‘I won't speak to another human until Monday’
January 16, 2020 1:27 AM   Subscribe

'For growing numbers of people the weekend is an emotional wilderness where interaction is minimal and social life non-existent' writes Paula Cocozza at The Guardian on the subject of 'the Agony of Weekend Loneliness'. While at Grazia Daily, Jenny Stallard asks 'Do You Get Weekend Loneliness?', characterizing it as 'the modern malaise of many single women'.

Further reading - Cocozza's article links to the UK's Campaign to End Loneliness and to the results of 'the world’s largest loneliness study' run last year by the BBC.
posted by misteraitch (102 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
I worked in a liquor store and there was a meticulously groomed gentleman in his 70s who would come in every morning, in the same plaid suit, to buy a can of beer... it was the only human speaking interaction he could find each day, since his wife passed.
posted by xdvesper at 2:51 AM on January 16 [35 favorites]


interaction is minimal and social life non-existent

That sounds delightful...
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:15 AM on January 16 [44 favorites]


It seems like an interesting article, but please please let’s adopt new best practices of linking a plain .txt link along with with the article that doesn’t fail to load, crash the browser, have endless ads which suck data and somehow deplete a bunch of battery. My phone is not that old and it should not be this hard to read a simple newspaper article. Guardian is far from the only offender when it comes to being user hostile like this.
posted by Sterros at 4:18 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


@NotMyselfRightNow I'm making an effort to be less of a hermit, but I get really grouchy if I don't at least occasionally get a weekend entirely to myself. :)
posted by confluency at 4:22 AM on January 16 [15 favorites]


Flippancy aside, I find it weird that there are social groups which are so regimented (singles vs couples). I'm single, and I've spent a long time as half of a couple, and my circle of friends is pretty much unchanged. My level of social interaction has probably increased (for reasons tangential to my single-ness). I wonder if this is correlated to partitioning of friend groups by gender.
posted by confluency at 4:27 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


singles vs couples

I'd argue there are actually four groups:

Single, No Children
Single, Children
Coupled, No Children
Coupled, Children

It's remarkable to watch the coupled group split as they have children.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:47 AM on January 16 [36 favorites]


I'd kill for regular weekends. For social isolation random varying schedules is so much worse. You can never plan that far ahead.
posted by Ferreous at 4:49 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


'For growing numbers of people the weekend is an emotional wilderness where interaction is minimal and social life non-existent'

Count me as another person who thought this paragraph was describing something really awesome
posted by destrius at 4:53 AM on January 16 [43 favorites]


I've got two thoughts here:

1) It's interesting that most of the people in the essays seem to be in situations without family nearby. If I lived in my hometown, I'd never be lonely, I'd have invitations darn near every week to birthdays, anniversaries, even just Sunday-night dinner. But in the city where I live, if I wasn't married, I would indeed have a hard time finding people to do things with.

2) May of these people seem to also only have social circles of people their own age. I have friends decades older (and younger) than me that are more than happy to get together for coffee, etc. that don't need to arrange for babysitters first. Because they are post-child rearing, their lives more closely resemble the life of a younger person that has no children.

Weekend loneliness is certainly more complicated than this, but it seems that the modern movement away from living in large, multi-generational families exacerbates being lonely.
posted by oddman at 5:02 AM on January 16 [16 favorites]


Can we not make light of other people's problems by declaring how great their life really is? Saying "I'd love that" in this context is really no different than expressing jealousy at how thin an anorexic person is, etc.

It's insensitive, and this isn't, I don't think, the thread for that.
posted by oddman at 5:06 AM on January 16 [224 favorites]


Oh I would definitely have more human interaction on weekends if I lived near my family, but I'd be less happy.

I have weekends like this sometimes. I hate them. And it's partly on me, because I choose not to go to movie theatres (misophonia), and don't like crowds, etc. I don't know, I just miss the time in my 20's when there were always pals around, and it was "what are we doing tonight" instead of "do you want to get together next month when I can pencil you in".
posted by wellred at 5:09 AM on January 16 [13 favorites]


I don't think it's quite as simple as living near family or having friends outside your age group. I live in a city well removed from much of my family, and I still manage to be social on the weekend when I choose.

The important word in that sentence is "when I choose", though. I actually prefer downtime as well, but I'm also hale and hearty enough to get up and out the door if I feel a little stir crazy. And when I do feel that way, there are places for me to actually go - movie theaters, museums, coffee shops, parks. There's also a ton of Meetups for me to join if I want to go that route.

I also am comfortable satisfying social interaction with simple interactions with strangers - an extra comment to the waiter at the coffeeshop, cooing over a dog someone's walking. It's not scaling a conversational Mount Parnassus, but it is an interaction with another human that works for me.

If I needed more social interaction, or lived in a much smaller town, that may not be enough. A lot of people whose kneejerk cracks about "man, I'd love that" when we heard that are probably much more comfortable with solitude than are others. (I've also been through phases where solitude did indeed feel lonely, as well; people are not born knowing how to be comfortable in their own skin.)

Having more options for human connection will not solve everything, but it will at least provide more options to the people who do want them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:10 AM on January 16 [13 favorites]


I experience this completely the opposite way: I can go multiple days at work without actually saying a word to anyone. Then on the weekends, I entertain two small children, who are incapable of staying quiet for more than 4 seconds at a clip. The quiet-office phenomenon is fairly new, and until I experienced it, I would have quickly and glibly told you I prefer the total lack of social interaction, but... man, 8 hours in front of a screen without actually talking to someone is a long day. I would not relish doing it two days a week.
posted by Mayor West at 5:22 AM on January 16 [8 favorites]


if my life was anything other than going for days at a time without speaking to anyone i would be fucking miserable. the fact that i have a corporeal form that can be perceived by others is the source of immense resentment for me.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:24 AM on January 16 [42 favorites]


I get less social interaction than I want, and I'm mystified that all the lonely people aren't better at being company for each other. Depression? Social anxiety? Not wanting to deal with incompatible people? Difficulty of logistics?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:27 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


I have this a lot, and I'm finding it unlikely that I'm the only person who suffers from it here, so I'm finding the fact that a lot of these responses are pretty glib a little alienating.

I'm busy now, but I do have other thoughts on how this is a useful article with some good pointers, so hopefully I'll be able to respond later in the day.
posted by ambrosen at 5:29 AM on January 16 [38 favorites]


It's insensitive, and this isn't, I don't think, the thread for that.

I agree, I'm sorry for my rather flippant comment. I guess I was trying to say that for someone like me who really enjoys being alone, it feels hard to relate. But yeah I do not mean to in any way be dismissive of other people's pain.
posted by destrius at 5:38 AM on January 16 [20 favorites]


I get less social interaction than I want, and I'm mystified that all the lonely people aren't better at being company for each other. Depression? Social anxiety? Not wanting to deal with incompatible people? Difficulty of logistics?

Probably some of all of that, but at its most basic, it becomes a self perpetuating issue when you don't really have anyone to talk to so you don't go out as much and don't gain the dividends of meeting others through common friends or whatnot. It becomes a lifestyle in itself and one that becomes more difficult to change the older you get, at least until retirement perhaps, if you have that option and move into a senior living apartment. Getting new friends in your forties and fifties without knowing a shared "reference" means negotiating the reality of there being a lot of solitary types who aren't great company or at least not easy to match personalities to and many people have longer standing friendships that don't need additions for already being fulfilling enough. The longer it goes on the more one's own personality can start to become less adaptable to others and make socializing all the more difficult.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:38 AM on January 16 [34 favorites]


Depression? Social anxiety? Not wanting to deal with incompatible people? Difficulty of logistics?

