Loneliness is a taboo subject. In fact, most of us would rather admit to having an affair or carrying too much credit card debt than to admit that we are feeling lonely. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps we see loneliness as a personal failing. Or, maybe we just don’t want to be associated with the images that are connected to loneliness in the media. The truth is that loneliness is nothing to be ashamed of. After all, everyone experiences loneliness at some point.
Women over 60 are used to dealing with stress. Over the course of our lives, we have raised families, navigated careers, built relationships and travelled the world. Many of us have experienced a divorce, separation or death in the family. Through it all, we have emerged stronger than ever.
I love Facebook. It is by far the most powerful tool for keeping up to date with the people in your social network. Like many of you, I have come to rely on the service to know where in the world my friends and family are and what fabulous adventures they are having. There’s a problem though. According to several studies, in certain situations, using Facebook can actually make you more anxious or even depressed.
If you tell someone that you are dealing with loneliness, they will probably give you a list of a hundred things that you can do to meet other people. They may say, “If you’re feeling lonely, why don’t you just take up a new sport, join a dating site, go dancing or find a book club?” If only it were that simple!
Many years ago, I had a good friend who had just gone through a very difficult loss and was overwhelmed with sadness. All I could do for the first few weeks was sit with her while she cried. Over time, she revealed the depth of her guilt and sadness and I realized that it was going to take her a long time to heal.
Loneliness is a huge issue for Baby Boomer women. Many women in their 60s are living alone and, while some of these women are enjoying their new found independence, others find themselves feeling like their lives lack purpose or direction without close social ties. In fact, in a recent Sixty and Me survey, 75% of the women in our community said that they are feeling alone.
We all have moments where we want to be alone. Many older women have built defenses around feelings that are painful or things that they don’t want in their lives. They know themselves well enough to know when to shut the door and be alone.
There is a lot of truth to the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. This is true, not just for inventions, but, for reinventions too! Sometimes what we need to get in the best shape of our lives is a wakeup call from our doctor that our current habits are killing us. Likewise, feeling lonely can be a catalyst for positive change. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Urban living can be exciting for older men and women but city living can also bring on feelings of isolation and loneliness. It’s true that in a city there is an infrastructure more suited to a less mobile lifestyle usually with a public transportation, parks, museums, and education and entertainment opportunities. But we all know that even in a crowd one can be lonely and so it is important to think about specific ways that an urban dweller can avoid isolation and make the most of living in a city.
One of the most important things that I learned from our survey on loneliness is that people who are dealing with loneliness are not starved for interaction – they are starved for intimacy. I don’t mean intimacy in a purely romantic or physical sense.