In a society based on pandering to others, is it any wonder we do our best to escape so we are the only judges of our fitness for survival — and that then, we’re lonely, because everyone else has their heads in the cloud?
They could have more friends than ever online but, on average, Americans have fewer intimates to confide in than they did a decade ago, according to one study. Another found that 20 percent of all individuals are, at any given time, unhappy because of social isolation, according to University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo. And, frankly, they’d rather not talk about it.
Jacqueline Olds, a psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard Medical School, said “People are so embarrassed about being lonely that no one admits it. Loneliness is stigmatized, even though everyone feels it at one time or another.”
When asked how many people they could confide in, the average number declined over that same time period from three to two. In 2004, almost a quarter of those surveyed said they had no one to discuss important matters with in the past six months; in 1985, only 7 percent were devoid of close confidantes.
“Loneliness has a terrible reputation in this country,” Olds said. “It’s a problem not just with a few people without social skills. It’s not synonymous with being a loser.”
She also points to what she calls “the cult of busyness.” In an era of frantic pace and multitasking, people feel they should always be accomplishing something. They work long hours and then, in their limited spare time, they work more – catching up on e-mail, doing the laundry, going to the gym. Socializing often comes last.
Egalitarianism also means we’re afraid to stand out in the crowd, so our primary motive is escape. That means loneliness. Should be obvious but magically, it’s not. Hmm.