I see lonely old men more now, now that I'm horribly free. And like them
February 3, 2017 9:26 AM   Subscribe

 
This resonates. A complicating factor is that if you're not from that rural community--weren't given a nickname decades ago by former schoolmates now turned aging neighbors--if you don't go to one of the many, many churches--if you have lived elsewhere, and believe things not common to these established communities--you will always be From Away, an other, despite the small talk at the post office or ag store.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:36 AM on February 3, 2017 [26 favorites]


It's only going to get worse. Maybe robots will help.
posted by Beholder at 9:46 AM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


He's also in what amounts to the zone of exclusion for depressing northeast run down sad.
posted by Ferreous at 9:48 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


The upside of high levels of American geographic mobility are that people go to where jobs are or anywhere they want for that matter. They move out west or down south just because they like the weather.

The downside is social dislocation. It's a tough call - should I have stayed in a community where I had more strong ties and make 50% or less of what I make now? It's fine for now and unlike this guy I go into an office everyday. But in a decade, I'll probably be back where I started.
posted by GuyZero at 9:49 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


This isn't just in the US. There was a headline I saw recently saying that more than 1 million older people in the UK haven't spoken to another person in over a month. That's not a very good link, but it links to Age UK which has some stats and studies.
posted by msbrauer at 9:52 AM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


Lonely old men (and women) are many of my tenants. They chat. So you're there to, say, fix the handle on the screen door because the cheap spring inside the thumb button has given up the ghost. It's February in Greater Rednecklandia (Pennsylvania, near the PA turnpike, somewhere between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh) and thirty is the high for the day but still they stand there in the cold and chat with you because they're lonely. A repair that should take fifteen minutes takes half an hour because you have to talk to the tenant and make a graceful exit. *sigh* As an unmarried and self-employed person... yeah. Okay, tenant, I will talk to you and I will glide peacefully over your "pretty handy for a girl" comments because you are old. But we're not friends. It's just part of my job to chat with you like the checkout people say hello to you. They're not your friends either.
posted by which_chick at 9:54 AM on February 3, 2017 [16 favorites]


Even after thirty years of living in the commonwealth, I'm still amazed at how isolated much of Pennsylvania is. My son went to Bloomsburg State and even though it's only about three hours from NYC, it might as well be in West Virginia, there's just nothing but hills and farms around there.
posted by octothorpe at 9:58 AM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


my stupid gray matter dug into VHS archives to replay old surveillance tapes of I and me doing stupid stuff.

Funny, this always happens to me on my commute home from work. I guess a long car commute is its own form of loneliness.
posted by muddgirl at 10:02 AM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


I took the megabus between Pittsburgh and NYC a few times and it gets so sad so quickly. You move along RT-22, past the mall from dawn of the dead, past the closed down drive through strip club and into the ridge and plateau nothingness of central PA. Faded barns, rusted out cars parked haphazardly among the dollar general parking lot, signs littered with bullet holes, old men in trucker caps and faded flannel shirts standing outside a barely functioning garage smoking unfiltered Pall Malls. There's a certain sense of doom that permeates the T, to go through it as a passenger in a bus is like a slide show of decay, staring out at the world slowly falling apart around you and seeing people try to survive through that entropy.

It's a uniquely sad place.
posted by Ferreous at 10:08 AM on February 3, 2017 [25 favorites]


I remember reading an article that Japan is anticipating this for their aging population and doing things like encouraging old people to move into city centers and also combining senior centers with day care centers so that old people can interact with kids.
posted by FJT at 10:09 AM on February 3, 2017 [12 favorites]


Okay, tenant, I will talk to you and I will glide peacefully over your "pretty handy for a girl" comments because you are old. But we're not friends. It's just part of my job to chat with you like the checkout people say hello to you. They're not your friends either.

Gee, thanks for sharing that, I guess.
posted by Beholder at 10:12 AM on February 3, 2017 [50 favorites]


This makes me flash back to the giant emotional labor thread and Eyebrows McGee's comment on the health effects on older widowed men when their social connections are cut.
posted by cadge at 10:13 AM on February 3, 2017 [14 favorites]


A complicating factor is that if you're not from that rural community--weren't given a nickname decades ago by former schoolmates now turned aging neighbors--if you don't go to one of the many, many churches--if you have lived elsewhere, and believe things not common to these established communities--you will always be From Away, an other, despite the small talk at the post office or ag store.

Sometimes even if you ARE from that rural community you can still be an Other. One of the many, many reasons I left my small town - and shudder at the thought of returning to one with a similar size - is that there is a definite homogeny of thought there. It's subtle, but if you don't quite march to the same beat as everyone else in town, even if you've lived there all your life and everyone around you saw you turning into this person - you're held at arms' length, even by people who've known you since you were three. You're the one that they couldn't quite train into being "one of us" and they don't quite know what to do about that. They're polite to you, sure, but in the same way they'd be polite to someone who just moved in a week ago.

I do much better in a city where no matter how you are, there's either a handful of people like you there already, or there are so many other people around that people don't keep tabs on everyone and don't give a shit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:14 AM on February 3, 2017 [39 favorites]


Isn't this is exactly why retirement homes exist? That they are no just "somewhere to stick grandma" but can actually be more interesting-social for the elderly than staying home.
posted by mary8nne at 10:14 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


But we're not friends. It's just part of my job to chat with you like the checkout people say hello to you.

Now that we've identified half the problem...
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 10:14 AM on February 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


Acting normal is like holding a plank for me. A plank is a half a push up, its an exercise done for about a minute. Its the abdominal equivalent of holding a gallon of milk at arms length. You can't do it forever. And with me, eventually, I say something that I think is funny.

Yep.
posted by Grangousier at 10:14 AM on February 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


Sometimes even if you ARE from that rural community you can still be an Other. One of the many, many reasons I left my small town - and shudder at the thought of returning to one with a similar size - is that there is a definite homogeny of thought there. It's subtle, but if you don't quite march to the same beat as everyone else in town, even if you've lived there all your life and everyone around you saw you turning into this person - you're held at arms' length, even by people who've known you since you were three. You're the one that they couldn't quite train into being "one of us" and they don't quite know what to do about that. They're polite to you, sure, but in the same way they'd be polite to someone who just moved in a week ago.

I do much better in a city where no matter how you are, there's either a handful of people like you there already, or there are so many other people around that people don't keep tabs on everyone and don't give a shit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos


If I didn't know for sure that you weren't me, I'd think you were me. This is 1000% my life experience.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 10:19 AM on February 3, 2017 [6 favorites]


During my childhood my family lived in 3 different towns in one state; as an adult I've relocated to a new state twice - the second time all the way to the opposite US coast. I'm not a church-goer, bar regular, or really any sort of group-joiner, so in most of those places I've never had more than one or two friends. On top of that I've been working from home for most of the past 6 or 7 years.

