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The Lethality of Loneliness
May 16, 2013 8:10 PM   Subscribe

I will die alone, like a dog, and my cats will eat my face.
posted by ereshkigal45 (71 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cheers.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 8:10 PM on May 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


There is a way to build a website where people don't feel so lonely.

I know there are pictures on people's Meta profiles, but if the thumbnails were displayed next to our usernames in posts and comments, it would help us to get to know each other better.

The memories formed from seeing a picture and a username are stronger than from seeing a username alone.

If the focus is generally on users getting to know one another instead of the focus being primarily on the content, you eliminate a lot of this forum loneliness.
posted by Iknowno_one at 8:14 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Iknowno_one: "There is a way to build a website where people don't feel so lonely.

I know there are pictures on people's Meta profiles, but if the thumbnails were displayed next to our usernames in posts and comments, it would help us to get to know each other better.

The memories formed by seeing a picture and a username are stronger than from seeing a username alone.
"

Unless, of course, your profile has the picture of an archaic Russian circus clown.

I am not the fondest of having my picture bandied around for everyone to see. Some people here know what I look like, but that is by special request.
posted by Samizdata at 8:16 PM on May 16, 2013 [18 favorites]


but if the thumbnails were displayed next to our usernames in posts and comments, it would help us to get to know each other better.

Yes, I think the more people who know that I am a tiny cartoon dinosaur, the better things shall be in general.
posted by elizardbits at 8:19 PM on May 16, 2013 [32 favorites]


elizardbits: "but if the thumbnails were displayed next to our usernames in posts and comments, it would help us to get to know each other better.

Yes, I think the more people who know that I am a tiny cartoon dinosaur, the better things shall be in general.
"

I was wondering when you were going to come out....

Seriously, though, I am rather lucky IRL. The building I live in has many neighbors who seem to like me for some odd reason, and they try to keep me from spending too much time by myself. Of course, I have a fuzzy buddy all the time, but he lacks a certain something in the conversation department. Plus my family tries to call me every couple of days to keep in touch with me. So, as I said, I am fairly lucky I have people around me that recognize I am not good by myself for too long.
posted by Samizdata at 8:25 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, that was certainly cheery on the night before I go in for a diagnostic interview to find out what my depression deal actually is. Hmm.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:30 PM on May 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


For the first time in 30 years, mental health disabilities such as ADHD outrank physical ones among American children. Heckman doesn’t think that’s only because parents seek out attention-deficit diagnoses when their children don’t come home with A’s. He thinks it’s also because emotional impoverishment embeds itself in the body. “Mothers matter,” he says, “and mothering is in short supply.”

Wow.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:31 PM on May 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


This is a fascinating article, thanks.

This paragraph: "And yet loneliness is made as well as given, and at a very early age. Deprive us of the attention of a loving, reliable parent, and, if nothing happens to make up for that lack, we’ll tend toward loneliness for the rest of our lives. Not only that, but our loneliness will probably make us moody, self-doubting, angry, pessimistic, shy, and hypersensitive to criticism. Recently, it has become clear that some of these problems reflect how our brains are shaped from our first moments of life." struck home for me, my father died in an accident when I was 6 months old, my mother worked hard, often doing overtime, to raise three kids. She never remarried and managed to help all of us complete college. We weren't neglected, but she was often gone, and often tired. I became the person described in that sentence, it took years to overcome that and I'm still not through with that process.

The other aspect of the article that should be a huge focus is the section on the Perry Preschool Program. This program, located in Ypsilanti, Michigan, has been cited over and over again as the proof that these kind of programs have a significant impact, especially in poor communities. I've spent time in that school, I've worked with students from that district both those that attended Perry, and those that didn't , the difference was evident, and the long term study of those students provides indisputable evidence of the effectiveness of this type of programming. That district, and that program, are in the process of dissolving due to drastic cutbacks in education funding here in Michigan. This program and many, many other effective and necessary programs are being tossed aside, with students shunted to corporate charter schools.

We know the importance of being connected, and we continue to throw it away in order to build private profit.

Sad times, folks...
posted by HuronBob at 8:32 PM on May 16, 2013 [33 favorites]


well i'm boned
posted by hellojed at 8:34 PM on May 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Thank you: that was a wide-ranging, well-researched and written piece.

I do have one quibble, though, with some of the physiological symptoms ascribed to loneliness in the front of the piece. Those are symptoms of stress, not loneliness, i.e. they present exactly the same in people where the stressor is not loneliness. Loneliness is stressful is the real summary, not loneliness cause high blood pressure etc; stress causes that. A fine distinction but an important one, I think.


