To admit to feeling lonely is like standing on a wall and shouting ‘Run for your lives!’ At least, that’s how it often seems. The whiff of isolation and loneliness is like a bad smell – one sniff and everyone heads for the door, leaving the culprit even more alone than before. Alienated, shamed and hurt.
Why? Why are we so terrfied of the feeling and angry with anyone who feels it? It’s nonsense, of course, in the 21st century. There’s nothing – absolutely nothing – wrong with feeling lonely. It’s not catching. So why so scary?
Humans are mammals, and we still run on ancient instincts – and the strongest of all is the survival instinct. Empty-handed and alone in the wilderness, we’d have no natural defences, no sharp teeth or claws, not fast enough to outrun anything on four legs and not strong enough to fight it. Our only defence would be in numbers – within a pack, we’d have a good chance of surviving, with team work and defences. Alone, we’d be 100% lunch. Especially if we’re ill or injured.
For other individuals, associating with the lonely figure is a bad strategy, so the pack sticks together, and the lonely individual is abandoned. What happens next? A predator with too many teeth and lethal claws jumps on the loner and eats it. And we’ve never forgotten it through all the millennia of evolution. Our survival instinct says: ‘Lonely = dead.’ And then: ‘Lonely and Lonely’s stupid friend = dead.’
Even without predators around, a lonely pack member is bad news. The one who can’t keep up could be diseased, and no-one wants to catch whatever it’s got. Nope. However popular and strong you were, now you’re spotty and coughing, you’re on your own, mate. Biyeee.
So – even though we’ve long forgotten why, we still think that a loner is a loser.