Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I read an article recently about loneliness being at epidemic proportions in today's society and a few days later I read another saying loneliness could be as bad for your health as smoking or obesity. One thing I noticed was that loneliness comes in many degrees and many forms. A happily married woman with a close family could feel a sense of loneliness if she did not also have some close friendships outside the family circle. A person with many close friends and an active social life could feel a deep sense of loneliness because they did not have a partner or children.
The articles both made the point that in modern society communication has never been easier - with our mobile phones, our emailing, MSN, facebook and twitter - yet our sense of community, of belonging, has never been weaker. More and more people are living alone, not all of them from choice. We are having fewer and fewer genuine human interactions.
I know what it's like to feel lonely; I suppose we all do. When I started school, I found it hard to make friends, I never seemed to fit in and I still remember wandering the playground alone trying to look as if I didn't care. As I grew up friendships became much easier but I still retain that feeling of being on the outside looking in and am still faintly astonished that anyone wants me as a friend! Even now I find it almost impossible to be pro-active in my friendships...I am scared to suggest something like a trip to the shops or the cinema or even a cup of coffee in case the answer is no- which will make me feel a ridiculous, irrational and disproportionate sense of rejection ( knowing I'm being stupid doesn't really help!)
Being lonely isn't of course the same as being alone. I enjoy being alone, probably because it's only for a few hours each week. I like to potter around my house and garden on my own, I like driving alone, sometimes walking alone and visiting the cinema alone. I'm happy to eat alone too. I like my own company. I don't get bored easily.
However I can't imagine living alone; I have never done it! I went from living with my parents to married life without a break - I'm a real dinosaur, a freak! I have a huge respect for people who live on their own and hope I could manage it too, if I had to.
Sometimes I've felt lonely whilst in a relationship. Often I've felt lonely because I have no blood relations who are close to me except my daughters. I have a wonderful family "by marriage" but on occasion I've been there amongst them all and felt like that lonely kid in the school playground again. Not their fault - mine.
Sometimes I feel lonely because the phone doesn't ring, no-one is texting me and my emails are all spam. Sometimes it's easy to assume I'm the only one feeling left out and out of step.
Look at Facebook and see how some people have 1000 or more friends! Only they aren't friends, are they? No-one could maintain THAT many friendships! I think it's a bit mad how some folk are desperate to appear popular and yet deep down I have this sneaking feeling that the more friends you have, the better person you are. Can you be a good person with NO friends? I struggle to maintain a sense of my own worth if I'm not getting some positive feedback from others.
Experts advise the lonely to do voluntary work to meet new people. Or go to classes or join clubs. It strikes me that that advice is maybe too trite, as if you're chronically lonely you'll either have already tried that and found it didn't work, or you're just too mired in loneliness to give it a go. Even if you do, you might not find making a few friends is the cure. I think loneliness is something inherant in all of us.
One of the articles quoted an nameless woman who said " I am so lonely. I have no friends, because nobody likes me, no matter what I do". That's one of the saddest and bleakest things I've ever read. I can't forget it.
I am lucky; my feelings of loneliness are transient and I can deal with them. Maybe one day medical science will find cures for cancer and for other killer diseases; maybe one day we'll find a cure for loneliness and the unknown woman above will realise that she is likeable and that life can be good. I hope she is ok tonight....