Some of those monkey experiments sounded brutal, yikes.
posted by smoke at 8:39 PM on May 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


As much as I want to like this, something about it makes my eyes narrow as I read it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:42 PM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Good article- thank you. Regarding smoke's comment- I have noticed these symptoms come up in children of addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill parents, etc. I wonder if it's the stress or if it's that those parents are often too absorbed in their own dynamics to really BE there for the kid? Just as an example- if Dad's drinking, often Mom is obsessed with trying to keep Dad from losing his job, spending their money, etc etc. The kids get fed and clothed and otherwise, they're often sort of raising themselves.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:51 PM on May 16, 2013


I used to jokingly refer to the Internet as The Wire Mother, referring to the Harlow experiments. Now, less jokingly.
posted by hattifattener at 8:59 PM on May 16, 2013 [37 favorites]


As much as I want to like this, something about it makes my eyes narrow as I read it.

I know my eyes narrowed a bit at the emphasis on "mothering" and "divorce hurts kids!". Kids need parenting, and divorce is not in itself bad, just the fact that our lack of parental supports can make it more isolating. I think it's easy to see people using this as another example of Selfish Women Hurting Kids by Wanting Things, though I don't think that is the intention at all.

But I certainly wanted to make them stop torturing those baby monkeys. Jesus.

Overally it has a pop-sci feel, in that there aren't any citations or quotes from researchers who don't agree with these hypotheses, and surely there are some.

And also the Just-So stories, the "in ancient times, people in tribes did this, and worried about constant attack by other tribes, therefore, stress hormones!"

I really really wish people would stop telling stories about what prehistoric peoples did or didn't do that are pulled directly out of their asses.
posted by emjaybee at 9:01 PM on May 16, 2013 [25 favorites]


I just found out a few months ago I have to worry about getting swallowed by a sinkhole. Now this?
posted by aintthattheway at 9:07 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


wait, it's possible to pull prehistoric people out of your ass? damn...
posted by HuronBob at 9:11 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I used to jokingly refer to the Internet as The Wire Mother, referring to the Harlow experiments. Now, less jokingly.

I've had to force myself to disconnect (yeah, i know, coulda fooled this site) to interact with the real world. Even just getting out and being around people can help calm things down.

Loneliness “is not synonymous with being alone, nor does being with others guarantee protection from feelings of loneliness,” writes John Cacioppo, the leading psychologist on the subject.

This is the most horrible thing, though - I can go out, be around hundreds of people, and still feel alone.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:15 PM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


wait, it's possible to pull prehistoric people out of your ass? damn...

I sincerely hope not.
posted by de at 9:15 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, this is not what I needed to read as I sit here lamenting how there is no one to notice my new haircut (lost 10 inches).
posted by betweenthebars at 9:15 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reading this thread and this article in conjunction with this AskMe makes me feel peculiarly sad.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:17 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now I'm all sad for the monkeys...
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:40 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I really really wish people would stop telling stories about what prehistoric peoples did or didn't do that are pulled directly out of their asses.

Oh god, this so much. I hate the culture of primeval mysticism around the whole thing too. There always must be "tribes" and sometimes they will be hunting mammoths and going around and sampling bitter red spotted mushrooms and of course there's going to be a saber-tooth tiger over there culling the ones that aren't cowering in fear huddling together as a group.

Huuuurl.
posted by Conspire at 9:41 PM on May 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


And yet loneliness is made as well as given, and at a very early age. Deprive us of the attention of a loving, reliable parent, and, if nothing happens to make up for that lack, we’ll tend toward loneliness for the rest of our lives. Not only that, but our loneliness will probably make us moody, self-doubting, angry, pessimistic, shy, and hypersensitive to criticism. Recently, it has become clear that some of these problems reflect how our brains are shaped from our first moments of life.

Oddly enough, that makes me feel better, because I am generally moody, self-doubting, angry, pessimistic, shy, hypersensitive to criticism and feel acutely lonely even in a room full of people trying to get my attention -- and was raised by two extremely distant parents*, one of whom was also hyper-critical about every little thing. When I was younger it made me proud that they'd raised me to be so independent, but I'm only now realizing just how f'd up I am. So reading this at least gives me a bit more of a framework to understand why it's so hard for me to push through those particular emotions. Every little data point helps me spend less time thinking "it's just the way I am" and more time thinking "it's just the way I am, but if I got into this mess, perhaps I can get out of it."

*both were the youngest children in extremely poor, crowded families, each with an alcoholic parent who died when they were relatively young, one kept out of school more often than not by a lonely, reclusive parent and the other abused by one parent and lorded over by a narcissistic older sister and ignored by the other reclusive older sister, so I can totally understand why they were the way they were as parents and as people. So no blame here, it is what it is, and I'm glad they managed to give us a better life than that. Somewhere I have a small film of my father and I trying to run around and be silly with each other when I was eleven or so, and it is heartbreakingly pathetic to see how hard he and I are trying because the camera is on, but we just have no rapport whatsover and no idea how to simply play or even be together. It is so awkward and forced and painful for both of us. My strongest childhood memories of my father revolve around either being yelled at for leaving a small item in the wrong place, him giving me the silent treatment because I broke something, him yelling from across the house to remind me that I can't ever bring my friends into the house, or him sitting in his chair passive-aggressively turning up the television louder and louder because he couldn't stand to hear any of us talking. Oh, and him telling me to expect failure whenever I mentioned I wanted to try for something. As I type this, I'm kind of astounded at the consistency of his behavior in my memories, most of which are from my single-digit-age years. And yes, I do feel more comfortable opening up about this via a small comment on the internet than I do with friends, loved ones, or my therapist. I wonder if the HTML small tag is covered by my insurance...
posted by davejay at 9:58 PM on May 16, 2013 [26 favorites]


Oh man. The peer raised monkeys. That was my childhood.

