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We Are A Lonely Nation — By Choice

Far From The Maddening Crowd

Like the extremes in the political sphere, there is little agreement from our readers on the causes of self-inflicted and deliberate loneliness. The only consensus I can make is: politics don't isolate people, people isolate people.

Interesting piece.

I don't know how many people may have responded that feel like me, but time alone is a haven!

Though I have siblings, the nearest one to my age is nine years older and essentially, I grew up as an only child in a residential area where there were no other children. By the time I was around others, if we weren't having a sensible conversation, I quickly became unamused and disinterested. It did not have to be an intelligent conversation, but rather than gossipping, or discussing the weather or trivial items, I was pondering why is it that boys get a high-five and a notch in their belt when giving up their virginity and girls were "sluts" even if they were curious about it, and just who were the boys sleeping with?.... (This because of my stepfather, born in 1912 and having raised four boys in his previous marriage. I still ponder this, but this is another story).

Now I have a husband and a son and my husband often feels I am anti-social, or perhaps, non-social. He is very outgoing, outspoken, loves people and in my opinion, loves attention. He does not do well in a calm and quiet setting. Me, I am the wallflower — and I am just fine with that.

I often find that I must defend my silence around his friends with the Confucius saying "He who talks learns nothing and he who listens learns everything". It is not to say that their conversations are stupid, but they do not interest me in the least.

I have friends that I love dearly, but always find that the more time you spend with them, the more they "need" you — it's more work! "Why should I be listening to you, when I can't hear my own self think?"

About three weeks ago, both my husband and son were out of the house for two whole days and just by chance — I cannot remember the last time (and it has been years) that I had been alone for so long — who needs Hawaii?

I cannot say it is all I want in life — to be totally alone — but I treasure those times — to listen to my music as loud as I want, to paint and draw completely uninterrupted, to close the front door and know that I am not expecting anyone to knock or enter for anything — maybe it is selfishness and maybe I spend so much time being selfless that time alone is my choice. I saw the headline and thought it was not so odd to want to be alone, at least not me, why would this be news..?

To be stranded anywhere, I suppose a lot of people would be in a hurry to find civilization, for me, I would have found heaven on earth!

Jacksonville, FL

I feel very lonely and isolated myself. I am an adult woman (mid-40's), married no children. Both of my parents are still alive as well as my 4 siblings. I also, have several aunts, uncles and cousins that I try to stay in touch with. Over the years I have made many friends through work or school. The problem is that no one seems to have time for anyone else. I understand that one typically gets busy with raising a family and perhaps both parents are working, but nobody seems to be able to set aside time for a cup of coffee or casual dinner.

When I got married (not until 40ish, my other siblings were already married with children) my sister-in-laws couldn't make it to my wedding because one had a vacation planned the next day & the other didn't want to take her children out of their extra-curricular activities at the Friday night football game. My brothers made it to the wedding, I think because my parents convinced them to be there. However, they left right after dinner and didn't really join in any of the festivities.

We have had some ailing relatives in our large extended family, but most of the relatives didn't feel it was there responsibility to take care of them even though they were a big part of our lives. Visiting the nursing homes that they stayed in was rare.

I have a girlfriend that will go so far as to commit to a dinner, shopping or golf, but backs out nearly every time. I think it has been a year since I've actually seen her.

Even my own husband won't go out to dinner or the show if he doesn't want to, even though he knows I might like to.

In my opinion, the loneliness stems from the fact that no one seems to be willing to do for anyone else but themselves. Friendship and family ties are built on a mutual give and take, but no one wants to give while all are willing to take. One cannot nurture a relationship by only getting together at Christmastime.

Dick, I am not the first to notice this rude and unacceptable behavior. Many of my friends and relatives have at least one lost friend or relative that they have tried to stay in touch with, but the other party won't commit or backs out of the plans at the last minute.

I just wanted to give you another view point. I don't believe it is because other people's political views are not accepted. I think it is because they won't accept those who have different opinions, likes or dislikes. Forget your wants and needs for a moment and just call up a friend or family member, grab that cup of coffee, ice cream etc. and have a light fun conversation. Life is too short and someone needs you.