All possible factors, but I think habit and lack of practice can sometimes play a big part as well. I'm very comfortable with solitude, and currently (due to work and family commitments) I get less time to myself than I would like, but as a result, my instinctive reaction to periods of free time is to dive into doing my own thing and avoid seeking out (or actively turn away) possible activities with others.

Do that for a long time, and it becomes your habitual response to free time, even when you have enough of it (and enough social opportunities) that you could do things with other people without exhausting yourself. Plus you're out of practice at social interaction with people outside family and close friends, because you haven't done it much recently. And your loneliness is not ideal, but is familiar and even comfortable in some ways, so... you just don't do much to break out of it.

On preview, what gusottertrout said.
posted by inire at 5:41 AM on January 16 [24 favorites]


I usually spend my Fridays by myself working on my art/side hustle and damn if I'm not downright squirrely by the time my wife gets home. To help mitigate, I pick up our son from afterschool a bit early as he's pretty good at filling silences and easing me back into humanity.

We have several library patrons whose only social interactions are between them and people behind counters. You can see how that weighs on them (and also library staff who are suddenly having their ears talked off about the first season of The Shannara Chronicles from 2016). We give them a few minutes, but eventually a line builds and they need to be chased away with a broom or something as they no longer recognize social cues for 'this conversation is done now.'
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:48 AM on January 16 [24 favorites]


His commute from Brighton to London means that his working life is “a tunnel” he enters on a Monday and from which no daylight is glimpsed until Friday.
Not to assign blame to anyone who recognizes this in their life but I definitely feel like this tunnel phenomenon has a pretty strong correlation to the weekend isolation. Relationships need some form of care and attention, and I have found for myself when I get consumed with work and don’t take the time during the week to email friends, setup plans, follow through on conversations, or even do research on what I even want to do this weekend, I find myself on a Saturday morning with no plans, no ideas, and no energy to do more than run errands and maybe veg out on a video game or show. And this is also with the advantage of living in a city with a good social circle AND being the sort of person who needs at least one or two weekends with low to zero social interaction to recharge from a socially draining profession. It’s hard to push back against the need to do more work or to get totally swept up in the day to day, but I personally find it difficult to balance the always on demands of modern, continuously connected workplaces with the attention that is needed to maintain healthy social connections.
posted by bl1nk at 5:49 AM on January 16 [35 favorites]


Spending time with people is different from meeting new people--they have different levels of anxiety attached to them, and different levels of actual risk. For me, at least, being alone is reasonably comfortable, but in lots of cases, it's nicer to be hanging around with friends, even if we're both messing around with something on our own in the next room. But that's a different interaction from going out and making friends that I'd be comfortable hanging around with, being "off" instead of being "on" as I am to interact with work colleagues, new acquaintances, etc.
posted by pykrete jungle at 6:09 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


This seems to be about the pain of being single when you would rather have a partner, and how weekends can magnify that, than anything wrong with weekends or singledom in particular. I love quiet weekends when I can get them (actually, there’s nothing I love more than the routine in the second piece of having a quiet Friday, a Saturday preparing to host a party at my place, and then a quiet Sunday — heaven) but I’m also content in my life. The people in the first piece are mostly going through stages of personal change that they’re worried or sad about, so again, the extra time on weekends lets them focus on it. When you’re not happy, you’re especially unhappy given time to sit around and think about being unhappy.

(I don’t mean to be glib but if any of these people are suited to being pet owners, I would prescribe them that.)
posted by sallybrown at 6:10 AM on January 16 [14 favorites]


I guess I have addressed this by getting involved in things like church and causes, to the extent that I could easily never have a moment alone if I wanted. I'm often exhausted after a week full of work and a weekend where I need to be places and fulfill obligations.
posted by emjaybee at 6:13 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


I think it's a really tough problem with no easy solutions. I myself am single and childless, in a relatively new city with few friends, but I've never had any problem doing things by myself, so I will: go to the movies, go to a museum, go read in a coffee shop/bar, record shopping, used book shopping, wander around.

But I also work from home and love it and really think that it gets me out of the house more. When I was working in an office, a lot of times on the weekend you could not drag me out of my apartment for anything.
posted by Automocar at 6:25 AM on January 16 [15 favorites]


One Christmas when I happened to be single and a long way away from family, I spent Christmas Day manning the phone lines for a local charity. After listening to the people who called in, I don't think I complained about loneliness - or anything else - for quite a while afterwards.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 6:27 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


It's definitely partly because I work in an open plan type office and get no peace all day during the week, while also trying to do creative work. And sure, at this point, after nine years living alone I'd like to have someone. But it's also a collective retreat into ourselves and our partners/children for those who have them, as we age and life gets more complicated.

I have a kitty and I love her, but I can't expect her to replace humans.
posted by wellred at 6:28 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


It's interesting that most of the people in the essays seem to be in situations without family nearby.

I do live in my hometown and it occurred to me a couple years ago that one of the reasons why I don't really have extracurricular friends is that my weekends are often kind of occupied by family. My own nuclear family (I have a 7-year-old) and then the extended family (my parents and my inlaws both live here, though the latter are part-time). I work full time so with all that put togeher I just don't have that much free time with which to socialize with people I'm not related to. It's a double-edged sword.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:30 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Wow, yeah, this has become the case more and more for me in my mid-30s, having lost a huge chunk of my primary social circle from my 20s, to the point where I began to become concerned about myself. It's a personal choice to be a hermit, of course, because in my current city there is nothing social to do on the weekends unless you either have kids or want to hang out at a bar. I didn't MIND hanging out at bars, mind you, because usually the owners will put on movie nights or game nights etc to attract regulars, but the drama that came with blending people, loneliness, and booze was too much for me to handle. I've started channeling that loneliness back into creative projects, but it still sort of howls through me like a cold wind if I let it.

Johann Hari's discussion of loneliness, lost connections, and it's link to anxiety and depression also really put a lot of this into perspective, and when I forced myself to start building up a "tribe" again with my coworkers it really, honestly helped. But it also makes me realize that this pain I feel from loneliness is biological and driven by social evolution because I honestly am fine being alone for the most part...until I'm not.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:32 AM on January 16 [8 favorites]


But yes, as someone who doesn't crave social interaction, the article isn't about me - and yes, it's easy to be glib; so I think it's only fair to share my glibbest moment on this topic.

I had a 'friendly' workmate who, as soon as I arrived every Monday morning, would ask me 'Did you have a nice weekend?' and follow up with 'What did you get up to?'

And one morning I couldn't stop myself any more. I replied, 'Oh, just middle-aged things, you know - did the washing, cleaned the carpet, shopped for curtains, walked the dog, watched Antiques Roadshow. What did you get up to? I suppose you went to a night club, spent £20 listening to the same records you've got at home, got blind drunk, got off with someone, took them home and had really bad sex, and when you woke up you were covered in sick and they had cut up all your clothes.'

'Oh... er... you're more or less right, actually,' they replied. And they never asked me again.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 6:36 AM on January 16 [22 favorites]


In the UK, I've never been able to afford to live close to work (Cambridge and then London, both property price hotspots), or near my family (Thames Valley, another one), and so I've never had friends, colleagues or family living anywhere close by. Right now, I think my nearest friend lives 50 miles from me. I'm single. I have no children. Also, I can't drive, so I'm at the mercy of weekend engineering works on the railway. Meanwhile, the long commute makes it impractical for me to go to any sort of weekday evening event in the town where I live... and besides, meeting new people terrifies me. I'm heavily introverted and I'm glad to have time to myself, but I absolutely recognise the kind of weekend loneliness described in the article.

However, I very seldom suffer from it any more, even though I spend almost every weekend entirely alone. Things that have helped me:

- Moving to a job where plenty of my colleagues are also single, and are happy to have a drink (or go to a talk, or whatever) near work in the evening.