When I learned about the wire mother my first semester of undergrad, it opened more questions for me that I wasn't ready to have answered. I think I'm still not ready.

I half joke sometimes that I need someone to take me in and teach me how to be an adult. I've been wrong all this time. I need someone to teach me how to be a person.
posted by bilabial at 10:03 PM on May 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


...and also to stop making the assumption that lonely people seem prone to make, which is that every person they meet is judging or rebuffing them.

Until my therapist brought this up last week, I assumed everybody thought this way. Well, that explains a lot.

stop judging this comment, but please do read it
posted by davejay at 10:06 PM on May 16, 2013 [18 favorites]


from post: “I will die alone, like a dog, and my cats will eat my face.”

I know this doesn't have a huge amount to do with the posted article, but I want to say this just because I see it so often and it always grates on me:

I am not sure why people feel the need to add the descriptor "like a dog" as an intensifier to situations of particular degradation or humiliation or lowliness. This does not make even the slightest amount of sense to me, and it seems to me it could only have come from a time that I'm barely even convinced actually existed, a time when humans were so simple that they really felt the need to distinguish themselves as noble by choosing a noble creature and speaking of it as though it were a very low thing.

I mean – honestly, ereshkigal45, this is not a dig at you, because I've used the phrase myself, and did for many years before its meaning really hit me one day. It's very much a common phrase, and people use it every day, so I think it just rolls off the lips. So no insult or offense intended, truly, since at this point it's really more of a figure of speech than anything else.

However:

I have watched dogs die. I have been present when dogs finally perished; I have seen dogs take their last serene look around at the people and animals that care about them and finally depart. And, by god, if I could live my life knowing that at the end of it I will die like a dog, that I will die precisely like the dogs I have known, then I would be able to hold my head high with pride in the knowledge that I will have at least some small share in that nobility as I pass away.

(And I guess I say this because it feels like it does have something to do with the linked article. I think dogs are part of the answer here. It is a very interesting article, anyway, so thank you for it.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:27 PM on May 16, 2013 [34 favorites]


This is the most horrible thing, though - I can go out, be around hundreds of people, and still feel alone.

Here in Brunswick, there aren't many people I want to feel connected to.

Then I look at the TV and I figure it might be something more about being alienated from humanity in general. I find respite from that sometimes on the internet, but not generally for long periods.

I find that the walls between people are not easily surmountable; the barriers of communication and experience are terrible, and I despair sometimes that anyone really understands anyone else. Sometimes you do manage to break through, and the strength of that recognition can be so shocking that some call it love at first sight. But generally, and ultimately, we're all alone.

As Roger Ebert wrote at the end of his 1997 review of Leave It To Beaver, about the title character: "He only wants to be loved, respected and understood, and doesn’t know yet that he’ll feel that way for the rest of his life."
posted by JHarris at 10:27 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Koeselitz, that's very diogenes-like sentiment; he also saw great nobility in dogs and railed against hypocrisy in mocking them.
posted by smoke at 10:31 PM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


The article kept messing up with my device. So I could not read the actual article.
My parents were not demonstrative people, except with anger.
I guess I always knew that certain things were messed up and I didn't want things that way.
It has to be hard to really want kids, and have them turn out to be themselves, and then not to really like how they turned out.
I knew in my own mind what a decent relationship would feel like.
I think Mr. Roquette and I actually have one.
A lot of it is the stuff we do and enjoy together. We like grilling. We like going places together, but we also just like being home. We're never truly bored.
Then again, he and I don't drink. We don't have to be right all the time.
Having to be right all the time is terrible.
Both of us came from less than ideal families. My parents were good people. My mother was the child of an alcoholic mother. My step-father was raised by really horrible people.
They had issues.
Mr. Roquette's parents were not there for him.
We are there for each other. We both just want each other happy.
The experiments with the baby monkeys I knew about for YEARS. They always hurt my heart. Monkeys are really cool. For awhile my mom and biological father had a pet spider monkey. He really was a good little guy. He'd go get fruit by climbing to the top of the fridge. He'd climb into my crib and share oranges and bananas with me.
As a result, I've always liked monkeys and apes. There is a special place in Hell for anyone who is mean to baby animals.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:35 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


“I will die alone, like a dog, and my cats will eat my face.”

I wasn't born to die like a dog. I was born to die just like a man!