If it weren't for the local Metafilter meetups and the occasional phone call with a couple of the good friends I left behind in my previous state, I'd be just another lonely middle-aged dude who rarely speaks to anyone beyond the cashiers at the grocery and liquor stores (who I'm well aware are doing a job and aren't there to socialize with me, sheesh) or my phone customers, none of which goes beyond a couple sentences of inconsequential chit-chat while waiting for the computer to finish doing something.

...All of which is a meandering and desperately chatty way of saying that yeah, if I'm not quite experiencing the thing in the article I'm not far from it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:24 AM on February 3, 2017 [10 favorites]


mary8nne: "Isn't this is exactly why retirement homes exist? That they are no just "somewhere to stick grandma" but can actually be more interesting-social for the elderly than staying home."

Someone's got to pay for such places and there's not a whole lot of spare money in rural PA.
posted by octothorpe at 10:44 AM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


My husband is from rural central PA. His parents still live there part time, and on election day reported that they saw old dudes at the polls who had clearly not voted since the 70s, if ever before. These exact old dudes. At least for a bright shining moment, they were part of something.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:52 AM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]



Isn't this is exactly why retirement homes exist? That they are no just "somewhere to stick grandma" but can actually be more interesting-social for the elderly than staying home.


They vary widely in quality. Some of the most promising-looking ones turn out to be the most sterile and sad. Some of the less-promising-looking ones turn out to have a real community. And some look bad and are bad.

Retirement homes are really a booming business in rural PA. My parents have visited friends who've moved into motels and other residential buildings that have been converted.
posted by lagomorphius at 10:52 AM on February 3, 2017


Obligatory James Thurber sadness, "One is a Wanderer". Unfortunately the New Yorker has it behind a paywall.
posted by lagomorphius at 10:55 AM on February 3, 2017


Isn't this is exactly why retirement homes exist?

For the most part no, although I am not an expert on retirement homes. My experience is that they're for people who have issue with living independently. These people get out of bed, get dressed, feed themselves and don't have any medical issues that need a nurse on-call 24/7. They're just displaced from society. And they like their independence. They just have too much of it.
posted by GuyZero at 10:56 AM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]



Retirement homes are really a booming business in rural PA.


The reminds me that the drive out of the nearest town to the newly built homes that my inlaws live in, there are like 5 separate "mature living communities." Not nursing homes, but a community of detached homes only for people over 55. That actually seems like not a bad idea. But again: you need to have the financial ability to move and the self-awareness to realize how isolation can effect a person as one ages.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:58 AM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


Now that we've identified half the problem...

Good lord people, friendship isn't something people are obligated to provide. I agree, this sort of situation sucks, but forcing people into uncomfortable situations where they have to pretend to like someone isn't the answer.
posted by Aleyn at 11:17 AM on February 3, 2017 [26 favorites]


Yeah, I'm tired of being nice to the shut-in old lady in my building who lingers around the mailboxes so she can trap you in the elevator for 90 seconds while she bemoans how terrible all of those people are.

I'll take the stairs.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:40 AM on February 3, 2017 [10 favorites]


Making idle chat with lonely old people makes things take longer, is not what I am paid to do, and throws sand in my gears because I have to be polite and courteous in the face of "Wow you're pretty handy for a girl, hur hur" style comments offered up by whiskery old men who clearly think they are the absolute freaking height of humor there and who REPEAT THE DAMN 'JOKE' EVERY TIME I FIX SOMETHING FOR THEM.

What I don't say: Look, old man in plaid flannel and a Select Sire ballcap (indoors), I am (a) VERY FREAKING HANDY FOR ANY PERSON AT ALL REGARDLESS OF GENDER and (b) not, at 47, 'a girl' you asshole. Now sit down and shut up before I club you like an infant fur seal with my pipe wrench.

What I do say: "Thank you. I get a fair amount of practice what with the job and all. (weak smile) Nice weather we're having for February, innit? Think we'll get an early spring?"

But thanks for making me feel like a heartless cunt for pointing out on the internet that it's not my job to provide friendship to lonely old people. You're doing the Lord's work, I am sure.
posted by which_chick at 11:44 AM on February 3, 2017 [77 favorites]


This seems to be a confluence of several factors: one, job growth is increasingly concentrated in cities - small towns and rural areas have little to offer college-educated people in particular. So, young people move out, and who can blame them? A universal basic income might help, but:

What EmpressCallipygos and The Phlegmatic King mentioned above - small towns tend to be unfriendly not only to newcomers, but to anyone perceived as "different." You can't blame someone who doesn't fit in for moving, if they are not constrained by lack of education or irrevocable loyalty to family, to stay. A UBI won't solve that.

Third: men are living longer (less smoking, better cardiac treatments, among other factors), and rural white women in particular are dying younger. I wonder how many of these lonely old men are widowers who expected that their wives would outlive them, because that's the way it's always been? Especially if their wives happened to be younger. This was the case for my dad. After he was widowed, he kept telling me that he never expected to outlive my mom, who was four years younger.

This just goes to show how dependent we as a society are on the unpaid emotional and caregiving labor of women, and how the cracks are showing now that women have other options and are taking advantage of them. Wives die, children move away, leaving these bewildered and lonely men behind.

You can't force people to be someone's friend, and, as a feminist, I do not want a solution that involves relegating women to 50s gender roles. Some sort of cohousing, that gives the options of both sociability and privacy, might help, but where is the money for that?
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:54 AM on February 3, 2017 [29 favorites]


There's plenty of old folks here in the city, as well, but seem to manage to find eachother easier and hang around. We get a lot of them hanging around my store. Most are harmless, some are even charming and interesting, but you do get the occasional duffer who will corner and talk your ear off for an hour or two. I still feel bad if I try to escape, since I figure someday Ill be an old fart, too. If I'm lucky.
posted by jonmc at 12:11 PM on February 3, 2017


Occasionally it's my job to go out to middle of nowhere farms to do surveys, and when I do the owners tend to want to oversee me walking through the property. I almost always have conversations with the (older, male) owners like this:

1) They tell me that reason they live out here is so they don't have to interact with people

followed by

2) An hour of conversation because they won't stop talking and are so so happy to have someone to chat with.

I think the beginning of the article sums it up well, he felt good that he didn't have to go out to work and then realized how hard his life was without it. The good thing is he's recognizing the problem. For me after years of having this same conversation so many men I've come to the conclusion that people can be terrible at understanding their own needs. These guys often have fantastic stories of how hard they work and continue to work to isolate themselves, and yet they seem so frantic to have any interaction.
posted by lepus at 12:12 PM on February 3, 2017 [25 favorites]


1) They tell me that reason they live out here is so they don't have to interact with people

followed by

2) An hour of conversation because they won't stop talking and are so so happy to have someone to chat with...

people can be terrible at understanding their own needs.


People are fundamentally bad at knowing what they need emotionally.

