It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“The majority of lonely people (62.5 percent) were married or living with others — an indication that feeling lonely and being alone are not the same. ‘It’s not the quantity but the quality of your relationships that matters,’ said Dr. Carla M. Perissinotto, a geriatrician who led the study. ‘You can’t tell who may be feeling lonely. It’s not just a little old lady living all alone.’” (“A Longer Life Is Lived With Company,” New York Times, 9/11/2012)
The study mentioned above found what anyone who’s ever read this blog already knows: Make friends, live longer. But the interesting finding, IMHO (that’s webspeak, I just learned, for In My Humble Opinion. Aren’t I hip?), is the note that the people who qualify as lonely aren’t necessarily the ones in isolation.
Intuitively, we know this. Maybe the loneliest you’ve felt was at a party full of people. Or you were alone at the movie theaters, enjoying Les Miz, and felt totally content. Personally, one of my loneliest times was when I realized I was short on local friends. This, even though I was newly married, had family less than a mile away, and went to an office full of ladies every day. Loneliness isn’t about how isolated you are, it’s how isolated you feel. It’s about self-perception. After all, plenty of people who find themselves in the exact opposite situation as I was in–surrounded by friends but lacking a romantic partner–feel lonely, too.
According to Perissinotto, the necessary next phase of research is to find out why people are lonely. A pretty valuable first step given that apparently 20 percent of the population is chronically lonely. 20 percent! That’s nutters.
Tell me: Have you ever felt lonely in a situation where you were anything but alone? Was it hard to talk about? Personally, I hated saying I was lonely, even when I was, because I felt like I sounded ridiculous. “I just got married and am constantly surrounded by people… I’m so lonely!” It sounds like melodrama, even if it’s real. Have you been there?