As for the two people above, animals aren't human, and don't have the same qualities as humans, and shouldn't be held up as better than humans. Animals never get lonely, they don't get existential crisis, and they don't care if you're their friend or their master. In the end, they will devour you.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:39 PM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Dude, maybe let's not get into your usual weird grudgey hatefest against animals right now?
posted by elizardbits at 10:43 PM on May 16, 2013 [29 favorites]


Animals never get lonely

What about the Rhesus Monkeys in the article? I'm going to be even more depressed if they were tortured for a reaction they didn't have...
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:44 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


“I will die alone, like a dog, and my cats will eat my face.”

I've actually discussed this extensively on Metafilter before.

Seriously though, this article was much more interesting and much less anxiety-bait than I was expecting, so thanks, good good.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:44 PM on May 16, 2013


Animals never get lonely,

I assert this is absolutely false, just from watching how my friend's cat freaks out if left inside all day. Even if you overcome that, there are too many instances in life of animals being lonely that I've seen to accept this as anything other than false.

they don't get existential crisis,

The best we can say about your statement is that we don't know. I suspect, however, that while it greatly between individuals and species, some particular animals to have existential crises -- there's a reason many species held in captivity have lower life expectancies than those in the wild.

and they don't care if you're their friend or their master.

Again, greatly depends on individual and species.

In the end, they will devour you.

Not the herbivores.
posted by JHarris at 11:15 PM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Why can some successful, socially-connected people play with drugs and not suffer the downward spiral of addiction?

A Canadian psychologist in the late 70s aimed to show that loneliness was the primary cause of addiction, rather than the chemical properties of drugs.

The experimenters believed that in past tests meant to show the addictiveness of opiates, etc, "rats were kept isolated in cramped metal cages, tethered to a self-injection apparatus. This shows only that severely distressed animals, like severely distressed people, will relieve their distress pharmacologically if they can."

Long story short, when he made a fun space for rats to hang out with each other he could NOT get them addicted to opiates.

Well worth reading about and thinking about in detail, unlike the vast majority of social science experiments.
posted by blankdawn at 11:24 PM on May 16, 2013 [22 favorites]


betweenthebars, did you donate the 10 inches of hair? That'd be pretty cool! If not, maybe next time; I'm thinking about it.
posted by lordaych at 11:26 PM on May 16, 2013


A Canadian psychologist in the late 70s aimed to show that loneliness was the primary cause of addiction, rather than the chemical properties of drugs.

Makes sense, explains videogame addiction and Internet addiction and sad old men glued to the poker machines at pubs.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:28 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno. Other people can also be a huge pain in the ass.

YMMV.
posted by bardic at 11:31 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Lonely, or alone? I've sure done both. Lonely sucks, alone can be great.

It takes guts to choose to be alone, rather than stay in a life that isn't where it's at.

It's astonishing to me what people will put up with, the lies they will live, just to have someone to sing Happy Birthday to, and/or have them sing Happy Birthday back. Young, I desperately needed -- and mostly did not have -- someone to sing to, etc. Now -- older, wiser, stronger, medicated -- I sing to my friends, and they sing to me, if any singing is to be done.

The day that stings me -- bad -- if I'm not careful is December 21. My favorite day of the year, my new years, my holiday, the longest night, the shortest day. I love it. It just makes me so happy, for whatever reason. It has nothing to do with the month of course, but rather the cycles of this ball of mud and water and stone as we spinning around that beautiful star of ours.

I sometimes wonder if I'm not Ebenezer Scrooge, if I've not just nailed the doors to my heart shut tight, lockdown. If you know that story, you know how bad he hurts behind those doors nailed tight, though he was the last to see it.

I could never, ever do it without the friendships that I have, which I rely upon so much. Mostly guys, mostly other crusty fucks such as myself, we've got each others backs, hard as we know how to.

If I were to give someone life skills -- and I do give people life skills -- I would try to tell them to build their friendships, and try to teach them how, such as I've learned about it. Love comes, love goes, and it hurts awfully bad sometimes, and it's so important to have someone to go out to dinner with when things get all south-sided and cross-footed and Myrtle has headed out the door.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:32 PM on May 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


Sometimes I house-sit for my parents and they have a new cat who hasn't warmed up to me enough for me to approach her (most of the time).

But the first time I house-sat and fed this particular kitty, which occurred after they'd had her for a year or so, she definitely was thrilled to see me every day and had this "I love you! No wait, I don't trust you!" attitude where she'd smother me and then run off if I pet her for too long and equivocate between being distressed by me and excited to have contact with someone.

It reminded me of human tendencies to be defensive and coy while trying to establish trust and display earnest emotions and vulnerability. It's a real struggle and I'm glad to have succeeded in finding someone. I work with some pretty lonely folks and it's tough getting closer to them and trying to be helpful and friendly as you learn more about their difficulties and seeing how it's a feedback loop where they become increasingly awkward and strained in establishing relationships with new people.

I remember physical heartache during periods of intense loneliness and I'm totally familiar with the strung out anxious cortisol crappy feelings just in dealing with other issues in general.