- Realising that I can treat my weekends like tiny holidays, using my season ticket to travel into London for free and explore the city. There are so many things to discover in London, it's wonderful. If I spend Saturdays in the city, visiting exhibitions and craft fairs and just wandering around looking at things, and Sundays reading or baking or wandering in the countryside for balance, I'm too busy enjoying myself to beat myself up for not having found a partner.

- Avoiding TV advertising like the plague. Turns out it's not good for my mental health to be subject to the barrage of "this is how you're supposed to live, this is what your household is supposed to look like, this is what you're supposed to care about" messages implicit in all the adverts showing Normal Family Life as the backdrop for the product they're trying to sell.

I am still pretty terrified about retirement, though. I don't imagine housing's going to get any more affordable over the next 25 years, so I don't think I should be relying on being able to move house, and the train to London is *awfully* expensive without an annual season ticket.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 6:39 AM on January 16 [28 favorites]


It's insensitive, and this isn't, I don't think, the thread for that.

That joke isn't funny anymore?
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:43 AM on January 16


"Being lonely centres around the feeling of being unappreciated. There’s nobody to talk to on a minute to minute basis."

This is definitely true, and a reason why Weekend Loneliness can extend into the week (for me). Workplace interactions hardly do anything to make me feel appreciated. There's simply none of that. Then I go home, where there's no-one else, and there hasn't been and isn't going to be anyone else there. And that extends to the weekend.

As for the minute-by-minute basis, this is also true, and it's a big part of why I rely on Facebook so much. For all of its faults (and there are plenty), it gives me something resembling social interaction with people I actually like and appreciate, without having to set up specific times and places where scheduled socializing will occur.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:50 AM on January 16 [14 favorites]


" It's insensitive, and this isn't, I don't think, the thread for that."

A user expressing thoughts and feelings on a matter of downtime socially is not an attack. Telling people that their adjacent thoughts to a thread is violence is, however, meta.
posted by NoThisIsPatrick at 6:51 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


When I was single most recently, weekends - even when I went out and did things on my own, which I always did because otherwise I'd feel unsure about even getting out of bed - were just a black pit of "you are single and alone and have no friends and all these other people are out here with friends and family and significant others and kids. Get ready for this to be the rest of your life." Being extroverted and lonely is really hard and there are a lot of places where it is hard to make friends, even if you go to the same class every week or try out a religious organization or go to political events or are a regular at a bar or whatever. I'm at a weird stage in work and my two friends have both moved, and I've had a hard time If I wasn't dating someone, I wouldn't really have anyone consistent to talk to other than my boss, right now. It's all well and good to be above the "you should have a partner and kids" messages of society, and to feel better alone without people, but there's no necessary virtue in that. If you're someone who doesn't feel better alone, and you're someone who wants friends or a partner or a family, loneliness is a thing that really sucks.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:51 AM on January 16 [31 favorites]


This is part of the reason I joined a swim team originally. It's made my life immeasurably better, even as I got older, got married, etc. People left to have babies and then came back as the kids got older. Everyone I've known for 10+ years is pretty much from this time. It is regular — there is a work out every day, not that most people go every day; there is a social component, with people going out for brunch after practice on the weekends and going together to meets and open-water races; there is a wide range of ages in participants so it's not all in lockstep. It doesn't have to be swimming, of course, but I do wonder why these folks haven't gotten them into something that happens regularly enough that you can slowly build a community out of it.
posted by dame at 6:53 AM on January 16 [6 favorites]


[Facebook] gives me something resembling social interaction with people I actually like and appreciate

Ah, good point: as well as the helpful things I mentioned earlier, I also post photos on Facebook in lieu of turning to a friend by my side and excitedly pointing things out there and then, and I chat to a particularly geographically distant friend on FaceTime most weekends. I would definitely feel lonelier without technology.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 6:58 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


I'm an introvert too, but losing the ability to drive, and thus work, has left me in a place where I frequently and unpredictably have chunks of days where my only face to face conversations are with my dog. Even having my husband and daughter as my only social interactions is incredibly isolating. I've become jealous of their ability to go to work and school and interact with a variety of people in mundane ways. To say "you too" when a cashier wishes them a good day. Just little things like that. I thought I'd be fine, because people amirite, but I'm so, so, lonely. Seriously, you don't want this life, no matter how introverted you are.
posted by Ruki at 7:02 AM on January 16 [36 favorites]


Yeah, don't belittle or "envy" this stuff. I like alone time. Thing is, I like alone time so much, that it becomes my default. And then the more alone time I have, the harder it is for me to get out and NOT be alone. And it spirals. Combine that with my past addictions and it becomes a spiral of more and more loneliness, an ever-growing snowball of being alone that gets bigger and bigger, and I cannot even see that I am lonely or how desperately lonely I am.

I'm married to a wonderful person and I think that person has helped to keep me relatively sane over the years. I've seen what kinds of mental stuff lurks in my shared DNA, and eventually the DNA will obsessively collect this alone time more and more and more and then there's nothing, nothing else, and you can't even see that there's anything else.

So this "Oh, how I WISH I had time on a weekend to be alone with a comfy cup of tea LOL!" reaction means this is not about you, not even a little bit.
posted by SoberHighland at 7:02 AM on January 16 [30 favorites]


It's all well and good to be above the "you should have a partner and kids" messages of society, and to feel better alone without people, but there's no necessary virtue in that.

I don’t think there is either, but it seems significant to me that at least some of the people featured didn’t seem to realize that they were dealing with a preference they have for company, extroversion, etc, that they could use the weekend time to get creative about. Both pieces mentioned feeling alienated and unwanted just walking down the street alone, which really is about internal feelings (it’s honestly never occurred to me to feel weird that I’m walking down my street alone—unsafe at night, sure, but not like, branded as “she’s single!!!!”).

The woman in the second piece is really in a pickle if the issue is not having a good partner and only that will fix her loneliness (because they are hard to find!) but it also sounded like she could use some more interesting/varied acquaintances (or at least friends who would invite her to dinner parties regardless of her dating status!), a social club, etc. It’s not virtuous to be more introverted but (a) it can be easier just because you don’t need to seek out as much person-to-person time, and (b) it’s certainly a good thing to sort out what your preferences and needs are and then take action to try and satisfy them, even if not perfectly.

Something the second piece skirts around but doesn’t really delve into—I do find it super alienating how many of my friends went from “single and flexible about making plans and hanging out with anyone” to “I’m in a couple now so we only do activities with other couples.” Including female friends of mine who used to complain about this very thing. It’s almost as if they get a charge from being able to draw a line between single and coupled now that they can be on the “right” side. But that makes me feel alienated like “wow am I the only one who really genuinely wants to hang out with singles and couples,” not “I’m the single one, f;&k!”
posted by sallybrown at 7:08 AM on January 16 [13 favorites]


The "you should have a partner and kids" thing hit me really hard this year after I moved to a smaller city in a rural, conservative county for work. Meetup, political activism, even liberal churches don't really exist unless I drive for 45 minutes to an hour. And - I'm not a person who's unhappy being single, necessarily, but at some point all your friends no longer have time because they have partners and kids.
posted by Jeanne at 7:09 AM on January 16 [15 favorites]


Thanks to all the fellow introverts sharing their thoughts on this; like I said upthread, I find it really hard to relate, but that might really be more of a function of me having just spent a year constantly overstimulated by the kids (1 and 4), and weekends for me being a nonstop whirl of activity that really drains me empty. But I do wonder whether, if I were in the situations described in the article, I'd be happy, or I'd find it tough as well.
posted by destrius at 7:10 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


I get less social interaction than I want, and I'm mystified that all the lonely people aren't better at being company for each other.