Mary in Michigan

One thing that also needs to be discussed is how technology plays into this. Twenty years ago we still had social interaction because we were forced to go to the store to buy our groceries, go to a book store to buy a book, go to the theatre to watch a new movie, etc. You really couldn't function without getting out at some point. With the advent of the internet and e-business we don't have to leave our cocoon. I can order my groceries on-line, books online, I can either buy a DVD or get a "fairly" new movie directly on my TV. Heck I can even order stamps on-line and pre-pay for a package to be mailed. Our isolation is not isolation in the true sense of the word; we are becoming cyber-isolated. I can chat with people on-line; if I want I can even play games with people on-line. To me we're not exactly isolated but withdrawing into a virtual existence. I have talked to people from all over the world via chats, I never saw their faces nor did I hear their voices. I'm not which is scarier to think about, people becoming more isolated with less friends, or people becoming cyberly-isolated with cyber-friends that you never met.

Sharon Axline

Does the notion that so many people responded to your article suggest isolation or a different kind of connection (as you suggested in the article) of a "virtual connection?"

I think, too, the use of terms is critical. Is social isolation loneliness or aloneness? As I watch some television and see the kind of nonsense, immature, and disgusting programming being produced, and then am told it is what America wants, I am left with the sense that either "America" (whatever and whoever that means) is disintegrating, or that TV producers are idiots. (Frankly, I prefer the latter)

I do not have several confidants. Perhaps even only one, my wife. That provides me deep security, and probably a one-sided view (though she would dispute that!) of myself. But I do have others that I talk with seriously about close personal matters. Am I isolated? Hardly. I agree with many others who point out there are sharp distinctions in political thought, and any thought. Casual conversations can often reveal how people think about issues, and then one can make the decision whether I want to engage that person in conversation. I listen to many young people and hear grossly distorted perspectives on issues, largely (it seems to me) from "virtual" education and information they receive, from TV Oprahs to radio Rushes to religious Robertsons to political Georges. Certainly, intolerance and bigotry play a large role, as does insecurity, doubt, fear, and awareness.

At times I wish I had more male confidants. I live in a rural area where most of the men enjoy hunting, drinking, fishing, and dislike and distrust Blacks, Native Americans, Mexicans and want to use females. Most also possess very practical realities of making a living, caring for one's family, and doing what you are suppose to do. A gross overgeneralization to be sure, yet I do not fit into half of those perspectives. Our conversations are relatively short because to venture into something else ventures into argument, debate, and coldness. And most men do not talk about men issues for fear of being labeled gay or of getting too close (intimate is not a male-to-male relationship) Perhaps we are isolated within groups.

As with any study or report, please be careful with easy generalizations, quick labels, and definitive statements. But certainly, thanks for the discussion and for opening a great topic.

David Murray
Cedarville, MI

I am another who has chosen to be alone than to be exposed to the madness. I have even come to love it and defend it vehemently. Yes, I have a specially constructed set of values that are right for me and I, in no way, want anybody's philosophies of "my freedom is higher than yours" or anybody's religious or political constructs. If these are the models of correct behavior than we are going to self destruct. I think that most people, particularly the so called religious and political people behave horribly. And after reading many versions of many peoples' history it seem that this bad behavior is the only result that can be produced from believing ideals without analysis and reevaluating information as you learn (if you learn). I think human evolution has stopped and people are degenerating.

All of this confusion that we are preoccupied with is a symptom of a larger loss. We are losing our connection with each other and our world. The first step in this process happened the second that one human elevated themselves above another. From there, a chain reaction is set into motion that diminishes and destroys someone else. The second that one person thinks that they are smarter, more worthy of the resources, closer to God, the holder of the way, etc., etc., it's all over. Once the pronouncements of who is better have been made everyone divides and circles their wagons. Then comes the hoarding, the power grab, the attacks of each others side; we're becoming a bunch of dumb animals. I don't want to be around this behavior. You are right when you said (paraphrase) that people like me are not alone by choice. It is a solution to survival. Maybe in our solitude we may figure out how we can play a role in effecting anyone back in to listening and shutting the hell up. Enough of the self centered, me society. For all of us to survive, it is mandatory to put yourself in the place of your fellow human. No one is better than anybody! We can only live what we must for ourselves and remember to keep our own crap to ourselves. And in turn, we need to mind our own business and stop trying to force everyone into a mold that really belongs just to us. I know this sound simplistic and I apologies for not being able to better articulate in a short verse.