Loneliness is one sort of "hole" that people will fill with addictions and compulsions, but there are plenty of other causes, and you can find yourself deep in a relationship for years and years with everything you need, and still have that uncomfortable-in-your-own-skin feeling for long periods where the only treatment is sleep (if you can do it), intense exercise (even more uncomfortable in your skin, yay!), or things like drugs and video-game-all-night benders.
posted by lordaych at 11:35 PM on May 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


(or anything that is done to excess and gives you a numb counter-buzz from dopamine and whatever else; I suspect video games entice a whole cocktail of what would be considered run-of-the-mill-getting-shit-done neurotransmitters but after long sustained periods with little sleep, I can imagine this having a powerful multi-drug-like effect, and for me, yeah, I have to "chip" with good video games and occasionally fall into a hole of playing 'til 4AM and having this "this is more important than life" feeling the whole time)
posted by lordaych at 11:38 PM on May 16, 2013


Also, I think you basically have to have nigh-religious faith to make sweeping statements on whether non-human animals (especially sub-human primates!) have feelings. Why would would we be so special? There's an intricate gradient of complexity and depth in the animal kingdom and mammals are insanely tightly interwoven. While we are exceptional as humans I'd need to know factual things like "no other mammals have endogenous trypamines or phenethylamines in their brain" to be even get started disbelieving in non-human animal emotion.

I have a hard time not perceiving it as double-down on not feeling guilty about varying degrees of animal exploitation or mistreatment, a countermeasure against cognitive dissonance. I just get my guilt on and full speed ahead!
posted by lordaych at 11:46 PM on May 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've actually discussed this extensively on Metafilter before.

I was just about to link to your song.
Because I love that song so much.
You make good songs.
posted by St. Sorryass at 11:56 PM on May 16, 2013



Also I was going to yell at CIS about his opinions, I typed a few mean things about his opinions and pretended to send them before deleting, but The Monitor really is a great album, even if he is super wrong about what makes my cats to get all anxious when I leave the house.
posted by St. Sorryass at 11:59 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I know my eyes narrowed a bit at the emphasis on "mothering" and "divorce hurts kids!". Kids need parenting, and divorce is not in itself bad, just the fact that our lack of parental supports can make it more isolating.

Let's face it, even we could, going back to the socalled traditional family structures of the fifties that were a lie even at the time would not solve the problem. The fifties were awash in loneliness, neglected children and depressed housewifes -- mother's little helper and all that.

My gut feeling would be that if we'd take the assumptions make in the article, that loneliness kills and that part of the rise in psychological diseases in children is caused by this absence of parents, than I would expect to see the rise at its most extreme in the US and Britain, much less so in social democracies like Sweden.

As you know Bob, it used to be possible to support a middle class family on one person's paycheck, but in the last three decades middle and working class incomes have been steadily eroded to the point where for most people, both parents have to work to support a family. This trend has been at its most erosive in the US and Britain, somewhat less so elsewhere in Europe and again, the US and Britain also lack a lot of the support structures the state provides for parents in e.g. Denmark, be subsidised childcare or the legal right to paid parental leave.

Combine that with ever increasing pressure to work longer hours for the same pay and it's no wonder that children have problems coping with loneliness.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:13 AM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Until my therapist brought this up last week, I assumed everybody thought this way. Well, that explains a lot.

I think this is one of the bigger emotional problems a lot of us face, good monkey moms or metal monkey moms. We assume what we're going through and the way we think and interact with the world is Just The Way Everyone Is or, alternately, we're such a unique snowflake that nobody could possibly understand it. And either way we wind up trapped in our heads because discussing your mental health is like discussing the state of your bowel movements (actually considering the conversations parents I know have about baby poop, worse) even with people you're close to.

One of my self-improvement projects was figuring out emotional people because, well, my wife and I were talking today and the only emotions I project are "grumpy" and "tired" (though she says "tired" isn't an emotion and I said "I FEEL tired and we're talking about FEELINGS so..." and well anyway) and it's actually been kind of a life hinderance.

I mean it's well known among my friends that you don't come to me for comfort because I'm bad at it, you come to me when you need medical or financial advice or need to know what recreational drugs shouldn't be mixed and how to solve what's going to happen when it's too late and you already mixed them or things along those lines. But the whole "not dealing with things emotionally" has actually caused career problems--I once made a guy cry because I said his idea was bad in a rather blunt way and oh yeah he was Director level, which was not a wise career move (but his idea was soooo bad)--when dealing with emotional people so I've decided I'm going to at least understand them a bit.

So I embarked on this little trip into the human psyche (after a lot of jokes about how I'd come out the other side like the Seinfeld episode where he suddenly starts caring) expecting to learn a few things. I'm not autistic or a psychopath or anything, I was kind of oblivious to girls sending "signals" in my dating days, but I have friends and am more-or-less liked by them and have a good job and such. But I started doing some reading and it was like holy shit I had no idea people functioned like this. It was like reading about this weird alien species that just did things because they felt things and the craziest thing I'd ever heard, but after a lot of reading, so many things about so many encounters made so much more sense.

