This was one of my most memorable Valentine’s days ever. My wife, Carlin, and I went into town. I dropped her at her hairdresser and I went and bought a new pair of shoes. I had worn my Keens down to the bone and I was pleased to find what I wanted on sale. I picked Carlin up and she looked fabulous, but she always does, even after being married for 43 years. We went out to one of our favorite restaurants, got a private table on the second floor, had a glass of wine and a fabulous meal. Next day, which was February 14th, I picked up the gluten-free cake I had specially baked for her with a special hand-made card from a local artist. We enjoyed a lunch of our leftovers from the night before and had a quiet day at home. To top it off, it snowed, beautiful, floaty flakes. A rarity in Willits, California.
But my romantic life wasn’t always like this. If you have ever visited me at MenAlive.com you will see my welcome video, “Confessions of a Twice-Divorced Marriage Counselor.” Before I got married the first time I was too young and crazy to think much about Valentine’s Day. Towards the end of my first marriage, I still bought my wife a nice card every year, but the stresses of earning a living and raising two children had taken a lot of the passion, creativity, and caring out of our marriage. We were still a family, but we had lost something that we never were able to retrieve.
After the divorce all I wanted to do was work and forget the pain of a failed marriage and the strain of being a part-time father with an ex-wife who never seemed to be able to forgive me for not being the man she wanted and needed. Truth be told, she also couldn’t forgive me for my inability to fill the hole in her soul that was left by her father who had died of a heart attack when she was seven years old.
Loneliness is a great motivator, but not always a healthy one. After a short time I met a sexy, exciting woman in the tubs at Harbin Hot Springs and after a whirlwind courtship I asked her to marry me. My close friends tried to talk me out of it, but I didn’t listen. They were probably jealous that I had…well who really knows what they were really thinking. I should have listened to my intuition that warned me that a woman who slept with a gun under her pillow might not be the ideal mate for an anti-war, peace-loving pacifist.
But loneliness has a way of blinding us to what is in our best interests. Falling in love is not always easy to distinguish from falling in lust. Love may not be blind, but my one-eyed friend, particularly when he was aroused, was not always a good guide to a hearts and flowers marriage that grows stronger through the years.
In my book The Enlightened Marriage and my course based on the book, “Navigating the 5 Stages of Love,” I talked about the challenges of Stage 3, Disillusionment, and how loneliness can cause us to feel alone even when we are in a relationship and can cause us to go “looking for love in all the wrong places,” the title of another book I wrote when I was trying to figure out why my first marriage had ended.
By now you’ve probably figured out that I write in order to sort out my feelings and make sense of my love life. It is a tradition I have grown to love and respect. One of my friends, and fellow writers, John David Mann, quoted Joan Didion in a recent mailing.
“I write to find out what I think,”
He also quoted William Faulkner:
“I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.”
The quote I like best is from Ann Morrow Lindbergh:
“Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.”
How the Loneliness Epidemic is Undermining Our Relationships
Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, the US surgeon general, released a book early in the pandemic. He said that the coronavirus pandemic has created a loneliness epidemic.
“Social distancing, while necessary from a public health standpoint, has caused a collapse in social contact among family, friends, and entire communities — one that is particularly hard on populations already most vulnerable to isolation.”
Those who have been following this trend have recognized that Americans were experiencing high degrees of loneliness well before the coronavirus resulted in greater levels of social isolation. In a 2018 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 22 percent of all adults in the US — almost 60 million Americans — said they often or always felt lonely or socially isolated. The problem is even more concentrated among older adults: A major National Academies of Sciences report found that a little more than a third of adults over the age of 45, and 43 percent of adults over 60, felt lonely (other surveys have returned similar results).
The problem is even more pervasive and destructive. In her most recent book, The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World That’s Pulling Apart, Noreena Hertz, one of the world’s leading thinkers says,
“Even before a global pandemic introduced us to terms like ‘social distancing,’ loneliness was well on its way to becoming the defining condition of the twenty-first century.”
In the book she shares stories of pervasive loneliness: Carl, the Los Angeles executive so lonely he pays to be cuddled. Eric, the Parisian baker finding community in the political far right. Peter, the London schoolboy distraught because no one ‘likes’ his Instagram posts. Although as a group males seem to be more isolated and lonelier than females, this problem impacts both sexes. The CDC released a report that shows that teen girls across the United States are “engulfed in a growing wave of violence and trauma, as well as record levels of feeling sad or hopeless.”
“This is not merely a mental health crisis,” says Hertz. “Loneliness increases our risk of heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Statistically, it’s as bad for our health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. This is not just a crisis for individuals. Equally to blame are the dismantling of civic institutions, the radical reorganization of the workspace, the mass migration to cities, and decades of neoliberal policies that have placed self-interest above the collective good.”
Noreena Hertz concludes saying,
“All around us, the fabric of community is unraveling and our personal relationships are under threat.”
In a Time magazine article, “It’s Harder Than Ever to Care About Anything,” Hertz says,
“It’s almost like we have a choice to make. Are we going to consign and resign ourselves to a life of increasingly contactless encounters, in which we become ever more isolated and ever lonelier? Or are we going to commit to reconnect? My hope is that it’s the latter. This demands action not only by us as individuals, but also by businesses and governments.”
The Evolutionary Purpose of Loneliness and Its Solution
For most of human history humans were embedded in a rich network of interpersonal relationships. We had families of mothers, fathers, and children who received support from extended family and community. Times were often tough, but everyone had a purpose in life and everyone felt connected to others. That is how our ancestors survived over millions of years.
Any disconnections that lasted more than a short time created acute feelings of loneliness. Like hunger that would get us up looking for food and thirst that would send us searching for life-sustaining water, loneliness was a signal to reconnect. The problem in our modern world is that loneliness feeds on itself. We become increasingly fearful of others, afraid to trust others who could give us the life-preserving connections we need.
Here are my suggestions for healing:
- Recognize that loneliness is a call to action. It is not a personal failing.
- We can begin immediately to reach out to friends and family we trust.
- When we’re most lonely, we can help someone else in need. Helping others reconnects us to the world.
- Start small and build up your confidence. Even small gestures of kindness, care, and support can help you feel more connected.
- Together we can expand our circle of care, connection, and love.
If you feel so moved, drop me a note to Jed@MenAlive.com and tell me what you are doing to combat loneliness in your life. If you’d like to stay connected, join our community to receive free weekly articles. https://menalive.com/email-newsletter/
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