Yeah, I know, not you dear reader, you're really in touch and everything, but lots of people are just bad at knowing what they need. And I feel bad for them. They think they know what they need and they don't know at all. Or they sort-of know. Or maybe they do know and they don't know how to get what they want.

If you're a man who has a low-to-medium need for human interaction, most of your life you have a job and probably a wife and maybe some kids and you probably get a lot more social interaction than you want. And the one day your kids have grown up, you retire, maybe your wife dies or leaves you and suddenly you're short on human interaction but you have no idea what to do about it.
posted by GuyZero at 12:20 PM on February 3, 2017 [15 favorites]


This is one reason why it's really good to have a social network outside of work. If you depend on your coworkers for your Recommended Daily Allowance of human interaction, then one day you retire or get laid off or (in the case of this writer) become self-employed and the isolation kicks in. Even just working from home remotely, as I do, can be somewhat isolating.

I've thought for a while that it's also really good to participate in activities and social groups that involve members with a wide range of ages. When I first moved to my current city it took me a few years to build a new social network and I found it a bit depressing to think about the fact that the friends I still kept in close contact with from my old hometown were significantly older and less healthy than I am. I could see the possibility of real loneliness down the line once they eventually pass on.

These days I'm fortunate enough to have friends across a range of ages and geographical locations. It makes me more optimistic about growing older.
posted by tdismukes at 12:46 PM on February 3, 2017 [6 favorites]


I'm personally still a fairly long way from retirement (10 to 20 years) but when my wife and I discuss retirement she often wants a place out in the country but I want to be in the city for this exact reason - the ability to join some sort of community that isn't all-or-nothing. Raising goats sounds like fun but maybe not all the time.
posted by GuyZero at 12:50 PM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


Through some hard work but mostly dumb luck, painfully awkward me has somehow ended up with an amazing group, my chosen family, friends of amazing quality.

As a single man without kids and no close family the realization that this is temporary and that one day I will not have them anymore terrifies me and keeps me up at night.
posted by Cosine at 12:51 PM on February 3, 2017 [10 favorites]


These guys often have fantastic stories of how hard they work and continue to work to isolate themselves, and yet they seem so frantic to have any interaction.

It may be that they do want interaction, but only on their terms. Living in a city, you don't really get to pick who you interact with, when and how. If you isolate yourself down on the farm, you get to pick who you talk to and when, though the opportunities to make those choices are few and far between. It's a trade off I guess.

(Also, if your yard is big enough you can totally have a goat in my city.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:04 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


I've lived alone for twenty-nine years, all in the same apartment, and I've spent six months in my first genuine relationship in the last twenty years, which is further complicated by the fact that I'm involved with a man who's never been with another man and who comes with a four-year-old daughter in tow.

I have been spectacularly successful as a lonely old man, which is odd, considering I started my sojourn at twenty, way back in 1988, and is less depressing in some ways than you'd think. I have lived a contented, contained life with an order that is mostly my own, honing the crafts and skills that come easily when you're mostly free from distractions. I've had a dog in the house more or less constantly since 1995, with one four-month stretch of doglessness that proved to be intolerable and necessitated the installation two dogs instead of the previous one. I read constantly, write even more constantly, go-go dance wildly in my apartment in headphones, and have learned to sit in a chair for long stretches in silence, looking out the window and not thinking about anything.

I am the building super for my small apartment house, so I fix things as they break in exchange for a gorgeously low rent in a place with a yard large enough for beekeeping in a nice little town where I couldn't afford to live at all if not for this special status, and I have a small woodshop and art studio space in the basement for when I need to make tangible things with my hands. I walk to the grocery store, the library, the post office, the meat market, the Amish market, and the huge thrift store where all my clothes but shoes and pants come from. My sister and my nieces live in my apartment building, as do both of the other two men I've dated, one from '86-'88 and the other, who is also now my landlord, who I was with in Alice-and-Sam-the-butcher-mode from '88-'97.

I work alone, running a small basement community theater in the county as a part-time job, and as a handyman/jack-of-all-trades the rest of the time. I drove a Miata big enough to carry me and a dog for a few years, and now drive an old pickup truck big enough to carry me and two dogs.

The last man I dated with any conviction, over a period of a bit less than a month, called my house "the monastery," though he meant it as a criticism and I took it as a compliment.

I do live in a monastery, in a life in service to a state of self-reliance and the slow practice of learning to write and to make music and to keep the world in fine mechanical fettle, but that's a life now at risk.

"Joebie," asked the four-year-old girl at my feet in a decreasingly unfamiliar home, who'd fled the breakfast table where her father and I alternated cutting her pancakes for her and topping off her milk in order to get into a ridiculous red party dress, "Will please you come dance with me?"

I have to wonder if she can see from the bags under my eyes to know that I didn't sleep well last night, because one of the last of my adventurous friends, who was my willing companion in pursuit of mayhem and my copilot for long bouts of roadfarming, where we'd point my beat-up old Saab Sonett in a cardinal direction and drive for hours with no destination, just watching the world unfurl, is at this moment lying in an ICU a continent away, stitched up like a football and completely failing to trip any of the electrical signals that would let us know that he's still in there. She is so small and perfect, just as pink and fresh as buds on a tree, and is twirling and twirling like a Sufi mystic, pausing to clutch my hand and shake it, wanting me to dance.

"Honey, I need to get to work to argue with a bossy New York theater licensing agent," I said.

It's so easy to just go cold like this. This is how you learn to live with silence.

She propped her hands on her hips and furrowed her brow.

"Why do you have to argue with a bossy New York...what did you say?"

"Obligations, little darlin'," I said.

"What are obligations?"

And the thing is, I am forgetting. I have spent a week on the phone, or texting, or emailing, linking up a loose network of friends scattered across the country to join hands around our mutual friend, who's lived much as I have, except on the road, moving and settling, moving and settling, moving and settling so that he was always somewhere new, or somewhere once-new, or somewhere familiar, but always on his own. Our friend in the nursing trade packed up, jumped in the car, and crossed three states to get to the hospital to be our contact on the ground.

Thing is—you can forget how to be a person, almost. You get comfortable and get settled, and silence becomes your normal, even when you fill the gaps with television and films and Twyla-Tharping around your apartment in your underpants to Sufjan Stevens while the dog huffs and goes back to sleep. You can forget that humanity, and lose yourself in your head and in your slow, mysterious projects that you wonder, on some level, are meant to be posthumous memorials to what you were doing for all those years in the monastery. In time, you'll even forget what it means to be lonesome, because that's just the background radiation left from a vibrant, pulsating, thrilling universe that blew up a billion years ago, leaving you hanging in space, counting your way through the rites and rituals of sustaining your corpus against the transition to corpse.

Suddenly, something changes and you wake up, and it's almost too much.

My gentleman caller and his daughter and I all climb into my giant pickup truck, strap her into the booster seat between us on the velour bench seat, pick out a cardinal direction, and set off, and I am alive and terrified, unsure how I'm suddenly doing all these things at 48, so long after I'd already worked out my quiet plan for the rest of my existence. In a little town well west of Baltimore, we went from antique store to antique store, just looking, until we found a strange little "children's museum" which called to the little one like sirens on the rocks.