It was like I'd finally cracked a code to a puzzle I didn't even know existed and it's because very few people have the self-knowledge and vocabulary to say "The reason I am freaking out is more because I am hungry and tired and grumpy because you were kind of a dick earlier and not because I have a passionate opinion about which flavor of salsa we buy" or, in my case, "the reason I'm not freaking out is I don't have an emotional attachment to this thing I did for work because all I care about is you continuing to pay me at the end of the day so you don't need to continue soft-touching me like I'm going to start crying."

And I think that's because it's not something we're encouraged to talk about at all, so we all think everyone feels, thinks, and reacts the same way we do (or we feel like everyone else got some kind of secret manual we never got) and it just confirms whatever we're feeling terrible about, loneliness or otherwise.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:06 AM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


As for the two people above, animals aren't human, and don't have the same qualities as humans, and shouldn't be held up as better than humans. Animals never get lonely, they don't get existential crisis, and they don't care if you're their friend or their master. In the end, they will devour you.

hey maybe read the article instead of spouting off again like usual
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:02 AM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


[Let's drop the animals-suck derail now, please. CiS, you need to cut out the off-topic anti-animal axegrinding. Everyone else, flagging it and actually moving on instead of piling up responses would help us here.]
posted by taz at 4:35 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think one thing everyone here is missing is that cats lick your face to see what you'll taste like once you are dead and they eat you, starting of course, with your face. Come on guys, get with the program.

As a self-employed engineer with a one-man shop, I spend a lot of time alone, and though I have a dog for companionship and a lawyer for a sleeping partner, it's a tangibly lonelier existence without a cat, particularly in deep dark northern winter hell. (My last cat died last year. Waah!) They do have a tendency to insinuate themselves into one's consciousness as a partner in the present in ways dogs do not. I wonder but am too lazy or stupid to google it if there has been any comparative study made of pets (canine v. feline) on the loneliness constellation?

Surely someone on metafilter has a PhD on this and will data dump a dissertation on me? I greedily receive even unfounded speculation and fantasy, though, if facts are not available, especially if it relates to cats and I will quote fiction authoritatively, so be warned.
posted by FauxScot at 5:09 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, I am almost certain that many of my ancestors were left to be eaten by lions on the savannah. It would explain my misanthropic tendencies.
posted by angrycat at 5:33 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe they can do a study to map low cortisol to a deep fantasy life with delusions of lots of intimacy?
posted by surplus at 5:33 AM on May 17, 2013


As much as I want to like this, something about it makes my eyes narrow as I read it.

It's the breathless prose, which implies that if we could just fix loneliness, then so many medical ills would be cured, cured I tell you!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:42 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am cat-sitting for a friend while she's out of the country for 3 weeks. Cat sitting involves about 2 minutes of check the food/water/poop levels and the rest of it is me hanging out on her couch in the cat's presence for 1-3 hours a day when I have the time. Because even though the kitty isn't the world's most social animal, she just acts better/is less insane after being left alone for days on end if someone hangs out with her. And treats her owner better, if you know what I mean.

But dealing with people is freaking hard. On the one hand, stuff like this clearly proves that you require humans to be in your life on a close level or else you die young, etc. On the other hand, it's just as likely that being around other humans will fry your freaking brains and make you want to run screaming to the nearest deserted island. How do you solve that conundrum? Beats me.

"It's astonishing to me what people will put up with, the lies they will live, just to have someone to sing Happy Birthday to, and/or have them sing Happy Birthday back."

True dat.

Plus, as the article points out, a lot of us are just not fucking wanted by people/our families/society. So what the hell do you do there when nobody WANTS to be close to you? You can't force that. You probably can't buy close friendship or romance with humans (though I suppose a few folks can try to pay for...something), and it's nothing that you can take care of alone or buy at the sex toy store. Wire monkey mothers/Real Dolls/the Internet may be the best you can do.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:26 AM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


But dealing with people is freaking hard. On the one hand, stuff like this clearly proves that you require humans to be in your life on a close level or else you die young, etc. On the other hand, it's just as likely that being around other humans will fry your freaking brains and make you want to run screaming to the nearest deserted island. How do you solve that conundrum?

Play lots of Halo.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:37 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


They do have a tendency to insinuate themselves into one's consciousness as a partner in the present in ways dogs do not.

It depends on the dog. My dog was like a furry roommate- she was continually wandering by giving me her opinion on things. But better than a roommate, because she was engaged in my emotional wellbeing and would check in with me if I were sad or upset or celebrate if I was happy. I know people who have cats like that, but cats seem to be far more unpleasantly intrusive about it to me - they're like the roommate that pries at you to share your feelings.

It has been a decade since I had more frequent than biannual direct physical contact with any people who cared for me. It's hard to live like that sometimes, but we all have to live the lives we're dealt. The worst part is that one grows stranger and stranger through not having anyone to audit one's weirder habits.
posted by winna at 7:45 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


"It's astonishing to me what people will put up with, the lies they will live, just to have someone to sing Happy Birthday to, and/or have them sing Happy Birthday back."