I do all the things lonely people are supposed to do to combat loneliness -- sign up for recreation programs, go out for dinner, have a pint at the pub, go to the movies and art museums, all of that. Sometimes socializing happens through those things, but most often it doesn't, and when it doesn't, you can feel so much worse*. That in turn makes it just that more difficult to step out the door to try again.

(*Particularly dining. If your city doesn't have a culture open to solo diners, eating out by yourself can be a downright shitty experience where singles' exclusion is reinforced. It's a longstanding bugbear of mine.)
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:16 AM on January 16 [30 favorites]


I have social anxiety to the point of social phobia and one thing one of my therapists told me was being around people is kind of like a muscle for folks like me. You kind of have to use it or you lose the functionality. And I definitely go feral after a while. There's definitely a limit for me, where it goes from "This is nice" to "I am going to Get Weird".

For an example, I briefly lived in a small town in Alabama and got laid off, so it was just me and my wife, and she was working. While I do like having some time to myself, eight hours a day with no one to talk to would basically turn me into one of those castaways that forgets how to speak and be human. So I would go to the town grocery store or Wal-Mart just to be around people and have a conversation and retain some basic functionality in humaning.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:18 AM on January 16 [37 favorites]


And I definitely go feral after a while.

That's me. Married with no kids, turn 50 this year. Even when I was working, most of the people my age have kids, and I saw more and more that their minds were either: at work on something work-like at that minute or making quick small talk once in a while, but mostly tuned into their home/kid life while at work. And it makes sense! If you have kids, you need to take care of them! They need lots of attention. But childless middle-age does have an alienating quality.

It also has a lot of benefits. But it's easy to get trapped in that tunnel, as mentioned metaphorically in the article. I just have to train myself (I'm doing this, more and more, more or less successfully nowadays!) to know and be aware of this tunnel.
posted by SoberHighland at 7:25 AM on January 16 [5 favorites]


I am somewhat introverted, with an intensely social/collaborative job. But while I definitely want and need some total down time on the weekends, that's different than when I am facing an entire weekend alone and with no social activities at all planned.

Bars are fun and I'm comfortable going alone and chatting with people at the bar, but I've never in my life had casual bar chatting, even where I was a regular, turn into a deeper friendship. So I think of that as a thing that gets you out of the house and forces some socializing, but not something that will change the dynamics, if that makes sense.

At least in the US, a lot of metro areas are very sprawled out, so getting together with people casually requires coordination and planning, as well as being willing to commit to the travel time, parking costs, etc. It isn't as simple as walking down the street and hanging out. (And add in dating to that, and/or kids, and you are in the position of having to put in a huge amount of effort to get very uncertain results.)

So all of that to say that while I am pretty happy with the balance I have right now, it isn't perfect, and I can understand and relate to the issues being described.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:28 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Particularly dining. If your city doesn't have a culture open to solo diners, eating out by yourself can be a downright shitty experience where singles' exclusion is reinforced. It's a longstanding bugbear of mine.

I assume this varies by city, but here (London) it seems in my very limited experience to divide by fanciness - not nearly as many solo diners at high-end places as at mid-market / casual places. Possibly because the number of dirty looks you get for doing something non-meal-related to occupy yourself (phone, book, full broadsheet newspaper) seems closely correlated with menu prices. Although if you're going to watch YouTube at the table put your headphones in for god's sake.

A user expressing thoughts and feelings on a matter of downtime socially is not an attack.

Good thing no-one said it was, eh?
posted by inire at 7:29 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


You know, it's funny - I don't think of myself as a social person and I have a standing weekend coffee with my best friend (also not a social person; both of us have a pretty gloomy view of the world) so when I think about it I feel that my social needs are met.

And yet, after several months of missing it, I returned to my once-a-month dinner with another friend followed by bookgroup and found myself feeling extraordinarily more cheerful the next day - I'd been really, really down, and the bookgroup plus seeing another friend helped a lot.

Book groups are a big help if you're lonely, as long as you can motivate yourself to attend.

Also, a standing coffee or dinner - it doesn't need to be weekly, but it does help beat some of the "my life is so busy" problem since you can plan around it very far ahead. My weekly coffee is fairly early on Sunday mornings, a time when I seldom have other responsibilities, so it doesn't get canceled very often. Drinks after work the second Tuesday of every month, lunch every other Friday, etc.
posted by Frowner at 7:33 AM on January 16 [10 favorites]


And I definitely go feral after a while.

Oh, wow. Same and that's exactly how I describe it. I went through a long stretch of working from home and feeling isolated and not having family or friends locally. And that's exactly how I felt - like I was starting to go feral.

I knew when my most meaningful conversations in a week were with the grocery store folks or talking to one of my editors for a weekly check-in, that it was time to re-evaluate the level of isolation I'd reached.

At nearly 50 I'm partnered but living separately, about to embark on living with my partner and her kids. I'm both thrilled and scared, because at times when I'm with them I'm thinking "am I ever going to hear silence again?" and then if I stay home a few days without seeing my partner, I start to feel lonely and isolated. Like when we go out of town for a weekend I feel an immediate rush of relief when I'm home, but then about six hours later or maybe the next morning I feel a crash and super lonely.

Our society for sure is built around the idea that everybody is partnered with kids, and doesn't really know how to handle exceptions.
posted by jzb at 7:41 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


I wish there were more structured activities for adults that were low-stakes to just drop in and join and easy to find for people who don't really know what they need. For me, storytelling and theater have been a lifesaver so many times, because I feel comfortable dropping into a set build or a story slam or whatever, and I can find people to interact with. But that's quite extroverted of me, and I recognize that those activities aren't for everyone.

I wish there were more community....places? Just spaces where people, when they think, "Oh, I'm not happy being alone right now," could go and just be where there are other people they could talk to and maybe do an activity or just hang out. There are public spaces, but mostly, they seem like places you go by yourself and don't interrupt others, and I'd like a bunch of places that were free, open, welcoming, and easy to visit.
posted by xingcat at 7:51 AM on January 16 [27 favorites]


"You are single and alone and have no friends and all these other people are out here with friends and family and significant others and kids. Get ready for this to be the rest of your life.

Hardcore relatable. That's something that's been on my mind at this point in my career (and yours) - we keep moving and starting over, and if you're not bringing someone with you as you move, it is exhausting to start from scratch again. (Also, I've now moved to an area not particularly close to a city, where everyone my age is my students, which is... challenging.) At the same time, my job involves being constantly on and surrounded by people constantly during the week, so I kind of need my weekend solitary potato time.
posted by pemberkins at 8:01 AM on January 16 [13 favorites]


Yep. While I'm applying for next places to be, this is something at the top of my mind. Will my boyfriend come with me or will we break up? If I want to have kids but I don't have a partner and move to the middle of Wyoming where I miraculously get a faculty job, will I find a new partner and be able to have kids or will I be single and alone in the middle of Wyoming forever? Should I stay where I am and settle for a non-academic job?

I just don't want to be so damn lonely again.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:11 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


Anyone who wants more social interaction who lives in the DelMarVa area may be interested in checking out Games Club of Maryland. Despite the name, there are also locations in VA, PA, and DE. Most locations allow you to drop in on short notice and stay however long you want.
posted by nirblegee at 8:20 AM on January 16 [3 favorites]


To quote Douglas Adams: "In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn't cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in at about 2:55, when you know that you've had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o'clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul."
posted by BungaDunga at 8:28 AM on January 16 [28 favorites]


I'm single, I am not unhappy being single. I'm largely an introvert. But by mid-afternoon on a Sunday after not talking to anyone all Saturday, I begin to lose my damn mind.

