‘It’s part of being human’: the Canadian project to destigmatize loneliness


A Toronto designer’s online platform showcases experiences of people all over the world, aiming to destigmatise the topic

The screen shows a cluster of apartment buildings, some of them empty, some with the figure of a person silhouetted against the window. Click on an apartment and a story pops up on screen.

“I spent two hours alone, wandering around an Ikea, because I was too nervous to ask people to come with me,” it reads. “I ate two hotdogs and bought nothing.”

The confession is part of The Loneliness Project, an online platform dedicated to showcasing stories of social isolation from around the globe. The result – delving into a universal emotion often hidden from view – is a sort of digital antidote to the often highly curated world of social media, said Marissa Korda, the Toronto-based graphics designer behind the initiative.

“Facebook is a happiness project. Instagram is a happiness beauty project,” said the 26-year-old. “We need more projects that talk about how life is happy, and it’s also lonely and it’s sad.”

She launched the project in October with a call for anonymous stories. More than 1,400 stories soon came pouring in from some 60 countries around the world, ranging from Cuba to Syria to Taiwan.

For those experiencing chronic loneliness – a debilitating condition that differs from the ebb and flow of transitional loneliness addressed through the project – the site offers resources to find help.

Some on the site share their stories of moving to a new place and not knowing anyone while others reel from breakups. Others detail the heartbreak of not having anyone to wait for them as they undergo surgery or to cheer them on as they cross the finish line of marathon. One man spoke of walking his dog alone on Christmas, the scent of turkey wafting in the air as he glimpsed living rooms filled with families and friends.

After months of reading the stories, Korda has picked up on a pattern: at the heart is a profound disconnect between what people are hoping to get from their social interactions and the reality of their situations. To read more from Ashifa Kassam, click here.