The American Loneliness Phenomenon
Polls tell us that 27 percent of Americans aged 60 or older live by themselves, more than anywhere else in the world. Older people in other countries, on the other hand, most often live with an extended family, as was once common here. Even older married couples tend to live without anyone else; more childless married couples, or those without children at home, live in the United States than the rest of the world. We’re number one! USA! USA!
I’ve been thinking about what is a very real epidemic of loneliness, especially in America. Rugged individualism gone wild. A lot of this is due to the unfortunate prevalence of dysfunctional immediate and extended families. I know very few families where there isn’t an often inexplicable dispute between parents and children, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins. Many of the lonely I have known personally have been in this situation. Rejected by their parents, or having rejected them. Not talking to a sibling or sibling for years, even decades. Ostracized from their children or grandchildren. Facing the sad prospects of old age alone. Is this what anyone really wants?
Sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s new book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone documents the emerging “singleton” demographic, which he calls the “biggest unnamed social change of the last 50 years.” While Klinenberg tries to spin this optimistically, I consider it an anti-human, anti-culture tragedy of the highest magnitude. We often hear a lot of rhetoric, especially from conservatives, about “family.” But in reality, America rejected traditional family values many decades ago. The explosion of nursing homes in the last half of the twentieth century alone is testament to that.
While there are no doubt some hale and hearty exceptions to the rule; frontier-like throwbacks, I think most people who live alone do so involuntarily. Males, especially, are prone to the loneliness phenomenon. I have known many, and still know many. By and large, these males are alone because they couldn’t attract a mate. Again, there are exceptions, but in the vast majority of these cases, the male wasn’t being overly picky. The women were. If things are bad now, just wait until all the Incels out there start aging. Maybe they can program the sex dolls to engage in some kind of meaningful conversations.
I’ve known lonely women, too, but that is far more rare. Mostly, lonely women are either incredibly eccentric or mentally ill. And not attractive enough to compensate for that. Men will tolerate a whole lot of quirkiness if a female is good looking. In reality, almost all women can find somebody. Males are not renowned for being choosy, as mothers used to be about Jif peanut butter, according to the advertisers.
The statistics tell a sobering story. In 1950, 22 percent of American adults were single, accounting for 9 percent of all households. Today, more than 50 percent of American adults are single; about one out of every seven live alone. They comprise 28 percent of all households. For the elderly, the difference between America and the rest of the world is stark. While 2/3 or more of older people in countries like Iraq and India live with younger family members, only 6 percent of Americans do. Thanks to cultural drift, powered to a great extent by nonstop media and “educational” propaganda, most American children and grandchildren reflexively put Grandma and Grandpa in what everyone- even they- recognize are monstrous, expensive facilities where they will be mistreated. And have their fortunes depleted.
You know the brainwashing has been effective when children are willing to lose their financial legacy, just for the convenience of not having to take care of those who changed their diapers, fed and clothed them, and taught them all they needed to know. Money usually talks. But not in the case of our elderly, who are treated abominably in this country. In the Asian world, in Africa, in the Middle East- basically all the nonwhite cultures- elders are given the greatest respect by all. I remember being in a Korean friend’s home a few decades back, and watching how all the females in the home- and it was a very un-American like extended household of children and their spouses- waited on him, as the patriarch of the manor, like he was royalty.
Americans don’t refer to their older members of the population as “elders.” But we do get all those cool senior citizen discounts. Isn’t that enough? Sure, there are a lot of older people who have accumulated years, but learned very little. They can certainly be as ignorant as those younger than them. But the concept of honoring age is, I think, a good one. It doesn’t have to be a mindless tribute, but older people ought to be accorded what used to be called “respect for your elders.” I can’t think of anything sadder than the elderly, some still coherent enough to feel loneliness, bored beyond measure in their tiny rest home room, waiting in vain for a loved one to visit. This has been sadly exacerbated over the past year, of course, thanks to the absurd, unconstitutional COVID restrictions.
I have known people who, because they died alone, weren’t discovered for several days. “Wellness checks” are another aspect of the “new normal” that we all know and love in America 2.0. A close friend who undoubtedly would have been in such a situation had, I guess you’d call it the good fortune, to drop dead at a restaurant one morning in 2016. Otherwise, it would have been me calling the police to check on him, after not hearing from him for a few days. Like too many, he had several siblings. I saw how little they cared about him at the memorial service, as they kept furtively checking their watches. Like so many other lonely people, he deserved a better fate.
We are all social creatures. Yes, there are the outlier true loners, who prefer no other company. But almost all of us like to have someone around; to talk to, to hug, to advise and take advice from. You don’t find loners in the animal kingdom. If we can’t count on our blood relatives to love us enough to at least check up regularly on us, then what can we count on? Some of those I know who live alone have been cast aside by “religious” parents, who go to a nondenominational church regularly. Love your enemy? No one does that, least of all the very devout. Love your neighbor? No, but call the police if their car has expired license tags. Love your children? I guess not, in some cases.
Maybe I care so much about the subject because I hate being alone. I fear being left alone. I don’t think my children would ever abandon me, but maybe other parents didn’t think so, either. The Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino powerfully exposed what is an all too common dynamic in modern American families. I guess if they could get most American women to see babies as impersonal “fetuses” that have no rights, they can demonize the elderly. Remember all those TV shows and movies where the adult man or woman is distraught over an upcoming visit from their parent/s. It’s depicted as a traumatizing event, not as a welcoming reunion with your closest loved ones.
We are often coldly reminded that we go out of this world the same way we came in- alone, and with nothing. I wish all the Americans utterly devoted to adopting rescue dogs and cats could save a bit of that empathy and compassion for their parents, or children, or siblings, or grandparents, or lonely aunts and uncles. If you can’t stand to visit a lonely loved one in person, or even give them a weekly phone call, at least buy them a life alert, or make sure they have a cell phone. Sometimes, they don’t die from heart attacks. Or broken hearts. They can easily fall, and not be able to summon help in time. Didn’t we all watch the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercial?
Charity begins at home, says the wise but oft-ignored old adage. America does the opposite, whether it’s a foreign policy giving aid to other countries instead of our own needy citizens, or individuals opting to donate to soulless charities that use most of the contributions for overhead expenses, or rescuing animals, rather than taking in a loved one who’s all alone in the world. Or even interact regularly with them. No free healthcare for even the poorest Americans, but illegal immigrants pay no medical expenses. Your money’s no good here, amigo! Our horrendous government has put the interests of average Americans last for a long time. Why, though, do so many individual Americans put their own loved ones last?
All the lonely people out there, like all the homeless ones, have a story to tell. How they wound up lonely. How they ended up being homeless. I don’t think very many choose to be alone. The relatives who neglect them, however, do choose to do so. I have so many friends on social media who are alone. I’ve spoken to some on the phone. One of them recently vanished from Facebook, and I’ve lost her number. I worry about her. I hope her family cares enough to check on her. I chat and text with other lonely people I’ve never met. So many are starving for attention. And affection. Maybe I’ll start a Lonely Hearts chat service. While some lonely people are understandably suicidal, not all are. We have suicide prevention hotlines. Why not loneliness prevention hotlines?
If you have a relative living alone, call them. Better yet, go see them in person. Bring them some carryout, or preferably a home cooked meal. The Incels need sex. The lonely need companionship. A pat on the back. An assurance that they haven’t been forgotten. Giving is better than receiving. Helping others can be incredibly rewarding. As someone once said, the best deeds are those that can never be repaid. Do onto others.