Fortunately for me, I found social partner dancing in college, and it exists in most medium-to-big cities in the US (and many other countries) so I frequently have events I can drop into or go to regularly, and it keeps me from flying entirely off the rails.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:37 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


I've been heavily moderated lately, so I'm being cautious, but I have to say I got CHILLS at the line "Kate has been thinking of fostering children lately". Plz don't bring kids into your life to keep you company!!! Please don't!!! Right reasons exist. Loneliness though?
posted by lextex at 8:40 AM on January 16 [14 favorites]


I think about this off and on, as someone who has gone from a mega-city with excellent public transit and a lively public street life, where I was either living with family or with a roommate, with a wide and varied social circle, who often came over to hang out because my neighborhood was conveniently located to.... living in a much small city where I lived with my partner, didn't have a job (yet, god getting that contract job was so important to my mental health), and had two acquaintances.

When I was living in (weekday) social isolation, going down to the deli to get a juice was so hard. Imagining interacting in a more meaningful way with people was so hard. And having no income (I was living off my savings) made simple things like getting a bus pass feel too expensive, which meant that going anywhere was this calculus of whether or not I had the exact change for the bus fare, and if I would be able to return home on the transfer, or have to pay twice. And yet being on the bus was also nourishing in a weird way. Like "ahh I am part of the teeming mass of humanity and omg that kid is adorable and that's a nice jacket I wonder where they got that."

Co-sign with the people who describe going feral after being alone too long. I realized this when I came back to university early after winter break, before any of my roommates had returned, and caught myself by the end of day two talking to myself in the mirror and deciding easy cheez straight out of the can was a decent lunch option.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:50 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


I studied abroad in college and it was surprisingly a very lonely experience. I genuinely tried, IMO, to fit in with the group of American students I went with, but we didn't have a lot in common. It was obviously hard to break into local social circles. I was on a really tight budget (this also heavily impacts what you can do and where you can go... I would have traveled a lot more on weekends, if I could.) I couldn't get a job on a student visa.

I went on very long walks. I was in the best shape of my life honestly.
I went to movies and coffee shops occasionally for vicarious interaction. I was surprised how it did a lot just to be in the same room with people.


I volunteered at an odd little health food co-op just to get out, which was... honestly it never stopped being sort of awkward and feeling like "god they know I'm just a loser who doesn't have anything better to do and they feel sorry for me" and that's the real hurdle, isn't it? But I can look back now and say "no, this wasn't the most meaningful or best friend experience of my life but it filled some time and I'm glad I did it rather than getting more depressed." I think that's the hardest part when you're already depressed and lonely, the valley between "why bother, the thing is going to be awkward and hard to do" and "do it anyway."
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:50 AM on January 16 [12 favorites]


In case this helps anyone, with assistance from Metafilter and some research focus groups, I made lists of social things that you can do with people who are at least acquaintances, and things you can do to be around people and potentially make friends if you don't have people to do stuff with. These are mostly intended to be relatively low-cost.

THINGS YOU CAN DO WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE AT LEAST ACQUAINTANCES

Have a potluck meal
Go shopping
Go on a walk or hike
Exercise or play a sport
Go out to eat
Cook together
Go out to a movie
Volunteer
Go to a museum or exhibit
Go to a garage sale or thrift store
Get coffee or tea
Text
Go to see live music
Work on an art/craft project
Go to a trivia or Bingo night
Go to a book club
Have a game night (ex: cards, puzzles, board games)
Hang out together
Do something nice for them
Ask them about something that's going on in their life
Go to an art or culture event
Tackle your to-do lists together
Do an outdoor activity together

SOCIAL THINGS YOU CAN DO ON YOUR OWN

Take a group exercise or yoga class
Volunteer
Go to a professional networking event
Attend an event listed on Meetup.com or Facebook events
Take a hobby class (ex: dancing, art, cooking, improv)
Join an exercise group that meets regularly (ex: running, hiking, dog walking)
Join a group or club organized around a shared interest (ex: books, music, film)
Attend a free lecture, seminar, book reading, or other public presentation
Take your dog or a friend's dog to the dog park
Go to the gym
Go to a coffee shop
Use Bumble BFF or OKCupid to find people who want to be friends
Attend an art walk
posted by quiet coyote at 9:02 AM on January 16 [48 favorites]


Also, if you have the least bit interest or talent for music, try a choir! Most towns have one with no auditions and the point of no-audition groups is that you really, truly, don't need to be a "good singer." They are literally there to be a community and enjoy song, not to win awards. You spend most rehearsal time rehearsing, so it's a bonus for people who feel awkward about making small talk. It's social without having to do a lot of conversational work.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:15 AM on January 16 [4 favorites]


I'm strongly reminded of this Ezra Klein interview with former surgeon general Vivek Murthy about loneliness. In particular, Vivek's explanation of how being lonely actually makes it harder to approach and interact with other people: that loneliness makes you perceive other people as more hostile and social interaction as more risky. As someone prone to loneliness spirals, I found it to be a really enlightening conversation.
posted by Kilter at 9:44 AM on January 16 [23 favorites]


I feel like couples-only dinner parties are much more of a feature of a certain class stratum in English life than they are elsewhere, which seems to be exacerbating the problem for some of the people profiled.

No doubt part of the problem is our city design. I get chills sometimes going through these suburbs where clearly the entire meaning of your non-work life is meant to be found in the house, with the family, because there's basically nothing else for miles! Must be terrible for those without family. No matter how great a lull in my social calendar (I swear, all my more-distant friends like to schedule stuff within the same two week period and then I hardly see any of those people for six weeks), there's only so isolated you can get as long as you can go outside in Manhattan.
posted by praemunire at 9:46 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


I find it hard to meet people that share my interests. They’re not even super specific or weird, at least by Metafilter standards haha! Moving home is not an option for many reasons but I was far less lonely there.

I get on great with my colleagues but we’re all remote. We have a great time we all get together in the same country. But our company wouldn’t be as great if we hadn’t hired people from all over the place.

Anyways. I wish I had more luck meeting people in person who wanted to talk about sci-fi or Jane Austen or ancient civilizations (in a not conspiracy theory way). Or comics or books in general!

(If I meet one more seemingly sane person who brings up aliens and Ancient Egypt again I’m gonna get arrested.)

So yes. I spend a lot of time alone and lonely but not for lack of trying and doing the things to do (game nights, pub quiz, social events, charity, etc )
posted by affectionateborg at 10:02 AM on January 16 [6 favorites]


The discussion here and everyone's takes on the article are really interesting!

It's worth reiterating that loneliness (as it is defined in the article & most scholarly work anyway) is a subjective feeling about yourself & your place in relation to other people/the world, not necessarily the objective amount of time you spend with others. That's why people in miserable marriages often report high levels of loneliness, even if they are objectively around someone else a large proportion of the time, and why you can feel lonely at a party. As someone noted above, not being coupled was key to the loneliness of most individuals quoted in the article. Their feelings seemed to stem not just from objective time spent with a partner but also from their perceptions of exclusion/difference (e.g., coupled people have more social currency). The meanings attached to spending large amounts of time alone therefore seem to dictate whether someone actually feels lonely.

I completely understand the comments about how great a weekend without speaking to anyone sounds, because I feel part of the social fabric so to speak (nice work colleagues, a few close friends, partner and kids) even if I don't always feel I have enough time to spend with particular people and struggle to maintain less close friendships. Instead I feel like I can never get enough alone time, especially as a huge introvert, so time without other humans around is basically a prize and something that I covet. This is not to devalue or minimize the loneliness of the folks in the article or anyone else, just to say that being alone and loneliness are only partially correlated. As another self-example, when I was a single parent of a young child plus working fulltime I was around other people pretty much constantly, yet still felt very lonely in similar ways as the people in the article (I.e., feeling as though I had less social currency as both a single person and parent, sadness that I had no partner to share life and the experience of parenting with).