Hmm. For me, I've always hated birthdays, because I always felt (and still feel) like people are somehow making themselves celebrate my birthday even though they might not otherwise do so, just because it's my birthday. As an obligation, basically. I'd rather people ignore it, give me no gifts or anything; I've always felt that way. On the other hand, a random little gift (like, say, some of the cookies they baked the night before) at some random time is like the greatest thing that can happen ever because it's such a simple and clear expression of "I thought of you, and I like you, so I went through the trouble of putting these cookies in a baggie for you."
posted by davejay at 7:51 AM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


but I still won't put up with crap or lie to get those cookies. a fellah has to have standards.
posted by davejay at 7:52 AM on May 17, 2013


koeselitz, in my neck of the woods "to die like a dog, alone" does not imply degradation. Animals, even beloved family pets, sometimes go off to be alone when their time comes.
posted by maggieb at 8:44 AM on May 17, 2013


Care for a pet or start believing in a supernatural being and your score on the UCLA Loneliness Scale will go down.

FUCK YEAH, CATS AN' DEMONS
posted by Greg Nog at 8:49 AM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Now there's the novel Brown should have written.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:50 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


but if the thumbnails were displayed next to our usernames in posts and comments, it would help us to get to know each other better.

So you want to turn Metafilter into pictures of penis' & cats?
posted by QueerAngel28 at 9:23 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


We already did that on April Fool's Day. Well, sandwiches and cats. But close enough.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:30 AM on May 17, 2013


but if the thumbnails were displayed next to our usernames in posts and comments, it would help us to get to know each other better.

If this pony ever was whelped I would be hammering at the gates of heaven for a way to turn it off.

I think avatars in-thread are hella tacky.
posted by winna at 9:44 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I seem to have missed the bit where scores on that questionnaire are graded. I scored 25 but I don't know if that's good, bad or indifferent.

I will die alone and my cat will eat me. Which is fine by me. Might as well be useful.
posted by Decani at 9:48 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I will die alone and my cat will eat me. Which is fine by me. Might as well be useful.

I got dibs on the left thigh.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:52 AM on May 17, 2013


Man is a marvelous curiosity. When he is at his very very best he is a sort of low grade nickel-plated angel; at is worst he is unspeakable, unimaginable; and first and last and all the time he is a sarcasm. Yet he blandly and in all sincerity calls himself the "noblest work of God." This is the truth I am telling you. And this is not a new idea with him, he has talked it through all the ages, and believed it. Believed it, and found nobody among all his race to laugh at it.
Samuel Clemons
aka Mark Twain
Letters From The Earth

Dogs have more fidelity than most men. They have better hearts, bigger hearts. They love without reserve. They know that farts are funny. They'll just about blow their hearts right out of their goddamn chest in their wanting to give them all the love they can, to show you. Rusty, The Wonder Dog -- I kindof thought she was my kid, she kindof thought she was my wife, the truth probably lay somewhere in between; when I'd come home -- even if I'd only been gone a couple of hours -- she'd be so excited; she'd meet me at the door, all a-tremble, sometimes she's spin in circles out of excitement, with inadvertent love-whines deep in her, sometimes she'd even pee a little bit, on the floor or on my shoes. She was dying to go out and play with me, or go for a ride, or go for a run. I've lived with other red-headed bitches, and yes, yes, it's true -- they never did poop on the floor. So there's that. But they never got so goddamn excited to see me that they spun in circles, either, whining deep in their hearts, after I'd been gone for a couple of hours.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:26 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sorry for the novel. I've been thinking about this article all day.

This year I'm turning twenty-five. I wake up lonely. I go to sleep lonely. Because I don't have a job that can pay both living expenses and student-loan dues, I live with my mother and my stepfather. My brother lives with us for the same reason. He has a better social life than I do, but that wouldn't be hard. I've never had a close friend.

Every two weeks or so, I go to the city to visit a guy I know from college. He also has social trouble, though it isn't as acute as mine. Our conversation features a lot of long pauses, but it's comforting to meet with someone not from my own family. I love the people I live with, and their presence keeps me from hurting myself, but they're not friends.

I don't know how I can make that distinction. I never learned how to make and keep relationships. People never invited me to hang out. I never invited anyone, either. No one seemed receptive to the idea. I can't blame them. When I was in school, I was a pedantic dick. I didn't even know enough to be a know-it-all.

My mother and father themselves were lonely people. Neither ever had many friends. I suspect they married because they feared living alone. I haven't asked them about their early relationship, and I doubt I ever will. They divorced spitefully. To this day, my maternal grandparents refer to my mother's marriage to my stepfather as her first.

My mother's social life improved after the divorce's worst period, but my father has none outside of my stepmother's family. Sometimes he complains of this to me. He works long hours. He has a long commute. My stepmother can't or won't do the household chores. He has no time for himself. Every so often we talk about our respective psychological states. It's never a happy conversation.

