Only the lonely

An interesting article in AARP magazine talked about an epidemic in this country, an epidemic that’s afflicting millions. From a survey of 3,000 people aged 45 and up, the mag reported that 35 percent of respondents were rated as chronically lonely. With 127 million folks in the United States now over 45, that means about 44 million fall into this category.

It’s also interesting to note that chronic loneliness doesn’t get worse with age. The folks who wrestle most with loneliness are the middle aged. The survey found that 43 percent of those aged 45-49 were CL, and 41 percent of the 50-59s. For those aged 60-69, the number drops to 32 percent, and down to 25 percent for those over 70.

So how does a CL person find relief? The solutions are predictable—become a volunteer, join a club, nurture your personal relationships, and so forth. Don’t expect much help via the computer. As screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, author of The Social Network, said recently on Colbert’s show, “Socializing on the Internet is to socializing what reality television is to reality.”

The article’s writer had the chance to tout an ancient anti-loneliness strategy involving bars, night clubs, drinks, drugs, dancing, and meaningless sex. Alas, he overlooked this opportunity.

He also failed to include the Syd Barrett strategy for successful, contented solitude. I don’t know how many folks know of the flaming Barrett, the original singer/guitarist for Pink Floyd. It was only after Syd became somewhat unreliable, due in part to his enthusiasm for that whole ’60s “better living through chemistry” thing, that the band booted him and brought in their old pal Dave Gilmour. The rest, of course, is rock history.

Barrett, after lurking about in London for a few years, finally staggered back to the family home in Cambridge, where he lived as a loner in self-imposed exile from ’74 until his death in ’06. And I remembered a quote from his sister Rosemary, one of the few people to have any regular contact with Syd in the last 32 years of his life. She said that her brother was so absorbed with the workings of his own mind that any distractions or intrusions from the outside world were always harrowing and unwelcome. This strikes me as extraordinary. Maybe even monstrous. But it’s also one effective strategy for the chronically lonely to use against their miseries. Just find a way to become so involved with your thinking, so fascinated with your infinite mindscape, that the rest of the world becomes a major pain in the ass to be avoided at all costs.

All you have to do is be on board with a socially crippling and completely self-absorbed mental illness. So how about it? You got the moxie to say “yes” to crazy? How many of us eventually do?