Tldr: loneliness is about the meanings you attach to being alone and your perception of yourself in relation to others in your social world, and probably has more to do with feelings of inclusion/exclusion than it does objective time spent with other people.
posted by DTMFA at 10:04 AM on January 16 [28 favorites]


Yes. Exactly. It’s possible to feel lonely even when you’re surrounded by otherwise decent people if you’re not feeling a connection to them.
posted by affectionateborg at 10:12 AM on January 16 [9 favorites]


the train to London is *awfully* expensive without an annual season ticket

If you’re over 65 and live in a London Borough you can get a Freedom Pass and travel for nothing. Or if you’re over 60 you can get an ‘over 60’ Oyster card. The latter costs a one-off fee of £20 but then public transport is free (can’t do overground before 10 am). I thrash my over 60 Oyster pretty hard.
posted by Segundus at 10:47 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]


No, but seriously, a post about loneliness, in which people have talked about feeling painfully lonely in their present lives, is not the appropriate place to express a desire for more alone time. Please, please stop doing that.
posted by Ruki at 11:04 AM on January 16 [42 favorites]


There's no real space here for me to share but as a person in the same demographic but with a disability so relate to the article.
posted by kanata at 11:21 AM on January 16 [7 favorites]


I have a pretty large set of friends-to-friendly acquaintances locally (and a great many more if we include those I only interact with on Facebook, via text, or the occasional phone call), and have engaged in enough different kinds of activities that I have a number of different options most nights of the week for places I could go and spend some time with familiar faces who would welcome me.

And yet, I feel crushingly lonely most of the time. My work careens wildly between always-on, full days of classes and meetings and events, and total isolation, and I'm currently in the midst of a period of overwhelm on both ends of that spectrum that will last for at least the next few months. I can't take any breathing room before then, so despite my loneliness I have to turn down invitations on the regular.

I've been the person who found themselves becoming overly chatty with the 7-11 cashier, or talking a coworker's ear off on Monday morning after a weekend of no interaction, so I relate completely to the article. Complaining about loneliness in my current circumstances feels overly dramatic, but as mentioned above, it's all about perception. I don't have time right now to socialize, but I really miss having someone around to get me through this intense time without going completely bananas.
posted by Superplin at 12:20 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


I don't think that there's any conflict between the statements "I require a certain amount of alone time/I have a limit to the amount of time that I want to spend at any given social function" and "I am still not getting enough social contact to meet even my modest needs." They're both often true in my case.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:22 PM on January 16 [16 favorites]


I'm not very good at planning or following through on social interaction outside of work, but I'm really glad my new job involves regular interactions with the general public. I'm pretty much always happy to talk to anyone as long as it doesn't make other people wait longer. It's really helped me feel a lot more connected with the world, even though these conversations are generally not at all personal.

Other than that, though, MeFi Chat is where most of my daily social interaction happens. All y'all are welcome to stop by anytime. If nobody seems to be active, say hi and wait a bit, someone'll notice the next time they open that tab or log in.
posted by asperity at 12:49 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Service clubs and local non-profit organizations help to fill in my evenings and weekends quite throughly. I serve on 2 or more boards at any given time, and volunteer for many community events. I find that broadly, most organizations are absolutely starving for volunteers. Rotary club, lions club, legions... the majority of old-school service clubs in our community struggle to keep members, as many folks are unwilling to make a standing year-long commitment... while individual events are easier to drop in/drop out of, and often require a load of people on the weekend.

I am absolutely terrible at making friends, and would have none in my community without my job and volunteer activities... by volunteering, I get to know people in a low stakes way emotionally... we're focused on a task, and I don't have to share my feeljngs/past/personal feelings. We just need to collaborate and problem solve together. If I like working with someone, then I offer to help them again... and again. .. and again. Gradually, we get to be friends, and visit outside of events sometimes.

(But truly, I love having a task/event to structure my time with others... just sitting around talking gets too personal, too quickly for me. With a volunteer activity, I can give as much or as little time and information to others as I like, which allows me to bring people into my life at a pace I am comfortable with [read, glacial]. )

Volunteering is the way to go, IMO.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 2:17 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


(Sometimes, I call this way of things "doing the community chores"... unpaid work that is very valuable, and doesn't appear to be a lot of fun/leisurely (like dancing, etc)... but is immensely satisfying and lifts your community up as a whole. There's little thanks, and little recognition, much the same as household chores; as a result, I find that the people willing to dedictate their time and energy to these community chores are often hardworking, passionate folks I am happy to work alongside, and sometimes make friends with.

The joke/line around here at annual general meetimg time is... "What community chores is XXX person signed up for? Oh, nothing yet? We'll fix that!" People will happily press you into volunteer service if you let them.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 2:37 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Various thoughts:

Sometimes I have a particular yen to be invited into people's homes, which doesn't seem to happen. It can seem much better than a noisy bar or bland cafe...

Being a Lyft or Uber driver is good for weekend loneliness, plus you get paid (a little).

I'm really not sure which is worse: intense loneliness and depression while on your own combined with fear for the future, or living with people (family or otherwise) who completely drive you up the wall or are terrible to you in a tiny house that you fear you can never truly flee.

Whoo that was fun to think about. Everybody make sure to never get into either of the above situations I guess!
posted by serena15221 at 3:07 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


I'm a huuuuge introvert, and I like having the option of social downtime - sometimes even multiple days of it in a row! Note that I said option, though - I think a lot of what people are expressing is sadness over not having alternatives to solitude that involve substantial interactions with others.

What I find challenging about weekend and evening loneliness is that it underscores that maybe 98% of my social interaction happens in settings where people are, for lack of a better word, forced to interact with each other, like small talk at work. Again, there's nothing wrong with small talk, but what if it's the the extent of the social interaction you get? Sometimes I would like to have consistent access to people who would talk to me about more than the weather or a work deliverable. Going without that for long stretches of time makes me start to feel unsteady about what I bring to the table socially. Someone earlier mentioned something about imagining interacting in a meaningful way with people being difficult - what happened for me is that I started to lose touch with why people would even actually want to meaningfully interact with me.
My colleagues with families and friends they see often take the implicit assumptions of their interactions for granted: You're choosing to seek out my company, and vice versa, and I know from that choice that we're hanging out because we enjoy being around each other, not because we take the same train home.

Structured social activities like Meetup groups, book clubs, those kinds of things can meet a need for doing stuff, but at least for me, they don't in and of themselves scratch the belongingness itch. You can have great experiences with other people at something that is open to anyone, yet it may not meet the same emotional needs as having even an acquaintance invite you specifically to do something with them. I don't need a bunch of close friends, but I do need to know that people would choose my company. It sounds like a modest need, but it's not one I necessarily get consistently met, even if I am doing stuff with people. To be honest, last year, I did things with friends maybe less times than I need two hands to count.

(So this doesn't sound like all doom and gloom, this past year has been really good for me in terms of developing friendships. Because people are busy and I don't want to appear needy, though, I still don't really have local people to consistently talk to or do things with.)
posted by blerghamot at 3:15 PM on January 16 [11 favorites]


Being a Lyft or Uber driver is good for weekend loneliness, plus you get paid (a little)

I've had a few drivers who were retired and just driving to be able to talk to folks.
posted by octothorpe at 3:18 PM on January 16 [8 favorites]


I think a lot of what people are expressing is sadness over not having alternatives to solitude that involve substantial interactions with others.

Blerghamot, I think you're right, and this is definitely a difficult set of circumstances to be in that can lead to profound loneliness. And that is an awful situation for people to be in.

