What is it about loneliness that makes us want to deny having it? If we say we are depressed, people will know we are wrestling a bear cat. If we say we are lonely, people will look for an escape route.
Psychologists say loneliness is contagious. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/loneliness-is-a-social-disease-study-finds/article1384848/ We’ve known that all along! That’s why we intuitively want to get away from lonely people. For some reason, it’s okay for family members to be lonely. We can’t catch it from them. It’s only contagious when the lonely person is outside of the family circle.
A couple of psychologists from the University of Chicago have studied loneliness. Here’s an excellent article about their findings in the New York Magazine: http://nymag.com/news/features/52450/ It’s worth a read. A few interesting facts came from John Cacioppo :
- that 50% of the apartments in New York are occupied by singles.
- that loneliness isn’t about objective matters, like whether we live alone. It’s about subjective matters, like whether we feel alone.
- people in unhappy marriages are more lonely than lonely singles.
In a CBC podcast, I listened to author Emily White who wrote about her loneliness:
A brave and revealing examination of an overlooked affliction that affects one in four Canadians.
Despite having a demanding job, good friends, and a supportive family, Emily White spent many of her nights and weekends alone at home, trying to understand why she felt so disconnected from everyone. To keep up the façade of an active social life and hide the painful truth, that she was suffering from severe loneliness, the successful young lawyer often lied to those around her — and to herself.
In this insightful, soul-baring, and illuminating memoir, White chronicles her battle to understand and overcome this debilitating condition, and contends that chronic loneliness deserves the same attention as other mental difficulties, such as depression. “Right now, loneliness is something few people are willing to admit to,” she writes. “There’s no need for this silence, no need for the shame and self-blame it creates.”
By investigating the science of loneliness, challenging its stigma, encouraging other lonely people to talk about their struggles, and defining one person’s experience, Lonely redefines how we look at loneliness and helps those afflicted see and understand their mood in an entirely new light, ultimately providing solace and hope. It is a moving, compassionate, and important book about a topic that is affecting more among us each day.
Recently, I listened to a professor who was debating with a student who was doing a paper on the effects of technology on young people. The student concluded that, with electronic technology, socialization with be more diverse, more stimulating and less lonely for young people.
The professor disagreed with her findings. He expressed concern over the absence of intimacy resulting from the various modes of communication used by our youth. He contends that there will be a generation of people who will not know how to be intimate with each other.
I’ve watched adults on cell phones as they directed children swiftly though public thoroughfares with stony stares. I wondered who answers the questions that children inevitable have to ask? Who shares the points of interest? What happens to sacred moments of shared intimacy and memory building?
Does it matter?
Intimacy, not people, is the antidote for loneliness. How will our youth deal with loneliness if they have no knowledge of intimacy? Will they know the true meaning of the word?
One day, I saw a person struggling with his crippled foot. His brace had snagged a piece of metal filigree. His face was a mask of fear and frustration. Silently, I approached from behind and used my toe to push his foot in the direction that freed the brace. I smiled at him and kept walking.
If I have one of those experiences every day, I will never be lonely.