People confuse the word “alone” with lonely.
In a society where marriage has been held up as the ideal, they misunderstand how those who’ve never married, or who are widowed or divorced, experience living alone.
Will you still need me when I’m 84?
Loneliness is not tied to relationship status, and it’s a fallacy to assume that marriage or cohabitation is the solution. Ask anyone who’s been in an unhappy, non-communicative marriage. Eric Klinenberg, the author of “Going Solo,” a book about living alone, looks at the emergence of the one-person household as an increasingly preferred living choice. “People who live alone do get lonely,” Klinenberg says, “but so do people in marriages.”
Younger people have made living alone a choice; in the under-65 demographic, 15 million live alone and many are actively choosing single lives, at the same time proving that the old equation between living alone and being unhappy no longer holds true. Younger singles are just as happy and healthy as younger people in committed relationships. But what about the 11 million seniors who are leading single lives? According to researchers, many older singles are not doing so well.
As we age, many of us start worrying what living alone will be like. Who’ll help if I become ill? What if I feel lonely and isolated? We worry about maintaining social connections if we lose mobility. Those of us who sought a single life and chose not to remarry after a divorce or spouse’s death might find ourselves rethinking our priorities.
Should advancing age cause people like me who are single to rethink our status? Is it time to find a partner?
In an effort to quantify the feeling of loneliness – a sense of not having meaningful contact with others, accompanied by painful distress – geriatric specialists at the University of California, San Francisco, asked 1,604 adults age 60 and older how often they felt isolated or left out, or lacked companionship. Sixty-two percent of those who reported being lonely were married. (Click here to read more about the study.)
Maybe what we need as we plan for old age is to expand our social connections and interactions – not look for a husband.
Words – and More – With Friends
We long for meaningful relationships and social connections. That may be why increasing numbers of older people are turning to online dating sites, which offer a way to connect with others and make new friends, even if they don’t deliver a life partner.
There are other ways to connect and grow our social circles, too. Facebook is a great place to chat, keep up with friends’ activities and even play games with them, like the popular game Word with Friends. Some websites offer forums and chat rooms that encourage users to interact with others. Online friendships can supplement real life relationships.
We need social interactions and people in our lives who care about us, but living alone doesn’t always lead to loneliness, just as living with others is no guarantee of happiness. We can maintain our independent lifestyles as we age and build strong social connections at the same time.