Blissful isolation can so easily turn into soul-crushing loneliness.
“Many men attain wealth but do not find therein an escape from their problems; rather, they exchange them for greater problems.”—Epicurus
Money can be profoundly liberating. This is especially true if you’ve been financially dependent, for years, upon one of those sad souls who use money to control people. I’ve seen this firsthand: the 44-year-old wife who can finally leave her abusive asshole of a husband because she’s got a job and an income of her own; the 22-year-old college graduate who can finally get out from under the thumb of his psychotic controlling mom because he’s no longer dependent upon her for books and tuition. It’s equally gratifying to behold the plumber who has, at long last, gotten to the point where he can afford to turn away rude customers and say NO to crappy weekend jobs he doesn’t want.
If you come into a small fortune, it frees you from the need to suck-up to people you despise, work for a boss you hate, live with a spouse you no longer love, or bite your tongue when you’re surrounded by idiots. In The Black Swan (2007), the philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb refers to that point in his life when he became financially independent as the moment when he got his “fuck you money”—viz., the moment when he’d made enough money that he no longer had to put up with other people’s bullshit. This kind of freedom—this newfound autonomy and independence—is, to my mind, perhaps the greatest of money’s blessings. But it’s often money’s greatest curse too.
If you’ve got money in our society, you can pay people to do many of the things that are normally done for free by family and friends. For instance, if you need help moving, you don’t have to ask your family and friends—you just hire a moving company. If you need someone to watch your kids for a few hours before you get home from work, you don’t have to ask your family and friends—you just hire a nanny. If you’re going through a rough patch, on account of the death of an old friend, you don’t have to lean on your family and friends—you just get a good therapist. But is this really such a good thing? Sometimes it is. No doubt about that. But not always. When we pay for services such as these, I suspect that we often rob ourselves of opportunities for intimacy. You could have bonded with your brother or sister. You could have leaned on your spouse, and grown closer as a consequence. You could have talked about it at length (over far too much wine) with a new friend—a new friend that soon becomes one of the best friends you’ve ever had in your life. You rob yourself of all these possibilities, and many others, when you pay someone to hang out with you.
Though some of our deepest and most meaningful connections to others grow out of joy, most are forged in adversity: e.g., she was there for me when I was going through that terrible break-up; she was there, as well, when my cousin died of a drug overdose; he was there for me when I lost my job; he was there, as well, when my mother was dying of breast cancer.
We live in a world wherein wealthy lone wolves can go months without talking to their friends and family. And the reason is as sad as it is obvious: they don’t really need them for much of anything. To those who are forced to put up with crazy people and emotionally-taxing relationships—more or less by necessity—this must seem like a great blessing. But I suspect it’s often a great curse too. After all, blissful isolation can so easily turn into soul-crushing loneliness.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2015)
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