The isolation (not complete - I have my family) is taking its toll. I can't sleep, so I'm always tired. I can't concentrate on anything for long. The cadence of my speech is odd, sometimes too fast and other times too slow. I slur my words. Even besides that, people have told me I have a strange accent. I'm not affecting it on purpose. I just don't talk much. Instead, I write long comments on other people's web sites.

There are other problems, too. Something in my body aches, but I can't tell where. I'm fat. My skin glistens and my face is pockmarked and ruddy. I can't look people in the eye. My temper shortens and shortens. I think everyone is weighing me in the balances and finding me wanting. That last has been the case since at least freshman year of high school.

I can't imagine a full recovery. Therapy can ease the pain, but it can't heal the wound. The article is too optimistic about what can be done to help the lonely.

People don't think well of the socially desperate, and the socially desperate don't know how to act otherwise. I remember a guy from my college improv troupe whom no one liked. He would bring a Game Boy to rehearsal and play Pokémon; he would hug women he barely knew. The older troupe members would exclude him whenever possible. One night, one of the troupe members saw him from her dorm's window. He was walking alone and crying. She laughed as she told this story. I wish I could have helped him. I don't know how I could have done that.

I remember studying abroad and receiving a phone call out of the blue. Someone was inviting me out to go drinking. This was new: No one calls me or texts me. So I went and had a good time. I kept going out with this group, though never again with a direct invitation. I had to tag along. My conversation wasn't interesting and I made too many self-deprecating jokes. People thought I was fishing for compliments. Eventually it became clear that I wasn't welcome. By the end of the semester, I had stopped trying.

Of course I'm wasting my twenties. I've wasted the life that I've had so far. And I'm not sure what this article is supposed to do other than give someone better than me a little fodder for conversation at a party. It only tells me what I already know, and with every day that goes by, I fall behind that much farther.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:25 PM on May 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Rustic, hang in there. I felt that way often in my twenties.
posted by angrycat at 4:23 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've had a rough time lately, barely able to feel loneliness while I climb out of the pit of depression. A certain dog curled up by my side has helped a lot. I'm sending invisible friend hugs to a whole bunch of people in this thread.
posted by theora55 at 11:23 AM on May 18, 2013


> The article is too optimistic about what can be done to help the lonely.

Rustic, Judith Shulevitz is writing very particularly on the emerging field: Social Neuroscience and the lead researchers are mapping away at the social brain, no doubt causing exciting changes in their own brains as they go. It may be early days for (their) therapies to be dropping out of academia and flooding the health care market, but the optimism — theirs and ours — seems to be rational optimism.

> And I'm not sure what this article is supposed to do other than give someone better than me a little fodder for conversation at a party. It only tells me what I already know, and with every day that goes by, I fall behind that much farther.

No. That (if anything) is your loneliness talking. There's stuff in the article you can look into and expoit today.

As remedies, get-a-dog and find-religion are as old as the hills; same with take two Tylenol; but behind these old wisdoms is biology. Science. You seriously invest love and energy in the wellbeing of a dog and take Tylenol religiously* and I feel certain you'll change your brain MRI results immediately.

Social neuroscientists conclude nothing without the scintillating evidence of brain MRIs.

The article informs: loneliness is a social pain; and as with any pain, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex is active in loneliness. Paracetamol (Tylenol) acts on the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex to provide temporary relief from pain including loneliness — a social pain, relieved by mild analgesia. (Routine Tylenol usage in aged care, where loneliness abounds, is as common as common, and now this too: existential anxiety.)

Keep an eye on any therapies trialled by Cacioppo and Hawkley (say). None of what they end up formalising and offering will be beyond the determined person with good understanding of undesired social impact on receptive biology, looking for pain control. (They have research due to be published across 2013 and 2014, in line with the rest of your unspent twenties.)

Given what you've written of yourself, and (optimistic) extrapolation from what I've learned of social neuroscience, if I were you I'd commence each day with two Tylenol. It will give you some temporary relief from waking up lonely. I may add two more Tylenol before bed each night if I did find them sufficiently "comforting", somewhat dealing with going to bed lonely, and promoting sleep; and then I'd look into joining a choir. Hear me out.

Singing and speech rely on entirely different areas of the brain, but finding, developing and using your singing voice will improve your deteriorating speech in a way that does not reinforce your loneliness. The bonus is: your brain benefits. It changes. It's malleable. The absolutely unintended bonus-bonus is: harmonising with other singing humans is as good as intimacy sometimes gets, and there's no need to be the life of the party in a choir to experience good company.

You can do this ... you haven't wasted your twenties yet, you have 5 years to focus on Social Neuroscience, its offerings, (social) pain management, and understanding your brain under the influence of social forces and social activities.

If society can morph you down to the molecules on genes, then you can morph yourself right on back. It's your brain.

*Just watch Tylenol usage. In excess Tylenol is more lethal than loneliness. Read the label.
posted by de at 8:32 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tylenol is pretty bad for your liver.
posted by kettleoffish at 7:38 PM on May 19, 2013


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