I think that we should try not to devalue other kinds of loneliness as well, that arise from different circumstances. For example, loneliness because someone is failing to connect meaningfully with others in their life, is experiencing a strong disconnect between what they want/expect their social relationships to be and what they are, or is around people all the time but not in a role that fulfills any of their social needs. All of these are valid reasons why someone might feel soul-crushingly lonely.

Loneliness is a complex and subjective thing, y'know?
posted by DTMFA at 3:47 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


> You can have great experiences with other people at something that is open to anyone, yet it may not meet the same emotional needs as having even an acquaintance invite you specifically to do something with them.

You put that so well. We want to feel important and included, and a "Hey everyone, come on by if you're free!" invitation rarely meets that.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:54 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


It's remarkable to watch the coupled group split as they have children.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:47 AM on January 16


Right. split from each other, also from the couple, lol. I'm in a couple with a young kid, nearly all my friends are Tios and Aunties, Mostly single, without kids, and I think that works. Family without the family baggage, I suppose.
posted by eustatic at 4:03 PM on January 16


Being a Lyft or Uber driver is good for weekend loneliness, plus you get paid (a little).

This is exactly why I took up Lyft in 2015. I'm thinking about it again, actually.
posted by Young Kullervo at 4:37 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


We want to feel important and included, and a "Hey everyone, come on by if you're free!" invitation rarely meets that.

Yup. When I wrote this, I was really thinking of completely non-invitational events like MeetUps. Going to a Meetup isn't about interpersonal compatibility or intimacy at all - you go, you hope to socialize, but honestly you can continue to go so long as everyone finds each other tolerable. But who chooses to spend time with people they merely tolerate?

I will say, though, that most of my acquaintanceships and friendships in the past few years have grown out of getting to know each other through a Meetup group and then connecting elsewhere. So it can be a means to an end, but doing meetups repeatedly without building outside connections just makes you busy with only very impersonal access to other people's company. That would probably suck.
posted by blerghamot at 4:38 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Side-eye to Kate's friends who use her to fill their tables at the last minute but don't balance this by an occasional party set by her schedule and with other guests chosen with her in mind. A good fill-in guest is a social treasure! Reward her!
posted by clew at 4:50 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


When I first moved to SF in '99 and had few friends and little $$, the weekends were an abyss of nothingness and awful boredom. I can relate.
posted by grumpybear69 at 4:50 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


And yet everyone clamors for a four-day work week.
posted by serena15221 at 5:11 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I've got young kids, a busy work schedule, and generally I treasure any time I get to myself. But most summers my wife and kids travel to spend time with my wife's family leaving me alone for a good 6 weeks. The first couple of weeks are usually fun, I work on various projects and catch up on reading/shows/movies/games that I haven't had time for. But by the last couple of weeks I am definitely lonely. I will go out with friends and still do social things but at the end of the day I'm coming back to an empty house and sleeping with my cats. And this is knowing that my family will be coming back soon. If that was going to be my life for the foreseeable future I don't know how I'd handle it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:42 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


This is me. I am single. My kids are all grown up and gone. I moved to a new town - in a new state! Across the country! I never lived in such a small town before! - a year ago and I am finding I am less. . ebullient about it than I was last year. I am in my mid 50s. I have a job I am not crazy about but it almost pays the bills and I get three day weekends, so until something better comes along, here I am. I have made one actual friend through this job but she's a decade younger than I am and married, so we don't see each other often. On the weekends I talk to my dogs. And the neighborhood deer, and the furniture and the elk and everything, really, but not people, because I don't ever see any people. I might talk on the phone to my daughter or my close friend in a different time zone but mostly, I just walk the dogs and take pictures and play computer games and clean and bake and read and sometimes, but not enough, make art.

I am an introvert. I need a lot of alone time. But it's gotten out of hand and I just don't know how to make it better. When I first moved here I tried harder to get out, I went to the gallery openings and so on, went to the museums, went to the library, went to the political protests, tried to chat with people. But it lead to exactly nothing, which I really think has a lot to do with being not only single, but an obviously not wealthy older woman who is carrying some extra pounds and can't afford to get her hair done or teeth fixed. My theory is that nobody wants to be friends with a potentially batty middle aged woman. Too much trouble. Couples want to hang out with other couples; single men want prettier, younger women; single women are all just as freaky and freaked out, so we avoid each other. At the gallery openings, people smile slightly and move on quickly. So I have sort of stopped trying and as others have noted above, that reinforces itself: I get more and more self conscious and weird and it becomes just too hard to leave the house at all.

The thing is, sometimes it's fine! I really like being alone! I go for long walks on the beach with the dogs and it's great. I even go camping alone; hell, two years ago I camped alone all the way across the country and back and I never felt lonely except when I went into a city. Sometimes, like right now, I am just so happy work is over and my weekend is starting and I'm in my pajamas alone with the dogs. But sometimes, in exactly the same circumstances, I am utterly lonely and I really never know which it's going to be. But I don't have an option right now either way and that pretty much sucks. Recognizing that this loneliness is probably my future too is also just not a great feeling.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:10 PM on January 16 [24 favorites]


And yet everyone clamors for a four-day work week.

Just saying, if I had 3-day weekends every week, maybe I wouldn't feel so low-grade exhausted every day of my life and actually have the energy to go out and socialize.

I'm an introvert and lonely as hell and yet the thought of trying to forge new acquaintances is so draining sometimes that my two-day weekends perform the self-care just to get me through another week.
posted by lesser weasel at 6:57 PM on January 16 [32 favorites]


I used to have such a desperate, aching loneliness when I was married. It felt incurable. And most of the time we were a decent couple, took the dogs on long walks together, went out to dinner, traveled, etc., and I also had great friends and an intense and very social hobby, so I should at least have felt less lonely than someone who doesn't have anyone to talk to or do things with. On the contrary, I'm not sure how I could have felt more lonely, and it was entirely to do with the fact that he was there but not there, that we were completely out of sync, not only physically but in all the ways that friends find warmth, through inside jokes, shared taste in food, being able to comfortably hang out together doing nothing. I got these things from other people but I think I nevertheless felt horribly lonely simply by virtue of having a partner but having everything continually fall flat.

One of my best friends has a partner she loves, a child, good friends, pets, a consuming professional career, a sport at which she excels, volunteer work, etc. On paper she should be one of the least lonely people ever. But she suffers terribly from a relentless feeling of loneliness.

I don't know what the lesson is.
posted by HotToddy at 8:27 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


We need speed dating but for friends.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:32 PM on January 16 [11 favorites]


I too found a whole pile of loneliness, out of a combination of academic nomadism (this August, I will *not*move, and will instead continue to live in the same city for more than three years— for the first time since 2008), partial introversion that leads to going feral if I am alone too long, and a job that involved significant travel for many years.

Back when I was trying to date, I had a hard time getting anything started, since a good first date would possibly have to wait a few weeks for a follow up, by which point meh. When I did eventually find a partner, we lived in the same city for only six months before I moved, and then moved again.

I kept having roommates even after I could afford to live alone, because I wanted to avoid that feral aloneness. And so for me the worst loneliness wasn’t until I moved to a new country, where I didn’t speak the language, and lived on my own. Weekends where I had travel scheduled were fine, but when I was home, especially when I lived in a suburb, the weekend was this awful surprise that snuck up just when the workweek was over, to remind me that I had no friends and wasn’t managing to learn the language and had thus failed to make any plans yet again. I didn’t want to date, as I had a partner— but boy I really could have used some speed dating for friends!

And I also find a kind of loneliness now that I am living with my partner, but it isn’t centered on weekends. Back when we lived on different continents, I had a bunch of regular plans after work during the week, so I got plenty of low-level social with a variety of people. Now I am too tired to do any such things, and weekends tend to be filled with actually spending time with said partner now that our decade living apart has finally ended. So I get enough low level social, but no variety in it.