We paid five dollars each and ten for her and entered the day-glo maw of two germphobes' panickiest dreams and she ran wild, playing with all the kids also running wild in a hopped-up rendition of a daycare center.

"Joebie Joebie Joebie come play the fishing game with me and Daddy!"

"Joebie Joebie Joebie come sing with us!"

"Joebie Joebie Joebie you have to watch this play I'm doing with Daddy!"

I enjoy the play immensely, despite being required to wear a too-small pair of clip-on teddy bear ears that I'm fairly certain are crawling with lice, bedbugs, scorpions, and as-yet-undiscovered influenza viruses. She plays the wolf and her daddy and are bears, a point that give us both an attack of the smirks, and the end of the play comes when she buys our baby and takes it behind a rock to eat it, which makes her father ask me if that seems unsettling and which makes me grin like an idiot, proud as hell of a kid I'm just getting to know.

At some point, a jagged line of prismatic color starts slowly crossing my vision, and I'm convinced I'm having a stroke from all the kidsteria, but she's having a ball, so I keep coloring with her after sneaking into the restroom to ask my 811 Facebook friends if I'm having a stroke. The phone blips and I subtly peek at it, despite all the signs warning parents to focus on their children and not on their phones.

It sounds like an ocular migraine, reads a message, and then another, and more. No pain, just a weird jagged line for a while, then it's gone. My fear that I've been freaked out by children into a life-threatening situation is aborted by the incoming messages that point out that the sinus headache I'd been having is a standard trigger.

It makes me wonder, though—as I'm struggling to undo the social tics of a long life free of the complexity of new contact—I feel like the deeper into solitude you go, the more you adapt a defensive role into it, becoming better and better at accepting the silence until it's all you know. I was not unhappy, not by a long shot, and yet I feel like I've been rescued, somehow, and reminded that maybe that the last lines of Gatsby weren't meant to make it so easy to let it all go.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms further . . . And one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.


"Joebie! How can I wave my arms like I don't care? I do care!"

My tiny dance partner is jitterbugging wildly on the rug while Lady Miss Kier is belting it out. I'm dancing, too, and I demonstrate exactly how one can wave their arms in the air like one just doesn't care. She pauses, folds her arms, and then duplicates my flailing almost perfectly. Her daddy, who's working from home, joins us, and I am late for work and I'm dancing and it's all okay. Somewhere, on the other side of the continent, a friend may be dying, even as a record he and I loved back in our heyday plays in a place that just suddenly appeared in my life, and I'm dancing with a man and a kid when I should have been at work an hour ago, and it's all okay.

And every day, I have to put up with some new intrusion, some new force of change upsetting the ordered life that I led for so long, and it's just luck, really, that made it all happen. I am, at this moment, alone in a small basement theater in a town just outside DC, where I've been vacuuming the lobby and cleaning the ticket printer and doing an inventory of cleaning supplies and candy bars in the concession stands and writing this long, winding comment, and my dog is snoring at my feet and everything's about how it's been for a long, long time, except that every square inch of the wall around my desk is plastered with crayon drawings from someone who won't stand for letting me just sit and stew in peace. I feel almost panicked, at times, at how little control I have over all this, and yet, here I am, and I think maybe this is better than just sitting. I think maybe I've learned all there is to learn in the monastery.

"Joebie?" my little friend asks, as I'm struggling to put my shoes on and get out the door.

"Yes, hon?"

"Did Daddy kiss you in the kitchen while you were making us pancakes?"

"I believe he did."

"Why?"

"Because I was sad."

"I don't want you to be sad, Joebie," she says, and presents me with a new drawing for my wall.
posted by sonascope at 1:06 PM on February 3, 2017 [149 favorites]


There are retirement communities that do cater to people that merely need a little extra support and socialization rather than nursing or assisted living level care, but they're not inexpensive for the most part. It's also very hard for older people to give up the illusion of being self sufficient and move away from the only place they've ever lived (or at least have lived for several decades). When you don't have much, sometimes you cling to what little you have, even if it's just a sense of normalcy.
posted by Candleman at 1:09 PM on February 3, 2017


I'll just leave this here.
posted by freelanceastro at 1:38 PM on February 3, 2017 [14 favorites]


In time, you'll even forget what it means to be lonesome, because that's just the background radiation left from a vibrant, pulsating, thrilling universe that blew up a billion years ago, leaving you hanging in space, counting your way through the rites and rituals of sustaining your corpus against the transition to corpse.

... the deeper into solitude you go, the more you adapt a defensive role into it, becoming better and better at accepting the silence until it's all you know.


This, absolutely so much this!
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:30 PM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


Good lord people, friendship isn't something people are obligated to provide. I agree, this sort of situation sucks, but forcing people into uncomfortable situations where they have to pretend to like someone isn't the answer.

A-hem. Good lord people, healthcare isn't something the government is obligated to provide. I agree, this sort of situation sucks, but forcing taxpayers to buy Obamacare when they don't want to isn't the answer.

There are no easy answers, but trying to be nice to elderly people is basic human decency, and chatting for a few minutes isn't friendship. It's small talk, and just because it means more to them than you doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. Not every social interaction is going to be quid pro quo.
posted by Beholder at 2:55 PM on February 3, 2017 [15 favorites]


I have many complicated thoughts & feelings about this.

I'm sympathetic to anyone who's lonely and unhappy. I am, however, less sympathetic to straight men who believe, consciously or not, that it is somehow women's responsibility to make sure they have a fulfilling social life.

I tend to think these problems can be traced back to the "nuclear family" meme, which I would like to trash along with the rest of the nuclear waste of the latter half of the 20th century. A slow dissolution of the extended family; the idea that HUSBAND + WIFE + 1-3 KIDS were a complete, isolated family unit, with no need for contact or social ties to (1) other blood relations, (2) relations by marriage, or (3) neighbors, means that 20-40 years after that unit is formed, it's gone, and there's nothing to replace it.

