Over the past few decades, loneliness has become an epidemic, and men suffer the most from it. How and why did isolation become such a threat?
On Thursday, July 13, 1995, high pressure in the upper atmosphere above Chicago lowered a huge amount of hot air to the ground, due to which the temperature rose to 41 ° C. In the city of the Midwest
, not ready for the tropical heat, roads were deformed, cars broke down on the streets and schools closed. On Friday, three transformers of the Consolidated Edison
energy company failed, leaving 49,000 people without electricity. In skyscraper apartments without air conditioning, the temperature rose to 49 ° C even with the windows open. The heat is not gone on Saturday. The human body is able to cope with such heat only for 48 hours in a row, after which it begins to disable protective mechanisms. The emergency rooms in the hospitals were so overcrowded that they did not take the victims of the sunstroke. Sunday was no better, resulting in an increase in the number of deaths from dehydration, heat and kidney failure. The morgues were overflowing, the bodies were kept in trucks for transporting meat. In total, 739 people died during this heat wave.
The investigation in the footsteps of the incident established that for the most part those who died were, naturally, poor, old, and living alone. More interesting was the sexual separation: men died much more than women. This was especially strange, considering that in July 1995, there were more old single women living longer than men in Chicago.
Why are men more vulnerable? It was not a matter of physical parameters. Both groups mostly lived in apartments with one-bedroom apartments. The phrase "relatives unknown" constantly met in police reports. Letters were found on the floor and in the drawers of the tables: “I would like to see you if it is possible when you come to the city”; "Our family had to make peace." Odnushki dead were described as "full of cockroaches" and "in disarray," which means that few people went there to visit. According to Eric Klinenberg, who wrote a book about this period of heat
, women were visited by people who checked their health and well-being; men did not have this. “When you have time, please come for a visit,” was written in one unsent letter.
What led them to this isolation? Why were these men?
Artie, 63 years old, living in Birds Fork, West Virginia, a village of 200 people, never married. He grew up in Birds Fork, but spent most of his life in other places. He moved back at the age of 47 to take care of a sick mother who died this year. Now, postponing his life indefinitely for 16 years, he was unmarried, half retired, without friends. “Life goes very fast,” he said. After the death of the mother, he thinks: “Where did it all go?”
He often talked about this with his mother. Now that she is gone, he is not revealed to anyone. He has no close friends living nearby, and he "often feels depressed over the past few years."
Artie is not an asocial type and is not a homebody. His career over the years has led him to hundreds of interesting people; He lived in California for ten years, and before that he had a nine-year relationship. But in his hometown all his connections disappeared. “I have no close friends, except for my family,” he says, “and this is something else.” The Australian study
of 2005 agrees with him: having close friends increases life expectancy by 22%, and having a relationship with relatives does not affect it.
Artie has a few friends he met when he was in his early thirties and for forty, with whom he maintains a connection, mainly through Facebook, but these connections “are not similar to those that I had in my youth. They are not so deep. Not so vulnerable. And I'm not sure I want to open up to them. ” He communicates quite closely with his former colleagues, but although they trust him with their thoughts, he does not feel that he can trust them. “They are younger,” he says. “They don't understand my problems.” Despite the fact that he is already half retired, he goes to the office, sits there until late, after all have left. “I don't want to go home,” he says. - There is nobody there".
In many ways, Artie is in danger of repeating the fate of the odnushek residents of Chicago. But there is a difference between them: the loneliness of those people consisted in the absence or small number of social connections. The problem of Artie is solitude, which gives a feeling of isolation despite the number of social connections, and is usually associated with the lack of people to trust.
Is the same future waiting for me?
At first glance, this is unlikely. I am 34. I have a rather active social life. I am connected with my community and regularly attend art meetings. I lived in Toronto on short visits since I was 18 years old. Here I attended university. I helped found the arts center. I know here hundreds, if not thousands, of people. I have a lot of jobs - an instructor in college, a freelancer, a writer, a tutor. I have friends. Whatever way life does not lead to loneliness, I want to believe that my path is not that. When I die, my floor will be clean and the letters sent.
And yet there is something strangely familiar in these stories. I feel how my social world slowly but surely eludes me. All three jobs in total keep me in contact with other people eight hours a week, which is 168 hours. The remaining 160 hours I sit at home. It is not unusual for me to not enter into social contacts for several days in a row, and the more I manage without them, the more terrible it becomes to me. I'm becoming shy, and I'm afraid that no one wants to hang out with me. Social indifference makes metastases in my brain. I begin to avoid social actions, having convinced myself that I will stumble upon a wall of mysterious eye contact. I live close to many friends, but I hide if I see them on the street. I do not consider myself antisocial - I like people and like to communicate with them, and I have so many good relationships - but often I take it as a task that requires effort, it is surprisingly difficult not to slip back down to the well of despair.
