One is the Loneliest Number

Recently while scanning my Facebook news feed I came across a headline that stated “Being Single will Kill you Faster than Obesity, Study Says” .

I instantly clicked on the link. Being concerned about my health and my single status, I wanted the information, the facts.  And of course, Facebook never lies, right!? The article went on to state that loneliness has been found to be “deadlier than obesity and should be considered a public health risk”.  To me, this is a very different story than the headline stated.  Loneliness and being single are two different things, aren’t they?

I went to my trusty Google search to find some more information regarding this study.  Essentially, the study spoke of loneliness and social isolation as being risk factors for an early demise.  However, the study also spoke of living alone as increasing that risk factor, irrespective of loneliness and social isolation.  According to the 2016 Canadian Census, more Canadians than ever are living alone.  The Census shows that a whopping 28% of Canadians are living solo and this is higher than any other living situation in the Census.  It’s also the largest number of single-living reported in the last century.  Rising levels of solo living, coupled with the study results showing that loneliness, social isolation and living alone are health risks, are we heading for an epidemic? What of the studies or articles or advice of countless psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors that encourage being alone and “finding yourself”?  And where does social media fit in with all of this? It is easier than ever to connect, yet we are more socially disconnected, isolated and, according to documented Census numbers, living alone in greater numbers than we have ever seen in our history.

Last year, while suffering with a broken foot and feeling sorry for myself, I also experienced the painful and heartbreaking end to a relationship.  This ending seemed so different to me.  There were no big fights, unresolved disputes, contrasting life views, there wasn’t even any differences in our future life goals or day to day enjoyments.  I was in love.  We both were.  It was timing.  Brutal, cold, callous, timing.  In the midst of my grief, a friend of mine, who is a physician and aspiring anthropologist, said to me, “We are social beings.  Inherently we want to be in a relationship, to be connected, it’s in our DNA.  If you went off on your own, back in the day, you died.”  She apparently is right on the money.  We inherently do want connection, we want to belong and feel loved and supported.  I also want to give those gifts to others.

While I sat in my apartment nursing a broken heart and a broken foot.  I retreated.  I withdrew.  My job, at that time, allowed me to work from home.  I was no longer able to participate in my social, physical activities and I became more socially isolated.  I was sad.  I was depressed.  And I was lonely.  When I finally reached out to my good friends and family, they were surprised.  Shocked even.  They said, “but you seem so happy on Facebook!” (I will speak to this in a later chapter).  It was through connection, with friends and family, that I regained my balance, and made the changes I needed to in my life to continue to feel more connected and supported.

Now with a healed foot and heart, I’m still living alone and single, both of which are hazardous to your health.  I’ve been considering the concept of loneliness in contrast to being alone.  I’m not afraid of being alone, but I do fear feeling lonely.  It’s the awful, gnawing, gut wrenching-ness of it that is inescapable that I fear.  That being said, I’ve been in relationships and felt lonely.  Being in a relationship does not exclude you from feeling lonely and being on your own does not guarantee the same.  How do we make sense of all of this, especially in light of recent studies?  Will this inspire us single folk to “settle down” with the wrong person to avoid premature death from loneliness? I certainly hope not.

Do I ever feel lonely? Absolutely, sometimes.  When the nagging feeling of loneliness presents itself, I’m going to lean into it.  I’m going to feel it, explore it and figure out what about it frightens me.  But for now, I’m going to attempt to be present in every moment and smile at strangers, perhaps even start up a conversation, after all it’s good for my health!


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