

Can we please stop pretending that our twenties are the greatest years of our lives?

A version of this article was first published on 28 December 2014. It has been edited to reflect recent events.