Now, I'm going to stop my rant and ask; did you label me and stop thinking about what I'm saying? Do I now fit into a box so you don't have to consider my words?

Then "select-all" and hit delete.


I wonder if the increasing trend in isolation is not, in part, fueled by the option not to participate in a dysfunctional or harmful setting. For instance, an abused wife could not easily opt out and if she did, she was often ostracized, not to mention penniless. Indeed, we do enter social contracts between children and parents, but it seems that because of the social safety net (social security, pensions., etc.) that parents do not have to have kids to survive in their old age - in fact, people do not have children and survive in their old age.

A long time ago, perhaps observing the rocky relationship between my folks, I decided that there were worse things than being alone. I had the option to not be financially dependent and to live on my own. 50 years before it was not so easy. I notice that my daughter and grandchildren are far more connected to family and friends than I was. Perhaps she has more options that are harmonious than I did? Different times? Hard telling.

Certainly, there are entire groups of people who have always been isolated — the blind, the deaf, the retarded, the mentally ill, etc. It used to be that there was nothing for it but for parents/siblings to care for them, but now there are social services safety nets so we turn out our elders and disabled, throw-away children and the rest. We have become a very disposable society. It has changed from one where we must "all hang together or hang separately" to one where there are many options.

Intriguingly, email groups have created a remote sort of "intimacy" for many who can't get out of the house because of illness or infirmity and while an email can't hold you in the dark of night, you now find people skyping each other at all hours of the day and night and even forming relationships that bloom into real life marriages. In the pioneer days people used to do this by longhand. Now we do it in bits and bytes that swarm the net and combine to be...well, just what you have before you. I've met some of my long distance friends nose to nose and someday I hope to meet many of the others.

There are specific interest email groups (blindness, deafness, diabetes, etc.) where people share their fears and hopes and sometimes develop stability that lasts for many years. Some associations of people have regular get together. Most of the folks on list have at least some who visit others who are in the vicinity.

So are we more lonely or are we simply exercising options for solitude which have not existed before? I have long pondered the Ashleigh Brilliant query regarding whether it would be harder to always be alone or never be alone. Undoubtedly, the former.

Thank you for your insightful commentary and your willingness to take it to the second level of analysis.

Marsha Graham

You want the answer in a nutshell? Well here it is . . . a lot of today's adults (30 and over) have been married once or twice, and the marriage ended in divorce. Once that happens, not only does the marriage split up, but "the group" of friends, family and so forth, split up as well. Usually, one person is left with more than the other, and the other is left with what he came into the relationship with — less the friends, family and so forth.

We are a culture, a nation, human beings that need one another, and yet because of modern technology (i.e., the Internet, cell phone, I-pod, etc.) we seem to need no one. Don't get me wrong, I like the conveniences we have today also, but what is the world going to look like in say another twenty years or so? Vacations from work, vacations with family or alone are important, but keeping abreast of world issues, being civil to your neighbors and having a social network are important as well. An "even keel" needs to be established or we may wake up to a world we do not recognize let alone like.

CUA '04

I just read your article "Far From the Madding Crowd". I agree with your assertion that the E-mails you received were too small in number, and not at all a random sampling of Americans, to allow broad conclusions to be drawn. On the other hand, your instant and utter dismissal of all of their opinions, saying in effect "This is what they said, but here is what they actually meant to say about their choices and their reasons", was foolish and arrogant (no offense intended). Why did you not allow even a slight possibility that some of the E-mailers actually meant what they said? And if so, why not simply listen to them and learn something?

There is entirely too much of this kind of arrogant dismissal in the American news media these days. The vast American middle you spoke of is tired of hearing or reading only what the most liberal 1 percent of Americans in Manhattan, Washington D.C., and West L.A. want to broadcast or write.

Jeff Hoffman

If you still want to send in an e-mail, you'll have to read a real column to find the address.