It hurts but let’s face it: today, loneliness is a plague and this is not a cliché. A great percentage of men and women in the younger ages (mostly but not solely) of adult life go through long periods without a companion – often without even “the game”. Frequently, this situation is turned into an attitude – projected proudly as a conscious choice. However, something tells me that, when uttering these words, the eyes are clouded and moist and that the pride of said choice is yet another sugar-coated pill in a life systematically far from completion…
Let’s start from the beginning: Humans are social animals. Their social and emotional needs are fixed and constant. Even if we exclude periods of intense anxiety, independently of the cause (loss of a beloved person, serious health issues, loss of work, etc.), the need for companionship is steady.
However, today’s society has unconsciously imposed two counter-motives for companionship: the first is limited free time as a result of time-consuming working (or other) obligations; the second is the inability to lower the bar of “minimum standards” that a potential companion must fulfill. So let’s examine these issues.
Working for a living is not only necessary but admirable as well. Trying to perform successfully in your working obligations is an ethical stance. For many people, work constitutes an important value – a value in itself. Yet, work put aside, there is a field of activities that we choose (consciously or unconsciously) driven by an underlying angst to fill our time. A second Master’s degree, so that we can further progress at work. An athletic activity, in order to stay fit. A third foreign language that we always wanted to learn. A trendy hobby that our local community is organizing (knitting, hiking, jewelry, -making, etc.). The friend of a friend who needs our support. And this is more or less how, because we are almost not allowed to stay inactive, we end up running around constantly and, at the end of the day, find ourselves knackered in an empty bed; not being able to sleep due to tension and getting even more anxious about how we will get up the next day and go to work.
It’s amazing how much guilt has been attached to doing absolutely nothing. An explosive combination of histrionic mothers’ middle-class competition remnants (Your child is learning French? Mine just started Swahili) and hectic everyday rhythms, as systematically imposed by companies (Tomorrow we’re going to the countryside with the latest i-phone) has set modern people in constant motion – very much like that of a cat chasing its tail. The epitome of loneliness deriving from these standards are selfies. In the past, photos showed many people together. Today, the trend requires you to upload your supposedly sexy duck-face and your legs.
I strongly believe that a big part of our “obligations” can and should be revised as of less importance, based on the fact that time is limited and, therefore, precious; also, since you cannot carry any more bags if you have your hands full.
So let’s move onto the second operative cause for widespread loneliness: the impossibly high standards. For better or worse, the younger generations have grown up without wanting for much. As a rule, we didn’t lack basic things; for instance, home, family, food, water, education, health. It wasn’t until very recently (with the financial crisis) that things we took for granted, like those mentioned above, stopped being a given. But for those who were born between the 1970s and the 1990s (people between the ages of 25 and 45 today) the basics were self-evident. The consequence of this fact was that people’s “problems” moved to the level of secondary desires. “I’m learning English; might as well start German, too.” “I have a purple dress… Let’s buy a purple coat, too. And a petrol coat. And a petrol scarf.” “I know how to do pesto. Let’s try arrabbiata!” And so on…
This is how, almost unconsciously, it became normal to expect a companion to be perfect in every sense. A man? Handsome but not complacent. Intelligent but not cunning. Loyal but not to be taken for granted. Hard-working but not a workaholic. Self-made but with free time as well. From a good family but not a mommy’s boy. A bit jealous but not monitoring my every move. And endless more acrobatics between demands that exist without always being admitted and that are statistically impossible to fulfill simultaneously. Of course, men have similar standards for women.
Naturally, it is mathematically certain that the higher you place the bar, the harder it is to pass it. The objection is not to anyone’s given right to place the bar high; the objection arises when this unsurpassed bar becomes a pretext for the inability to create the conditions in which we can find a companion. Conditions that can be summed up first and foremost as the acceptance of one simple truth: that the world is not perfect and neither are people; and, secondly, by accepting the need for free time.
In conclusion, and taking into account the fact that companionship is one of our most essential needs (under normal circumstances), the sugar-coating of the pill of “chosen” loneliness can be transcended. How? By relaxing, of course, on two accounts: our schedule and our demands. It really is that simple.