We're now dealing with several generations of this, and... sure enough, as soon as people are unspoused and post-dating-age (call that, 16-35, roughly), they often have no idea what to do with their lives. Add another 20 years, and they're outside of any prime marketing demographic and considered invisible and irrelevant.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse of the American Community addresses some of this. I have the book; have read some of it. It starts with statistics and descriptions of the problems; I haven't gotten to the "solutions" sections yet, but I suspect they are: get involved, go find some people and hang out with them; find a shared-people hobby and enjoy it and don't try to insist that everyone has to share all their other interests or beliefs as well.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:07 PM on February 3, 2017 [12 favorites]


i would be interested to see whether women living alone have the same problems, or if we are seeing the end-stage problem of a particular kind of traditionalist dude relying on his wife to do all his socializing for him & what happens when that breaks down. i have had to deal with a lot of the latter in my life. my sympathies are limited for poor funnyman mr. regular. o the tears they do not fall.
posted by beefetish at 3:30 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


Haha, people are lonely and sad and don't have coping mechanism and will die alone due to being a product of the time and place they grew up in! Hilarious!
posted by Ferreous at 3:33 PM on February 3, 2017 [8 favorites]


yeah i can't imagine why a particular gendered dynamic around emotional labor, including being the conduit for and maintainer of friendships and relationships, that leaves its beneficiaries stranded, would cause me to be skeptical of a weird, self-pitying article written by a dude who is not a product of that time and place.

the fact that people push back against pointing this out sure is telling

nb that i am a masc person who grew up in the fucking woods among this culture
posted by beefetish at 3:44 PM on February 3, 2017 [6 favorites]


Some women living alone have this problem (there are examples in this thread), but there are a lot more lonely old men, because yes, they have expected women, ostensibly a wife but potentially a sister, aunt, niece etc., to make sure they have a social life.

Lonely old women tend to be either disabled, isolated for some particular reason, or thoroughly unpleasant. Women, for the most part, know that if they are lonely once, they can go somewhere with people and socialize, and if they are lonely often and don't like that, they can join a group of some sort - quilting society, book club, "plant flowers at veterans' graves" church group, whatever. They may be aware that they don't care about quilts, books, flowers or veterans, but that's not the point. (I'm sticking to traditional-conservative "women's groups" ideas, because this is mostly talking about rural USA; women who are lonely and join hacker orgs or start a local chapter of PFLAG are working with a different social dynamic.)

Most men seem offended at the idea that they might have to join a group with which they may have little in common in order to have someone to talk to about themselves.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:48 PM on February 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


That was a great piece of writing and really hit home for me. As a 41 year old man who has been divorced for three years and going through life mostly on my own I often find I have thoughts that I will be one of the lonely old men described here. "Someone please talk to me."
posted by KingBoogly at 3:59 PM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


Until you've experienced the kind of social isolation described in the essay its not really possible to understand it. I think that leads to the lack of empathy seen in some of these comments.
posted by zymil at 4:08 PM on February 3, 2017 [22 favorites]


Most men seem offended at the idea that they might have to join a group with which they may have little in common in order to have someone to talk to about themselves.

Some men are unaware of this need within themselves and have a disconnect between saying things like "it's so nice to have someone to talk to" and actually doing something about it.

Certainly some of them expect a woman to take care of this for them but some of them just don't realize that it is a thing that you can do something about. People can be disconnected from themselves as well as from other people.

And some people are just bad at socializing, even if it's something they want to do. It's easy to fall into a pattern of avoiding something you're not good at.
posted by GuyZero at 4:11 PM on February 3, 2017 [11 favorites]


My wife is from Winchester, VA. Everyone there is so chatty and friendly - it makes me feel awkward and suspicious. My wife is right at home, beaming and nodding and happy to have the chat, even if she's as socially self-conscioius as I am and isn't contributing much beyond attention and a smile.

I think the issue may be regional culture - even densely populated areas like Newport, RI and Lowell, MA can be isolating. I had a ton of social networks when living in FL and NOLA. They glommed onto me rather than the other way around. Up here? I mean, I'm an introvert, so I'm OK with no everyday friends and no everyday smalltalk IRL. But sometimes, I get nostalgic.

PA is closer to New York and New England in culture than it is to the states south of its border.* It's much harder, especially if you're shy but not an introvert. I'm fine with being by myself and some online interaction. My wife is much less fine, as no-one will just stop to chat with her out of the blue up here.

We may need to move back down there. It is a clean and tidy and historic and nestled just shy of the West VA mountains. Also, they have an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater, and it is magnificent.

*And Marylanders and Delawareans are a raucous, "come party with us forever, you're our dear old friend we met just now" kind of bunch from my interactions with them. Usually at poetry slam events, and in one instance, in the showroom of Hitchcock Shoe [www.wideshoes.com] back when I was a EEEEEE+. One BIIIG tall, lean dude was there to try on shoes as a fun road-trip, and they were tickled someone else was in the showroom with them and they declared an immediate wide-off with me, and the girlfriends announced they were moving to Boston to be my Harem when I won (I lived in Newport at the time, just rolling with it), and his buddies and the loser were all slapping me on the back. His foot was literally almost half again as long as mine, 14EEE they decided. Hitchcock had it in stock in workboot, sneaker and dress shoes of a dozen different styles.) They invited me out for dinner after grilling me on my family history and speculating from which side of the family I got wide feet (My Dad, as he's German, Celtic feet are too narrow for ordinary shoes, they declared, so it's not my Mom), but having met Marylanders a-wander before and knowing I had to be at work the next day, I politely declined. One of the decisions I've made in my life that I've regretted.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:20 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


This discussion is too gender obsessed. Just because the article focused on lonely men doesn't mean that it isn't applicable to lonely women.

Elderly people have many challenges, loneliness is one of them, perhaps the worst of them, and there isn't a person reading this post who isn't going to eventually become the overly chatty "geezer who won't shut up", so please try to foster a culture of patience and empathy towards a group that we all eventually join.
posted by Beholder at 4:34 PM on February 3, 2017 [6 favorites]


Certainly some of them expect a woman to take care of this for them but some of them just don't realize that it is a thing that you can do something about.

I expect a lot of them don't realize that socializing doesn't "just happen;" someone has to make it happen, and that "someone" has traditionally been a woman. This was covered at great length in the emotional labor thread - a lot of guys think that the social connections that make a community are optional. For any particular individual, this is true; if enough people stop making those connections, the community vanishes - and we're now seeing widespread applications of this, as many women have shifted away from the traditional role of Social Webmaster, either by choice, or by having careers that limit their social time and energy, or because they, too, were brought up with the nuclear family meme and once their kids are grown and they move to A Nice Place To Retire, they don't know how to make connections that don't center around kids' social activities.

I am sympathetic to individuals; I am considerably less so to the pattern that makes this happen. I am aware that the only solutions that aren't "some nice woman should spend her emotional labor on making these guys less unhappy" would be rejected - Lonely Old Men # 1, 2, and 3 aren't likely to accept an offer of "there's a bench in the park big enough for all of you instead of just one; you could hang out together and talk."

It's been my experience that most times an older white guy is told, "this thing you thought 'just happened,' was just part of how society worked, but is failing you, is because in fact someone else used to do that thing" - the reaction isn't usually, "oh! okay, how can I arrange to make this happen for me?" but "why the hell did they stop? Things were better when that was done!"

And that's the reason sympathetic women aren't rushing in to fix the situation; it's not that we hadn't noticed that there's a growing populace of "lonely old men," but that consciously acknowledging any problem often comes with a snarl of, "well, then what are you doing to fix it?"