In conclusion, no state is perfect or easy for making social connections and keeping them up. At least not yet, for me.
posted by nat at 10:44 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


If you’re over 65 and live in a London Borough you can get a Freedom Pass and travel for nothing.

Ah, nice, and the over-60 Oyster sounds really great too. As for me, though, I'm out in the provinces (1h10 on the fastest train), so it's getting to London that's the expensive bit. The current cost of an anytime return is about £60, off-peak return around half that, and a railcard brings that off-peak ticket down to ~£20... but that's still quite a lot. Hence the worry.

But it's very premature worry. I've 25 years to go before retirement age, and a lot can change in that time. I mean, I'm only fifty miles from London, perhaps my town will *be* a London Borough by then.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:55 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


I spend almost all of my time alone. Between December 23 and January 3, I spent all 11 days without talking to anyone besides the people who work at the stores in my neighborhood.

I have a work-at-home contract now and don't have a daily schedule. Some days I sleep until 8 PM and work from then until 2 the next afternoon. Some days I start work at 6:30 AM and stop at 10 PM.

I talk to myself as "we" as in "we need to go to the grocery store."

I sniffle and snort and hack up phlegm without even noticing it - on the phone my mom always asks me if I have a cold.

I yell "fuck!" or "I'm going to call a summit!" or "what the fuck is wrong with you?" all the time.

I make a lot of sounds to remember that I'm still real - tongue clicks, "meehp" sounds, reading out loud whatever I'm typing, banging things around. Sometimes I hear a rhythmic creaking sound and realize that I'm rocking back and forth in my chair.

Sometimes I hate being alone, mostly I like being alone, usually I'm not lonely enough to remember that I am.

When I had a 9-5 job three-day weekends were horrible. Cow-orkers would talk about their plans with friends and family and I'd just hope they didn't ask me about mine.
posted by bendy at 3:31 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]


My 20-year marriage ended early last year, and since then I've been trying to sort out what I actually want by way of a social life, if anything.

All the divorce recovery manuals seem to have a rah-rah-sis-boom-bah-get-back-out-there-tiger orientation that just doesn't work for me? I can't imagine inviting strangers -- or even acquaintances -- into my house. (For one thing, I'd actually have to deep-clean it. I'm not a total slob, but I'm not a fan of dusting baseboards either.) Dating? No thanks. I'd rather see the movie on my own.

I resonated a good bit with mygothlaundry's comment; I, too, am middle-aged and nobody's idea of a pinup. It matters to my confidence in what will happen should I make more of an effort to make friends, and puts actual dating well beyond the pale. I've set myself a goal of finding a congenial volunteer situation this year. We'll see how that goes.

The thing is, though, I've never been a person who socializes, outside of internet-mediated friendships. Not in my marriage, not outside it. My skills haven't got rusty -- I never had them in the first place! So I wonder whether my general contentment with being alone, and disinclination to change that state of being, have more to do with having always been on the long end of the bell curve, versus whatever zeitgeist is being captured in the article.

Uh, this has been very rambly, sorry. tl;dr: I am Bad At Social, always have been, don't really see it changing, not really fussed about it. But definitely understand how it can be a point of pain and/or confusion.
posted by humbug at 5:58 PM on January 17 [6 favorites]


There was a time of several years when I had moved to a new area and only had one or two friends, and I would regularly sit around in my apartment with nobody to talk to but the cats, and speculate that, if I died on Friday night, how long would it take for someone to find my body. I figured for a regular weekend, Wednesday or maaaaybe Tuesday my boss/coworkers might wonder why I didn't show up on Monday. Definitely by Thursday, though.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:57 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]


The article is about the weekend loneliness of urban professionals. It's real loneliness, but it's over-focused on lack of a spouse/ partner. It's the modern malaise of many single women Yeah, testicles are protective against loneliness, amirite? None of the individuals seemed to be doing much by way of making friends, having their own brunches, whatever.

There's a bar nearish that has a good happy hour, and I go in every week or so because the brussells sprouts appetizer is tasty and there's beer and people. I bring a book and feel welcome.

A lot of people experience this loneliness 7 days a week. A friend who is disabled can't even get out much, so limited trips to the library or coffee shop aren't always an option. Lots of people can't afford to go out, don't have good resources nearby, live in the boonies. 🎵All the lonely people Where do they all belong?🎵
posted by theora55 at 3:26 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


We have several library patrons whose only social interactions are between them and people behind counters. You can see how that weighs on them (and also library staff who are suddenly having their ears talked off about the first season of The Shannara Chronicles from 2016).

I've had to remind myself that the employees at the small, independent bookstore near me are working and really can't stop to chat.
posted by mecran01 at 3:30 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


None of the individuals seemed to be doing much by way of making friends, having their own brunches, whatever.

Maybe they've lost the confidence to say "I don't give a fuck what that person thinks" when people criticise them for not having enough of a social life and imply that they should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Because, you know, I'm doing that work as we speak, and it's fucking exhausting and soul destroying, and I just have to keep plugging on and judging how much of each resource available to me I can sustainably use, and you know, it's nice to have my experience recognised.

I don't want a national campaign, I'm just glad to have this one newspaper article that got a little bit of traction, you know. I just needed someone in the world to acknowledge the situation.

To say "You're working hard. Sorry it's not much fun. I appreciate that you probably realise all the things you think you should be doing, and that you are fully aware how many people have things worse. But your problems are also OK for you to feel bad about."

It was a bit of a tough weekend. I lost the grip on one of my bootstraps while I was trying to pull myself up by it. I'll be OK in the long run. I just wanted somewhere to be able to vent that frustration.
posted by ambrosen at 5:01 PM on January 20 [11 favorites]


I've tried to distill what I thought reading the responses on this thread, especially early on.

You can die of drowning, and you can die of thirst. Both are deadly, both are painful. Perhaps this metaphor is too extreme because it's about death, but my goal in life is to understand that even if I'm thirsty to the point of death, it's still possible for others to drown. Someday it might happen to me and I'll wonder if I was ever really thirsty.

As usual, it's about compassion to ourselves and others even if we don't (yet) understand.

For my part, I'm trying to really see people even if they think they're unseen. Feel free to hit me up with a message if you ever need someone to talk to.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:11 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]




> It's the modern malaise of many single women Yeah, testicles are protective against loneliness, amirite?

Nobody says that. Talking about women being lonely, as one of the articles does, doesn't mean that we're saying men are all okay. Sometimes the conversation is about one group of people, sometimes it's about another.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:57 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]


I'm single in a city with no family or friends. I am pretty introverted and like being alone some of the time but I am lonely for a close connection. The thought that I do not have anyone close that could help in a difficult situation causes me anxiety. If I were in an accident and injured and needed someone to help me with certain things I would be in trouble. That worries me as I get older.

I did get a dog which does help the loneliness to some extent. I do a lot of volunteering. I recently started going to the local UU church and some various meetup events without much success. However it's mostly my fault because I am not putting in the extra effort to make something happen. Just showing up is not enough a lot times. On occasion I meet woman I am interested in and ask them out or try and exchange numbers but always get rejected. It really discourages me from putting myself out there.
posted by Justin Case at 12:56 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


On the topic of dismissing men's loneliness: We had an article on the Blue a few months ago about the skyrocketing suicide rate among isolated, rural men. It didn't go great! But yes, we should all keep in mind that all humans are subject to the same emotions, circumstances, reactions, loops, what have you. I find it helpful to remind myself that I don't need to justify my pain, or my joy, or anything really. There's a disability thread and I doubt I'm alone in thinking always in some part of my mind that I don't belong there, others have it much worse, etc. etc. etc. etc.

And that part of my self-talk is not helpful and it's actively out to get me.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:21 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


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