Discover more from Stephen's People
Are you alone, or are you lonely?
(No. 24) Window peeking; teen angst; and good country music
(please click the heart, above.)
But first, this:
If you’re in a crisis from loneliness, the virus, aging or anything else, the crisis text line offers free help. Text HOME to 741741 at any hour.
Out the window the streets are empty.
“Supermoon,” by Marie Coons. I’m so happy to share Marie’s first illustration for Age: The Next Everything — I’ve long loved her colorful drawings of New York characters. Check out her amazing Instagram page @mcswiss.
Walk through any dense, older neighborhood in New York, Chicago and other cities and you’ll see someone leaning on an open window sill watching the world go by. That person — most often an older woman, in my experience — might sit there for hours, connecting with the street life and serving as a kind of neighborhood watch. But these days the street is often as devoid of people as the watcher’s apartment.
I’m an observer myself. I look down from my fifth floor window each morning to judge how cold it is outside, based on people’s clothing. Or I hear shouting and lean out to monitor the riff raff. But there’s not much to see these days. Now that we New Yorkers are trying to outsmart the virus by staying inside, it’s painfully clear how much the normal crowds define the city.
Given our acceptance of social distancing, most of us are more alone these days. But that doesn’t mean we are lonely. Being alone is an objective condition. Loneliness is subjective. You might expect that in countries where many people live alone, such as the northern European nations and the US, people would be more lonely. Yet surveys show that’s not true.
Used with permission of Our World in Data
According to social scientists and psychologists, loneliness and being alone don’t necessarily go hand in hand. And, despite the stereotype of the grandmotherly type leaning out her window out of loneliness, older people aren’t the loneliest group in America. Data shows that the opposite is true, as illustrated in this graph.
Courtesy of Statista. I assume the percentages for men and women refer to the total of lonely people.
The Office for National Statistics in England found similar results. Young people, ages 16-24, reported feeling lonely the most, with 1 in 10 saying they felt lonely “often or always.” Only 3 percent of people over age 65 felt lonely “often or always.” Similar patterns are found in other countries around the world. Despite a lot of media hype about a loneliness epidemic, studies show that loneliness is not increasing worldwide. It’s self-reported at roughly the same rate as it was decades ago. I think we mistake living alone, which has increased, for being lonely.
Hank Williams sings "I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.
With the virus, most of us confront new isolating patterns of living that might lead us to feel alone, or lonely, or both. I am often alone, but I don’t ever “feel alone.” However, there are people I miss seeing during this pandemic, including someone I fell out with right when the whole mess started. The absence of those people can make me feel lonely, which is a feeling I haven’t been accustomed to in middle age. It’s a new and unpleasant and I squash it as soon as it appears. I suspect that’s not good for me, or my process of aging.
Living alone doesn’t seem to harm people. But loneliness is a key factor in people’s health, young and old. But especially as they age. Physiologically, loneliness can affect our body’s inflammatory responses, making it harder for cellular damage to heal. It can speed up atherosclerosis and make it harder to fight off viral invaders.
Alone, or lonely? Photo by Lucas Myers on Unsplash
The virus has given all of us the opportunity to imagine, at least, what loneliness might be like. Cooped up in our homes and apartments, we go to the window to see what human life is like outside. When we see nothing, perhaps we feel a pang. Going forward, post pandemic, we might benefit from making our lives less susceptible to loneliness by cultivating friendships, and, very importantly, helping others. Empathy, generosity, donating time to help people and institutions. All these have been shown to reduce loneliness. We can all look forward to the near certainty that when this pandemic passes, our view out the window will be full of life again.
And take heart. It seems to get easier as you get older.
More news for those who are socially adept, and for those who just fake it
Bright news for women
The phytoestrogen known as resveratrol may reduce cognitive decline and general aging in post menopausal women.
Beauty and the socially distanced beasts
Hoarding of toilet paper and peanut butter has subsided; now we’re in the hair dye and clippers stage of the virus.