One of the main topics in the news last week was Loneliness. Most of the attention was focused on the elderly, those whose offspring have left the parental home, and/or a partner has died. Apparently, 30% of the UK population live alone and there are 800,000 individuals who are lonely.
My thoughts for the day are: is this by choice, circumstance, or necessity.
When you hear of someone living alone, do you see them as frail, elderly and a potential victim or target? What is classed as elderly these days anyway? 70s, 80s? I am considered old to younger generations and I’ve not hit retirement age, yet I know of several pensioners in their 70s and 80s who are more active, independent and fitter than I am. Just because they live alone does not mean they are lonely either. Many have social circles for company, so have interaction often: outings, lunches, bingo, all for the cost of a ‘club membership’ of £2 or £3 a week.
Is it necessary to live alone? What makes that so? Is it a fear of commitment, or perhaps being afraid to take on the responsibility of someone else? Is it a form of selfishness because they are unable to share anything of themselves, be it personal or possessions? Or is it an issue of personal safety? I cannot say. We are all individuals after all, and what works for one won’t work for another.
I have always liked people. I like striking up a conversation in the supermarket queue or with a dog owner on our walks. I am pretty confident that I can hold my own in conversation with all walks of life without being intimidated or intimidating, as I am genuinely interested in what they have to say.
As a teenager, I hung around with a crowd of workmates so had my fair share of going to parties, nightclubs, the cinema or concerts. Many of you will know though that you can be lonely in a crowd. You’re the one who doesn’t drive, or have the same kind of job responsibility or background, no definite boy/girlfriend, and so can’t really join in the conversation with a ‘personal’ experience. Eventually, people pair off and you soon find yourself without the crowd, and alone.
When my father died, I was glad my mother was living with my sister. Although we all pulled together to share the burden of arranging the funeral and dealing with all the paperwork a sudden death in the family generates, my Mum had someone immediately on hand and thus did not have to face the emptiness left by my Dad’s passing on her own. Naturally, it affected all of us as he left a huge hole in our lives, but after 46 years of marriage, especially hers. Mum has admitted that she could never live alone nor would she want to, and as the situation works for her and my sister (now also widowed), they are both happy.
When my father-in-law died however, mother-in-law seemed happy to be on her own, though we visited and kept in regular contact. She was content to sit in front of her TV all day, and discouraged visits from neighbours or former friends. She wasn’t exactly reclusive, but preferred her own company to the extent of actually being rude and ungrateful to people who cared, yet still expecting them to be at her beck and call. She would have meals delivered in bulk by mail order, but would occasionally go down to the local supermarket on her mobility scooter for lunch (she didn’t drive) and perhaps do a bit of personal shopping. Most of the time though, she declined offers of any outings to shop, and hardly ever used the phone to contact the family. Her world was the TV, having one in the kitchen, lounge and her bedroom, and she would not tolerate interruptions of her preferred programmes by anyone.
When I worked in a High Street bank, it was surprising the number of pensioners who would come to my window on a Monday to withdraw £10 only to pay £5 back in later in the week. For many, it was the only contact they had with other people, and one told me that by making the effort to get out, they felt they were still a part of society. In a time of ATMs and telephone or internet banking, this is now a thing of the past. Even in the supermarkets, some tills are designed for no human contact (but in my experience, aren’t necessarily any quicker!) and no conversation is required.
I know of several people who have always lived alone, have never had a partner or wanted to share their lives with another person. Some are just so set in their ways, having another individual around would just get in their way and upset their routine. Others prefer the company of animals, mostly cats it would appear, but there are a few who just ‘haven’t got around to it’ or those who have never found someone who, in their opinion, is ‘worthy’ to share their life.
I have never lived alone. Even when my first marriage failed, I was lucky to be able to go home to lick my wounds and get my act together with parental support. I remarried in 1991, and cannot imagine my life without my hubby in it. He says I’m the sort of person who needs someone to look after and at the moment he’s ‘It’. The thought of having no-one to share my day, hold my hand when I’m feeling uncertain, cuddle me when I’m feeling low, or pamper me when I’m feeling unwell, isn’t very attractive. Not being able to do all those things for someone else is also not very appealing.
For those who prefer to live alone, are comfortable with it and secure in the way they live, I take my hat off to you.