It is indeed sad that there's a growing number of isolated, lonely, unhappy older men. It is sad that they feel trapped by the social conventions of their communities, and don't know how to reach out to create the social environment that they want.

But.

They are not teenagers. They have had many decades to figure out how The Social works - the exact same amount of time that women have had. I have sympathy for their sorrow, but none at all for "they didn't realize this was something they could do" - it's not like that's some Sekrit Wimmin Lore that we hide from men.

(And the discussion is gender obsessed because the article is entirely about lonely old men, not "lonely old people." There is no acknowledgement in the article that women get lonely too.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:49 PM on February 3, 2017 [33 favorites]


i would be interested to see whether women living alone have the same problems, or if we are seeing the end-stage problem of a particular kind of traditionalist dude relying on his wife to do all his socializing for him & what happens when that breaks down. i have had to deal with a lot of the latter in my life. my sympathies are limited for poor funnyman mr. regular. o the tears they do not fall.

that is a shocking amount of venom directed toward an author who doesn't give any indication that he's in a relationship with a woman or is divorced/widowed. but I guess every article posted is its own Rorschach test onto which a commenter projects their own insecurities and here we are.
posted by indubitable at 5:07 PM on February 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


There is no acknowledgement in the article that women get lonely too.

It's not a sociology term paper, it's the author talking about his own personal life.
posted by GuyZero at 5:10 PM on February 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


I'm not sure the article was denying the reality of all the lonely old women out there who're also in need of socialization-- just wryly mocking the particular ungracefulness of some old dudes' attempts to secure same.

For me, I really wonder at this point why there isn't a better technological solution to this problem. Anyone who's visited a nursing home knows that there's a very low bar for the kinds of basic emotional labor lonely old folks need-- a friendly face, a patient ear, some follow-up questions go a really long way. That ELIZA NLP program could do quasi-Rogerian counselling back in the '80s; surely a plausibly compassionate, responsive conversation should be well within our abilities at this point.

Why are there not hosts of drones with Siri-level conversation abilities, maybe clad in some sort of cute fuzzy suit for easier bonding, busy doing all the hard work of listening raptly and attentively to people's stories of arthritis meds and The Old Days? Or alternatively, why not put a Facetime terminal into that fur-suit drone, so that the compassionate story-listening and follow-up questions could be an easy remote job for someone disabled or otherwise not in a position to take more physically demanding employment?
posted by Bardolph at 5:20 PM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


I live in the city. I telecommute. It is quite isolating. This isn't an urban vs. rural problem at its roots, though such divides surely exacerbate things. It's a personal problem and a cultural problem.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:44 PM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's not just men. My mom is a depressive introvert who is so isolated that it scares me. She lives in a mid-sized city and rarely speaks to anyone but her doctor.
posted by mkuhnell at 5:54 PM on February 3, 2017 [5 favorites]


post-dating-age (call that, 16-35, roughly)

Not to start a derail, but that's simply uncalled-for, ageist, and flat-out wrong (in fact you should add your comment to this MeTa). Easily half the dating I've done in my life has happened after the age of 40.

I'm not really sure why that statement angered me so much, but it did and I'm trying very hard not to hurl insults. Just, please - don't talk that sort of uneducated and insensitive crap anymore.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:08 PM on February 3, 2017 [16 favorites]


Isn't this is exactly why retirement homes exist? That they are no just "somewhere to stick grandma" but can actually be more interesting-social for the elderly than staying home.

This is what drives me crazy about my mother. She is a bit of a narcissist and now she has Alzheimer's. She lives in a place where the idea is you are supposed to leave feet first but your stay begins as "independent living" which really means independent living. There are a lot of great interesting people who live there but my mother...my mother I think she just doesn't quite know how to socialize or just doesn't like it, or her narcissistic judgmental personality gets in the way. So she spends all of her time in her apartment watching Charlie Rose and her Inspector Morse DVDs, and is so happy now that she subscribed to the NY Times and doesn't have to go down to one of the place's 4 libraries to read it. She does not patronize the dinning room, nor the art room, nor the salt water pool or avail herself of any of the things that make the place seem filled with vitality. She does not participate. I have told her ad nauseam that the only things that will make a difference in staving off her continuing decent into dementia are social interaction and physical exercise but nope. You can lead a horse to water etc. Its her life etc. It still makes me mad/sad/mad mad mad.

sorry for the dump.
posted by Pembquist at 6:14 PM on February 3, 2017 [8 favorites]


Sorry for the post script but I just saw the ...post dating age.. GEM and all I have to say, (and I have to say it,) is MUWHAHAHAHAH! Just you wait bucko!
posted by Pembquist at 6:21 PM on February 3, 2017 [1 favorite]


"also combining senior centers with day care centers so that old people can interact with kids."

There's a trend I've heard of in the midwest -- not in my city yet that I know of, but a lot of friends in other cities -- where parents are organizing baby/toddler play groups at nursing homes or retirement communities. They borrow one of the day rooms for a couple of hours and store a tub of simple toys (stacking cups, rings, blocks) there, and basically they invite local families with little kids to come have a semi-organized playdate time, and they invite residents to come hang out. Generally the kids play in a circle in the middle, with a few of the moms on the floor with them (and a coordinator who may sing a few songs), and the elderly residents all sit on chairs around the outside, and chat with each other and the parents ... and as the kids warm up, with the kids too who are like "FIVE BILLION GRANDMAS ALL FOR ME!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:29 PM on February 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


post-dating-age (call that, 16-35, roughly)

Oh shit, excuse me while I chop my dick off and bury myself.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:37 PM on February 3, 2017 [12 favorites]


I'm sorry for the past-dating-age comment. I wrote quickly and didn't qualify it - I'm aware that plenty of dating happens past age 35. Past mainstream-media dating age, perhaps, or past advertising-focused dating age. I didn't mean, "people don't date after that age," but that it's harder to find ways to make those connections. (There are substantial resources in society for those under the age of 40 to do dating. There's a lot less after that age.) I expressed that very badly.

I am very sorry for the way my poor phrasing hurt or angered people. I'll be more careful about it in the future.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:31 PM on February 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


"FIVE BILLION GRANDMAS ALL FOR ME!"

At last I will win at Cookie Clicker.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:32 PM on February 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


There's a trend I've heard of in the midwest -- not in my city yet that I know of, but a lot of friends in other cities -- where parents are organizing baby/toddler play groups at nursing homes or retirement communities.

There's a development sort of near me that is a mix of retirement community and low income housing. I don't know how official the symbiosis is, but it seems like the children from the low income portion spend time hanging out with the retirees to the benefit of both.
posted by Candleman at 7:38 PM on February 3, 2017


Holy shit, I came home from work to find out that my website made it to the blue, again. I'm really glad that it's this one.

Pretty much, I reached out to Mr. Regular to publish this on Lit.cat because the video got me off my ass to work on a resume for myself to get out the depressed, failed freelancer life I was stuck in. He let me, on the condition that I transcript it from the video myself. He never really replied back to me, because I imagine he's really embarrassed about it, but he's been putting out a lot more writing entries lately on his channel that are just as brilliant. I highly recommend checking them out as well.

