Researchers predict that 1.5 million men over 65 will be lonely by 2030, men's health writer, Jim Pollard, is worried he might end up being one of them. Here he shares his experience of being a lonely, younger man.
---This is article #14 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
A recent report from Independent Age suggests that some two million men over 65 in England are lonely and that with more and more older men living alone - a predicted 1.5 million by 2030 - the number of men with such feelings looks set to increase rapidly.
The media coverage featured often touching interviews with older men. Although I’m still many years from retirement, their stories struck a chord with me. It is hard to admit. It also feels very ungracious. (And I’m certainly not blaming anyone but myself.) I am in the luckiest fraction of this planet’s population - a roof over my head, not poor and I know I’m loved by both my family and my long-term partner who accepts me as I am - so what am I whining about? But I say this not to whine but because I wonder if others feel the same. The report talks of older men but, for some of us anyway, the road to loneliness begins earlier.
The report says that isolation is being by yourself. Loneliness is not liking it. We all want to be alone sometimes. Indeed, being happy in your own company is often considered a good thing. Especially in men. But too much, even of a good thing, can be dangerous. Addictive. We don’t admit to being lonely, we just tell ourselves we’re loners. (Perhaps it’s no coincidence that my job - writing - necessitates vast periods of time on your own.)
I’ve had many lonely Saturday nights
It should be easy to tackle loneliness. Just phone someone. So why can’t I? (The rational part of your mind tells you that your friend will be as pleased to hear from you as you would from him.) Why, since I write, can’t I even think of something to post on Facebook? When I was single I had many lonely Saturday nights, never phoning friends because I assumed they had something better to do. Now, thanks to social media, I know they have something better to do. Or, at least, that’s the impression - and it makes it harder to make that leap of faith and get in touch.
Most of my friends date back years to school and university. In other words, they date back to a time when I had an ascribed place in the world. Over time, things can change - values, incomes, locations, lifestyles - or the little differences - in intelligence, talent, ambition - can become bigger. You can, even with the best intentions, drift apart.
As an adult you have to find your place in the world yourself and if you struggle in that, you can become detached. When you become detached you start seeing the differences rather than the similarities between yourself and others: you’re not exactly a journalist, you’re not really an author. You find excuses for disengagement. I lived abroad for a long time. If I didn’t fit in there, well, it was the language. That story won’t wash back home.
It’s relationships that make us happy
‘I am condemned to be free’, said Jean Paul Sartre, a very unhappy man, but we know exactly what he meant. Only you can give your life a meaning. We do it most often through family, work, a hobby, interest or pastime: the bloke who will do anything for his kids, the driven careerist, the guy who hates his job but loves running. It is giving meaning to our lives in these ways that gives us a place in the world. But this alone isn’t enough. It’s not an end in itself. What me and perhaps a lot of other men have forgotten (if we ever knew) is that through the things we make meaningful we also develop and nurture the only thing that really makes us happy - relationships.
Never mind Sartre, look no further than the film ‘Up In The Air’when George Clooney’s self-obsessed character says: ‘If you think about it, your favourite memories, the most important moments in your life... were you alone?’
The answer, as George realises, is no. It’s not the time alone that makes you lonely. It’s the neglect of relationships that too much time alone results in. Don’t realise it and you could be on a lonely road: lone wolf at 30, isolated at 40, lonely at 50. Do realise it and that’s when you need to start building bridges. (And hope you haven’t burned too many.) But that’s another article.
---Picture Credit: Flickr/DeusXFlorida
Jim Pollard is a writer and editor with an interest in men’s health. He edits menshealthforum.org.uk.
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