“Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness,” screamed the NY Times headline over the weekend. An epidemic indeed. And yet the only people mentioned in the epidemic are the elderly, consigned to a life of birthdays without parties and days without talking to another soul. Indeed, if the article is to be believed, the elderly will also die alone.
Give me a break. Everybody dies alone.
I grant you that I will probably never call the Silver Hotline mentioned in the story just to speak to another human being, but neither will most older people I know. In fact, the loneliest people I know are young people, recently relocated to new cities, new jobs, new relationships, and first-time life experiences. Without dates, spouses, significant others, pets, or children, young people can be much more lonely than the elderly.
This is not to say older people are not lonely. But since I’ve had five marriages, producing five stepchildren and two birth children, and fostered three children who have themselves produced five grandchildren, I now find myself in the position of being a woman with too many grandchildren to count reliably, and not all that much “alone time.”
But even if you weren’t promiscuous with your affections in your youth, there are many available solutions for loneliness, and I believe that loneliness, like boredom, comes from within.
Once again, I draw upon my own solutions:
1) I rescue dogs, and that makes it important to get up in the morning and take them to a park to walk them. Other people with dogs are also in the park, and we’re a multi-generational group, defined more by the ages and breeds of our dogs than anything else. It’s incredible fun, and incredible bonding. Now we all go out to dinner.
2)Once a week, I take Pilates. I march my body out of the house to a studio in my neighborhood and groan along with ten other men and women laying on their Reformers hoping for the elusive Pilates body. We laugh at almost anything.
3)Three times a week I take yoga: each time at a different studio. Enter still more people who share my affinity for this 5000-year-old humbling practice. Yes, some of them are pretzels without arthritis, but I do it with my eyes closed.
4)And then I volunteer: I mentor young entrepreneurs, and lead a couple of entrepreneurship groups, where I’m mostly working with people thirty or forty years younger on problems that know no age limits.
5) I go to bars. Well, it’s not quite like that. I go out to eat at restaurants where you can eat at the bar, and I prefer to eat at the bar. I simply place my latest tech toy on the bar –Apple Watch, Google Glass, whatever — and wait for people to ask me about it.
5)Last, but not least, I spend inordinate amounts of time talking to strangers and acquaintances in far-flung places on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. I also answer the occasional LinkedIn email.
Oops, I forgot to mention travel. Sometimes I actually meet the people I’ve already “met” on social media.
Bottom line: there’s no excuse for loneliness. It falls to the individual to involve herself (and the majority of elderly are women, because my husband told me the men had the good sense to die first) in things that are fun, fulfilling, and even educational. I wish researchers would quit studying things with existing remedies and redouble their efforts on the difficult problems.