Loneliness is not a fact it is emotion. It is pervasive and contributes to the breakdown of both the body and the brain resulting in death by illness and suicide by people, mostly men, age 45 and older. The loss is incomprehensible and avoidable. “How” is the question.
When the world was young, evolving humans were much like the elephants. A herd of females with a matriarch in charge made sure the species survived—cared for the young, knew the feeding grounds, the watering holes, and the migration paths. Male elephants wandered alone but near the herd, fighting other males for dominance so only the best genes survived. Then, at the time of procreation, they joined the females, sired the next generation, and left.
Over time, things changed. Ensuring the survival of the species took on layers of societal constructs which put the male at the top of the family unit. As the dominant wage earner, he had the strength, power, and money to assume authority, control, and rule the homestead as well as establish his rightful place on the economic ladder. Females provided the males sexual outlet, the home maintenance, the children, and appropriate social partner. At least, that was the idea, and for many families, it worked.
Another leap to the WWII era when the nation’s most of the male workforce went to war. The only people left were women. To the astonishment of businesses, corporations, and government, the women did a great job, crushing stereotypes as they supported our troops and their families. Women figured out how to do it all: work, family, housekeeping, and men learned how to kill. Those that came back had to deal with survival, work and family, and the stressors of the experience, injury, war, and death.
Men returned to work, sending the women home. Massive media campaigns extolled the virtues of women in the house, with even more vigor than the previous campaigns to send women into the workplace. If men chose to go to college, women took “service” jobs like secretary, teacher, waitress, so the men, preparing to be the main wage-earners, could get their credentials.
I remember, prior to the Women’s movement, growing up with the understanding that it was my job, once I married, to make sure my husband could do his. I was also encouraged, by my mother, to get an education so that I could support myself in the meantime, prior to marriage, and during and after marriage, if I had to. But, the most important degree was an M.R.S. Find, love, marry a man who would take care of me — forever. And, I did. At twenty-one years-of-age.
All went according to plan until the Women’s Movement challenged the assumptions and perceptions of assigned roles and abilities.
Fast forward to now. Society still clings to gender identity. Women are silenced when they get too rowdy, smart, and aggressive. Men are silenced when they get too emotional, sensitive, and compassionate. Those who fall into neither category, negotiate norms so they can live their lives as they are meant to.
CRASH. BANG. CHAOS.
A major crisis wrecks life’s precarious balance: job loss, infidelity, stock market crash, illness, injury, accident, or death. It doesn’t matter. The partnership, life as we know it, knew it, doesn’t survive. In my case, my husband died of cancer at forty-nine-years-old. I was forty-four.
Silent, rejecting needs I can’t even name, and alone, I sat and wondered, now what? How do I do … anything? I found a brave face to show to my family and the community, but I ran for cover, and isolation, as soon as, and as often as, I could. The world I knew no longer had a place for me.
I had entered the emotional state of loneliness which exacerbated my depression. As a woman, it was easier for me to talk about my feelings, get help, reach out. But, in the case of male loneliness, men are reluctant to talk to friends, although they will talk to strangers, preferably by phone. Why?
Dr. Martin Seager, interviewed in Newsweek said, “The way I look at it, if men have evolved as fathers, protectors, and survivors, they are going to feel life is worth living to the extent they can provide and protect.” In his view, the problem comes when the world changes and men are no longer able to fulfill this traditional role.
In the same article, Mike Buchanan, 58, founder of the world’s first political party for men’s human rights, Justice for Men & Boys (and the women who love them), believes the rise of women has triggered the fall of men.
As a woman, my immediate reaction to both assertions was “Ah-Ha.” All legislation by male dominated lawmakers to take away women’s rights of their bodies and their choices is to keep “the little lady” at home. They are terrified their wives will leave. It is a fact that since women have been able to support themselves, divorce rates have risen at the men’s 45 age mark. And, it is very possible that women walk because they are lonely in the relationship, leaving behind a partner who, I bet, is just as lonely.
What is loneliness?
The clinical approach is well said in Wikipedia: Loneliness is a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation or lack of companionship. Loneliness typically includes anxious feelings about a lack of connection or communication with other beings, both in the present and extending into the future.
The experiential approach, from personal experience and tidbits from other articles, concludes loneliness is more painful. Loneliness occurs when there is a lack of
• unconditional acceptance/love;
• positive reinforcement in action and words;
• another person’s accessibility and response;
• two-way contacts (no one calls);
• approval to break social norms;
• non-judgmental listener;
• reciprocal consideration;
• recognition of worth.
In short, Marc Katz, “The Heart of Loneliness: How Jewish wisdom Can Help You Cope and Find Comfort” says, loneliness is … an underlying hunger to be seen. I’ll add, be seen as your authentic self.
Unfortunately, and I can attest to this, neither Prince Charming or Princess Beautiful will arrive on your doorstep to save the day. Neither will the “Snap out of it. Get up, get dressed, and get out,” approach work in a vacuum, however for loneliness it true and the basis of most tips to eradicate or at least survive loneliness.
It may help to know that those who suffer are slaves to a society which uses and disposes people. The conditioning starts early putting our children at risk of following in the footsteps of loneliness and suicide. Until recently, girls are silenced with be pretty, not too smart, and cooperate. Boys are silenced, taught not to show emotion, tough it out, be a team player, and win. As a result, men like to be around a large team and doing something. As their circle dwindles and the doing disappears, they can become uncomfortable and withdraw.
From the Newsweek article: “Another aspect of increasing social isolation is people’s strong desire for privacy. By and large, society values privacy over face-to-face interaction—in other words, taking the necessary time for others. For example, without company coming over, you do not have to clean your home, provide refreshments and a meal, or take a close interest in another person’s life. Often, it is our own propensity toward the path of least resistance that leads us to feel lonely.”
Fight the War on Loneliness?
Are you mad yet? Pissed off that society has failed you? Told you what you can and cannot be? What you should and should not do? And then, left you to die?
If you’re not, get angry. Get furious. Men, you’ve been trained for war, to serve and protect, and this is the biggest, toughest war yet. You must fight for yourself. Your life depends on it. Strategize. Evaluate. Plan. Take Action.
For men and women, a life-changing crisis is devastating and difficult. Been there, done that. And, from experience, I know it takes time and work. However, I found it gave me a chance to start over, rethink priorities, regain balance, explore options, and make meaningful, life-enhancing choices.
Therefore, say “No,” to the society’s conventions that leave you empty, deny your feelings, and stop you from choices that make you happy, fulfilled, and self-actualized. Say “Yes” to the victory of achieving a life with purpose, energy, and rewards that you define and pursue.
Photo Credit: Getty Images