When I think of loneliness, I typically think of an elderly person whose days are punctuated by TV ad breaks rather than social events.
There’s an irony in that, I think. Stereotyping the human experience of solitude only manages to further isolate so many people going through it.
In 2010, a report by the Mental Health Foundation found that more people aged 18 to 34 had sought help for feeling lonely than people aged 55 and over.
Online, people of my generation are more sociable than in real life, sharing intimate yet rose-tinted details of their gregarious lives with everybody. Don’t even try to deny it - nobody has ever called up a friend just to tell them they had avocado on toast for breakfast.
The word “friend” means something utterly different now. “Friend” connotes follower, acquaintance, or a girl from high school whose baby photos you see everyday on your news feed, rather than someone to share your problems, secrets and weird quirks with.
I’ll admit I have come to know loneliness in my early twenties living in a city where I knew nobody. I was in a relationship and had a couple of lovely, yet distant, housemates, with friends in different parts of the country. Loneliness aches. It’s something you feel with every Facebook update showing everyone having a great time, every cappuccino sipped alone in a busy coffee shop where, seemingly, everybody has a friend to call up and meet for coffee. Everybody that is, except you.
Luckily my life is very different now and I am blessed with some incredible friends, but for a while it genuinely felt like walking weightless on water, unable to dip my toes in happiness.
Dating apps, unrealistic expectations of ourselves from becoming glued to Instagram and soaring rents leading to more people living at home all mean we are more socially isolated than ever. And the aggravating factor in all of this is that we are too reticent to talk about it.
The same survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that young people were much more embarrassed by the concept of feeling lonely (42%) than those aged 35-54 (30%) or over 55 (23%). Again, probably because it’s more socially acceptable to be lonely when you’re an 89-year-old widow than a 22-year-old graduate working full-time in a busy city.
I recently chatted with an elderly lady I’d helped out who was living alone with no children, her only family a sister who lived in Scarborough.
“Do you ever feel lonely?” I asked. “Yes sometimes, but I ring my sister everyday and see my friend once a week. I am very content.” That’s the key word, right there. Content. So many of us have so much to show off about, but does that really mean we are content?
French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre believed that loneliness was a fundamental aspect of the human experience and that “hell is other people”. I disagree. In my experience, people are pretty wonderful. Nobody has to involuntarily feel alone in a world that is more thriving and developed than ever before.