If you're reading this Mr. R, I'm sorry that I was really weird.
posted by weewooweewoo at 7:49 PM on February 3, 2017 [7 favorites]


I am very sorry for the way my poor phrasing hurt or angered people. I'll be more careful about it in the future.

Oh don't worry about it , you have to realize you made several peoples day, its pretty funny and I think rare is the person that doesn't enjoy a bit of OUTRAGE! I laughed out loud, in fact thank you.
posted by Pembquist at 8:49 PM on February 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


My mom could easily be one of these. She...never really left the nest, as it were. Was (is) a big family person. Even when she got her own place, it was literally blocks from my grandparents' place and she and my grandmother hung out all the time. Only my grandmother has died and she never really cultivated any other friendships. She does stuff and has some activities she does and she works, so she does get some social contact and see people, but it's obvious to me she's sort of expecting me and/or my sister to live close to her and let her come hang out all the time.

In a more rural place without the opportunities of living in the suburbs of a city I could easily see it turning into something like this.

As for the gendering, yeah. My grandfather was a very old-fashioned dude in the 1950s sense. Couldn't cook to save his life. Helpless with the kids. Not a bad guy and obviously could be trusted to keep an eye on them, but they'd eat peanut butter sandwiches or takeout for a week if left to his devices. Couldn't even coordinate colors or dress himself and didn't have to because he worked in a suit-and-tie job, so he knew what he was wearing every day. The day of her funeral, my uncle found him standing in the closet staring with no idea what to do because between the grief and never really having to take care of himself, he wasn't real sure what to put on or where things were because she'd always handled that. It was a kind of grace he died soon after her because he was basically nonfunctional without her.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:04 PM on February 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


soren_lorensen: "My husband is from rural central PA. His parents still live there part time, and on election day reported that they saw old dudes at the polls who had clearly not voted since the 70s, if ever before. These exact old dudes. At least for a bright shining moment, they were part of something."

In retrospect, I would much have preferred that elderly white men in PA had found a different thing to be a part of, and had stayed home for Election Day 2016.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:35 PM on February 3, 2017 [13 favorites]


(Note: Creepy lecherous guys aren't cool, no matter what their age. The following is not about them. So for a moment, consider the "CB radio" guy.)

But. They are not teenagers. They have had many decades to figure out how The Social works

And probably through the overwhelming majority of those decades, their system worked fine. Then their friends either died or were sent off to a home, the social spots they used to rely on closed down one by one, their mobility was significantly reduced either by financial or medical reasons (can't drive/can't afford to drive/public transport is either nonexistent or the frequent use of it is too physically demanding). To add to all that loss, he's now lost the one person who he had shared a life with for decades. Maybe their wives did coordinate the majority of their social events. Maybe they both had their own social things they each took care of entirely on their own, but all the ones he handled just weren't there anymore.

So he wanders the town, past innumerable places that 'used to be' places he could easily find friendship and conversation. His attempts at being social with younger folk just end up seeming awkward and weird, because it seems to him somewhere along the line the younger folk lost the knack of just shooting the breeze - every conversation has to have an end goal or a purpose, otherwise you're seen as just some old dude that lost his mind and has to be tolerated or patronized like a child. He's trying to be social. So he looks at his situation, realizes he's hopelessly lost in this world, and decides to make a joke of it - an incredibly depressing, self-depricating joke, because he can either laugh at himself, or break down in tears - "Break one-nine break one-nine. Anybody out there?"

And your response to something like that is "Figure it out, you stubborn old man"?

Look, no one is saying you have an obligation to teach him how to swim in this new Social Sea, but for fuck's sake, at least throw him a rope or something, cause that guy is clearly trying like hell to swim.*

Perhaps by reading your comment through the CB radio guy's situation, I'm being unfair. Of course there will be those too stubborn to change or adapt in any way, and what can one really do if they are so determined to stay on that course. I only took issue with the size of the brush you painted people that are having those social difficulties.

*I guess this is my moment of OUTRAGE!, Pembquist
posted by chambers at 12:00 AM on February 4, 2017 [14 favorites]


Is the best we can offer this CB radio guy, and others like him, really limited to either 'a retirement home' or 'a robot'? Come on, all this guy may need is some conversation - not just with people his age, but in an environment that will help him acclimate and get a hang of this newer conversational protocol by interacting with people of increasingly younger age.

This actually gives me an idea. There is wide variety of options large retirement facilities can offer, from the very basic community activity programs, planned communities, to assisted living, etc., that address the different needs of its customers (or future customers). There is one area that none of them seem to have recognized as both a profitable venture to ensure future growth and a honest to goodness community service - operating a 'gateway' businesses.

By 'gateway' businesses I mean places where seniors tend to congregate regularly, such as sit-down restaurants that offer all-day breakfasts and endless coffee, small senior-friendly fitness clubs, coffee shops, barber shops, maybe even run a small amateur theater group. No need to hard-sell the main retirement home, just staff it with their own residents that would be working part time elsewhere anyways, because they still dig having a job, even if they don't 'need' it.

So all these potential residents are there at least a few times a week at the Old Country Buffet, or Eat'n Park (if we're talking PA), for example. Who are they interacting with on a daily basis, getting to know by name, and becoming friends with? The residents of the retirement facility - not as salespeople, just people they know.

One could safely assume that when the time came to make a retirement home decision, it would be a lot easier to do so if the potential resident knew a handful of people that already were living there and could see that it might not be as scary a place as they might imagine. Of course, if run badly, it would certainly reflect badly on the parent company, but if done well, it could be quite successful.
posted by chambers at 12:03 AM on February 4, 2017 [4 favorites]


As someone working in hospitals all the time, I interact with old people a lot on a daily basis. I see a spectrum social well being. On one end there are people surrounded by loving family, getting visits from church friends, and positively beams with being loved. This type of elderly with evidence of a enriching social life is definitely in the minority in the hospital. Far more common are the people at the other end of the spectrum: 90 years old men or women who get no visitors, who had the misfortune to have outlived everybody they know, who perhaps are estranged from families by their choice or other's, who lay in the bed in silence for days, for weeks, accompanied only by blaring of the crappy TV they have in hospital rooms. I tell you the saddest thing you can see on a hospital computer is a empty family/friends contact page of a very ill, possibly dying elderly person. That empty screen is eloquent in ways the patients themselves are not.

So I am disheartened when I see dismissive attitudes on this thread about loneliness of the elderly. I know you guys don't mean it. And I have seen a lot of VA old men whose attitude and behaviors are stuck in the 19th century and understand the challenges that poses. God knows I get impatient when a elderly demented patient prattles on tangents as I tried to take a focused history. We are only human.

