There’s no question that having a support system and a sense of community is important as we get older. Face-to-face friendships matter. Study after study report that friendships are vital to longevity, and to our physical and mental health.
“Why do I feel lonely in a group?” This was the question that one of my friends asked as we sat in a coffee shop after a trip to the gym. She explained that, since she was still working, she was always surrounded by other people. But, she still felt lonely most of the time.
Loneliness is a complex problem. For starters, being alone is not the same as being lonely. Our feelings of loneliness come from how we interpret our situation, not from the simple fact that we are by ourselves.
A recent study saying that loneliness and social isolation are a major health hazard is no surprise to millions of people who are alone and lonely. Not having the fundamental human experience of connectedness is painful and even dangerous, especially if you are older.
One of the most common misconceptions about loneliness is that it goes away as we add more people to our lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, many people that I know have 100’s of “friends” on Facebook. They may even live with someone else. But, they still feel lonely.
The Internet is probably the greatest purveyor of communication since the printing press. Thanks to that brilliant invention, the world is now virtually connected with the click of a mouse.
According to the AARP, 51 percent of people over 75 live alone. That’s 15 million people in the U.S., including 27 percent over 65. Of those numbers, 26 percent face an increased risk of death due to subjective feeling of loneliness.
Most boomer women have a strong work ethic and derive a great sense of identity from their work. After all, many of us started working when we were 15 and have worked for 45 years, so when work ends, there is often a huge void in our lives. This leaves many of us looking for ways to avoid loneliness in retirement.
Caregivers are usually dependable, persistent, detailed, vigilant – and seemingly tireless. But not many people would characterize caregivers as lonely. Yet as a caregiver, I have experienced many periods of loneliness. Depending on your circumstances, you may feel the same way.
Being an aging single introvert, I find that I am now more confident in recognizing and stating my need to be alone. At the same time, when I’m in a social setting, I’m also more confident than I used to be – maybe because I have had the time to recharge my inner battery.