A 21st century tragedy

Why shouldn’t a human being live perfectly happily alone? Millions do. Me included.

If our fear of loneliness stems from the danger of a pack animal being separated from its community and dying, then in the 21st century that fear is obsolete. We have houses with doors that lock. We have cars and trains and planes that can get us to friends or to safety. We have telephones and the internet to connect us to other voices, other presences, in seconds. We have hospitals and doctors’ surgeries. We have supermarkets to deliver our food. We have water on tap. We face far more risks in overpopulated cities than in remote rural areas. So why is being alone still so scary? Because we imagine ourselves dying alone, being discovered after five days, half-eaten by the cat. We read stories about people dying alone, or killing themselves, even though they have families and friends and neighbours and social services and the health service. They could have called for help; they could have walked to a shop or a church or a pub for company. But they felt disconnected, cut off, unloved – to the point of choosing to die rather than contact someone. That’s not rational. That is a mixture of emotions so strong that they overwhelm the reasoning mind and take the individual to his or her death. That’s a 21st century tragedy, but it can be averted.

Do you relate to this, or do you know anyone who would?

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6 comments on “A 21st century tragedy

  1. shelagh says:

    Interesting phenomena ‘endemic loneliness’ it’s hard not to notice the emptiness and isolation I see in peoples faces when I venture out on to the streets of London every morning.
    The saddest film I ever saw was ‘Dreams of a life’ the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, 38 years young who was discovered 3 years after her death in her Wood Green flat North London. Seems she estranged herself from family and friends.. it left me shaking and wondering why? Loneliness is becoming a taboo subject, I don’t think anyone likes to admit there lonely, its a deeply personal subject and a scary place to be. I think we have to look closely at the way personal relationships are changing with networks like ‘face book’, ‘My space’ ect where its common to have vast numbers of friends but hardly ever experience the personal side of companionship that face to face friendship used to give, the look, the touch that says ‘don’t worry..things will be OK. .. maybe to do so would be asking too much of our friends time in this busy world we live in. To admit your lonely, in need of comfort and support risks being thought of as ‘needy’ and ‘high maintenance’ in a lot of social circles. The real risk here is we are evolving into non-communities in ‘the big society’. So smile at your neighbor this morning! Good luck with the workshops, I’m definitely thinking of attending

    • Thanks, Shelagh – well-observed comment. The blog is designed to highlight the problem of loneliness and try to remove the stigma. It shouldn’t be shameful to feel lonely – it’s a very common and perfectly natural feeling; the irony is that being ashamed, fearful or embarrassed about admitting to it only shores up the feeling and makes it worse.
      Social media are great for some people, especially those of us who are shy or struggle with society for one reason or another. But you’re absolutely right – face to face is crucial, and it’s the look and the touch that counts. That’s what’s missing from much of daily lives, from school onwards. Not so much the look, but definitely the touch. The obsession with sexual misconduct and the default assumption that every adult is a potential sex offender (in the UK, anyway) is incredibly dangerous and is building horrific problems for kids and the adults they grow into.
      btw Can you email me and let me know where you are? If you’re interested in the workshop I can fix one up near you.

  2. SmudgeLove says:

    The irrational fear of being alone isn’t solely about having the ability to communicate easily with a number of people, Facebook and Twitter can connect us to hundreds of friends from both the past and the present, close communities can act as a leaning post but sometimes nothing can fill that void of emptiness.

    Traditionally a woman used to go to extreme measures to avoid loneliness and the social stigma connected to never finding that one companion, in the 21st century where divorce is as common as marriage and being single is portrayed as a powerful feminine attribute we no longer have to live in fear of others opinions, but what about our own? We grow up with the expectations of finding someone, so when we hit adulthood and begin to mature alone questions arise.

    The fear of dieing alone can be linked to the apprehension you’re not worthy of another’s heart. There are unlimited arguments regarding to the pressure society places on teens to look a certain way, but that pressure does not go unnoticed by the adult communities, if you do not conform to that of what you expect acceptable feelings of insecurity and self-doubt can be easily mistaken for that of needing a partner, if only to shield one’s vulnerability.

    We may have an unlimited source of contact to the outside word but that doesn’t always necessarily fill the void, missing a romantic companion cannot be easily replaced. Day-to-day business will always resume, we feel weak for admitting such emotions but behind closed doors loneliness is an emotion you cannot fake resolution.

    • Thanks, SmudgeLove – another excellent reply.

      ‘we no longer have to live in fear of others opinions’ You’re quite right, but we do fear them, nevertheless. Eccentrics are as odd for their lack of fear as for their unusual behaviour patterns. Most of us like to be liked, and many of us spend our lives desperately trying to please others. But the desperation to please usually betrays us, and we are either spurned as unwelcome needy clingers, or exploited as emotional slaves.

      And of course you’re right – you definitely can’t fake resolution. Even if we have superb acting skills and are adept at disguise, the truth leaks out of us in too many ways. Our bodies are the most blatant traitors – body language and our outward state of health gives us away very quickly.

  3. I definitely share the fear of dying alone. I am 35 and single (no cats). I will not be having children no matter who comes into my life. So who will take care of me when I get old? Who will mourn my loss?

    But.

    I have a few close friends that I stay in contact with. I have my own blog that I have started recently. I do have family. So why am I so isolated that I fear dying alone? I think that is a part of the human condition. It is genetically built in to form relationships, to procreate. Just because those instincts are no longer necessary doesn’t mean they do not exist. They do still have evolutionary value as well. People are more accepting of others when they understand the norms that person follows or if the person fits into their own norms.

    Someone that wishes to live alone and is happy that way, is outside the norms. Other people don’t know how to treat a person like this. They will assume he or she wishes to be within the norms and so will attempt to set the person up if single, if childless, to have children, etc.

    So those of us who fall outside the norms have to accept that the “normals” will never understand us. And we have to understand that we sometimes have to cut them some slack, too.

    Lonely and Alone are not the same word and do not have the same meaning.

    I am perfectly happy alone…most of the time.
    When I am lonely, I pick up the phone to connect with someone, or get on the computer. And when the loneliness gets to be too much…I go to the hospital since my head isn’t on straight. But that is just me.

    • Thanks for an excellent response. I think part of our problem is that despite all the sophistication of modern society we are still running on ancient programmes. You mentioned genetic patterns and instincts – we think we can rationalise everything these days, but we forget we’re mammals running on mammalian instincts. We’ve layered emotional intelligence (well, some of us), psychology, technology and sociology on top of them so we don’t recognise them any more, but the instincts are too powerful to ignore.

      Norm is a powerful word – but which norm? the lowest common denominator or one of the averages – mean, median or mode? Or is it what the media have taught us?

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