But as human beings we have to try better. I have to try better. It's hard, a constant struggle to maintain empathy for imperfect souls. It's about mercy. Mercy for them, and eventually, for us as well.
posted by Pantalaimon at 9:32 AM on February 4, 2017 [29 favorites]


My father's mother alienated everyone in our extended family before she got Alzheimers, and then wanted to know why they didn't come see her. It was hard enough for her immediate family to go see her, including my Dad--she was never particularly nice to any of us, but forgot about that too. It was all very sad.

I'm still not going to listen to my neighbors racist bile for 90 seconds every other day, and I don't feel particularly in need of mercy or forgiveness for that choice.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:07 AM on February 4, 2017 [6 favorites]


... or my phone customers, none of which goes beyond a couple sentences of inconsequential chit-chat while waiting for the computer to finish doing something.

I forgot to mention, that half the time that "chit-chat" amounts to this exchange:
Customer: So, are you rooting for $TEAM?
Me: Oh, I don't follow the sportsball.
Customer: ....
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:27 AM on February 4, 2017


Except in the most spectacularly rich eras quite a lot of people never accumulate the resources to marry* whether they want to or not. They've always been lonesome and weird as they age. The US has 'Norwegian bachelor farmers' and men like Silas (Marner?) in Frost's The Death of the Hired Man and probably another archetype in every job system.

Australia has started Men's Sheds and England and Ireland have successfully adopted them, so there's something promising to try already. Japan started its robotics and assistance for eldercare with machines to make it less physically challenging, but they are working on emotional and social machines as someone suggested above.


* My favorite summary of the topic is The Prospect Before Her. Summary of summary: w/o consumer industry you need at least two people's work to keep one of them in working-for-money condition; w/o consumer credit the capital to do this (tools, animals) has to be accumulated before marriage (childbirth). Consequently, in most of European history those who were not very rich married relatively late, and those who were very poor often couldn't expect to marry at all. The Anglosphere in industrial-colonial-expansive times is unusually rich, and the US 1950s blindingly so.
posted by clew at 11:36 AM on February 4, 2017 [7 favorites]


A lot of you are assuming that these lonely old men drifted into solitude because they didn't know how to build social networks.

For some of them, sure, that's the case. But others of us have decided that the effort that it takes to build social networks just isn't worth it.

Yes, the care I can get from a good social network would be far superior to the care I can provide for myself alone. The problem is that social networks are unreliable. It's entirely possible to be surrounded by people who you're connected to, who you've helped in the past, and find yourself utterly and completely alone when you're the one in need.

When you've found yourself in that situation (repeatedly), and had to cope with life events entirely by yourself in the sudden absence of your support system, you start to wonder whether it would be better to put other systems in place. Systems you could maintain yourself, without worrying about abandonment and betrayal.

Anyone who's been a part of an abusive or dysfunctional family knows just how terribly the support network involved in those can function. Is it any surprise that we've seen a rise of self-sufficient individuals, who no longer need to depend on a family-style support system? Given what we know about how fragile social connections can be, can we blame them for trying to fend for themselves?

We've taken on loneliness so as not to be dependent.
posted by MrVisible at 11:50 AM on February 4, 2017 [16 favorites]


Except in the most spectacularly rich eras quite a lot of people never accumulate the resources to marry* whether they want to or not. They've always been lonesome and weird as they age. The US has 'Norwegian bachelor farmers' and men like Silas (Marner?) in Frost's The Death of the Hired Man and probably another archetype in every job system.

The James Herriot books have several examples of that, especially the ones covering his youngest years as a vet. Elderly siblings living on hardscrabble Yorkshire crofts, just able to survive but never having the opportunity to marry.
posted by tavella at 12:09 PM on February 4, 2017 [4 favorites]


Nice one, tavella. Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables are another example. I occasionally wonder if Matthew's early death and the economic crisis at the farm happen because it needed the farm-hand boy they actually asked for... Anyway, they and Silas Marner are pretty explicit about how difficult it is to get out of that kind of isolation, even though both novels assume it's vital.

MrVisible, I'm sorry your networks betrayed you. (Epony-something, too.)
posted by clew at 12:25 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


This is suddenly reminding me of the Mabel Osborne and Serepta Mason portions of the Spoon River Anthology poem series.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:01 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


Sonascope, that's comment of the year material right there.

Me and my wife are both around sixty and live in a small rural town. It's the town I grew up in and there's just enough of the families from back then so I know a fair amount of people despite having been gone for 25 years. But our support system is very small, just a few family members and friends. My wife is an introvert who suffers from mounting medical issues including clinical depression. A hermit-like existence is fine with her. I'm an introvert too but I need more socialization than her. Which I rarely get. Right now I'm trying to bargain and beg to host a few folks for the game tomorrow and it is pushing a boulder up a mountain.

My wife is unable to deal with most things in life. That person who posted about an elderly man who was utterly lost when his wife died is our situation in reverse. If I were to die first life would be an unrelenting hell for her. Other than big meals I do nearly every chore around the house. It's gets frustrating sometimes but hey, in sickness and in health. I do fear that if she dies first, which is likely, I'll turn into one of these guys. The heart of my life will be gone and my sole interactions will be on the internet or chance encounters when I get the mail or fill the car with gas. It's not something I look forward to.
posted by Ber at 1:13 PM on February 4, 2017 [9 favorites]


If you're pushing 80, there really is no substitute for family, especially children who will be the most invested in caring for you. Only the most well off are going to be able to work around that cold hard reality. Assisted living facilities are an option, but who is going to check up on the elderly resident with dementia to make sure they are being properly taken care of? Their family? What if they don't have any family?
posted by Beholder at 1:21 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


Where are people working on fixing this isolation?

And would socializing on something like Skype work?

Where I live, there's the missing middle of all missing middles. It makes things difficult.
posted by Baeria at 11:48 PM on February 4, 2017


And would socializing on something like Skype work?

It might help some, but nothing replaces a nice chat on a front porch.
posted by Beholder at 1:30 AM on February 5, 2017


Where are people working on fixing this isolation?

...I think that it's an economy thing, or at least that we shouldn't discount the economy in this.

Small towns tend to be poor, and that means there just plain aren't as many social services options. And also, poor people tend to isolate themselves simply because they're broke - I am nowhere near this age, but a few years of lower-paid employment than I need has kept me at home more than I'd like; firstly, because it's a little embarrassing, but secondly, simply because going out to do stuff often costs money. It's a kind of double-whammy.

So...in a sense, the people working on fixing this isolation are the ones who are trying to defend the Dodd-Frank amendment right now. For one.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:26 AM on February 5, 2017 [4 favorites]


Obligatory James Thurber sadness, "One is a Wanderer"

Jeez, lagomorphius - so bleak. I thought Thurber was usually funny.
posted by Rash at 2:02 PM on February 5, 2017


Where are people working on fixing this isolation?

I did link to two kinds of efforts; and noticed a third today.
posted by clew at 8:43 PM on February 5, 2017


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