But I was not always like that. What changed?
Adult friendship is a problem for many people. On average, men and women begin to lose friends at the age of 25
, and continue to gradually lose them to the end of their lives. Adults work more, start more serious love relationships, form families - all this takes priority from friendly parties. Even if you, like me, do not have a full-time job, you do not have a girlfriend and you have not yet thought about starting a family, other people's adult lives do not give you a chance.
In addition, [in the US], young people travel the hardest around the country
, which breaks off our connections - this phenomenon Robert Putnam calls the “transplant effect”, referring to the injury caused to the plant by the loss of roots. People today change jobs more often
, which breaks off connections that would have lasted for decades. Working on freelancing, which, according to Forbes,
by 2020, one way or another will be engaged in 50% of the workforce, deprives an employee of not only the advantages of working in an office, but also of social stability. I, as a freelancer who changed six jobs over the past year and lived in a dozen countries, just fall into the most vulnerable part of the Venn diagram
. I try to compensate for this by maintaining contacts with four or five groups of friends on social networks — mostly on Facebook, where I have 3,691 contacts — but I often use social networks more like a video game with a bias in performance than a way of maintaining friendships. Studies show that I am closer to normal than to exclusion. “Social contacts on the Internet with friends and relatives,” as was written in one study
, “are not an effective alternative to living relationships in terms of reducing the feeling of loneliness.”
Apparently, I am. Alone. Sometimes it is very painful. Loneliness can be measured with psychometry - for example, on the UCLA loneliness scale
(I scored 21 out of 40) [I decided to translate the questionnaire and give it at the end, along with voting - approx. transl.], or on the De Jong Gierveld scale of loneliness
(I have high levels of emotional loneliness and low levels of social loneliness). From my point of view, loneliness, in fact, is a stubborn, irrational belief that no matter how well I know people in my life - some of whom I consider to be close people, I know some of them for several decades - I, as the poet said
, not one with all mankind. In the worst moments, my isolation still pisses me off, I turn into a 16-year-old self, sitting in despair on the edge of a bath in my parents' house, mentally looking for friends, sweeping aside all the obvious candidates. I tried to imagine a world in which Blake MacPhail, whose sister’s apartment I once visited two years ago, could be considered my friend. It was not the day of maximum loneliness that I ever felt, but it tunes in a certain way, and I still have similar feelings, perhaps more often than people who might know me would have thought. And perhaps they might think that way. Perhaps they also feel the same way. Over the past few decades, the entire structure of society has changed, loneliness has increased, and now half of all people
are exposed to it. Just last week, the American Psychological Association issued a press release,
claiming that "many countries around the world believe that we are facing an 'epidemic of loneliness'."
And as if loneliness is not enough by itself, it turns out that loneliness and isolation are extremely detrimental to your health and well-being. The quality of your friendships is best predicted by the level of your happiness
. Social isolation weakens the immune system, raises blood pressure, disrupts sleep, and can equal the effects of smoking 15 cigarettes a day
. According to the authors of a frequently cited meta-analysis
, loneliness can increase the chances of sudden death by 30%, and “the lack of social connections increases the risk of death more than obesity.” From a practical point of view, the lack of contact in unforeseen circumstances, as happened with men in Chicago, could lead to your death.
Unfortunately for me, like most of those killed in Chicago, I belong to another, possibly counterintuitive, high-risk category: I am a man. Freelance, travel, adult life affects women and men in the same way - but for a complex set of reasons men have more obstacles to building relationships. On average, we have fewer people
in life whom we can trust, and socially we are more isolated
. Women complain that they feel lonely, more often than men, and statistically it is - if they are married and between the ages of 20 and 40. But in all other demographic categories, men are more alone than women
. In addition, researchers agree
that because of the refusal of men to admit that they have emotional problems, the scale of male loneliness is underestimated.
I have a photo where my friend Tyler and I snuggled in on the cream carpet of my parents, under the sun, next to my sand-colored dog. This is a cute moment, but the photo captures something more - this was the last time in my life when I touched a man in a different way than through a handshake or brotherly hug. We were six years old.
One way to understand male loneliness is to consider ways of socializing children. In an interview, Nioby Wei, a professor of developmental psychology at New York University who studied young adults for 30 years, recounted how we let the boys down. “The social and emotional skills necessary for boys to thrive are simply not developed,” she said. And indeed, according to the study, men at the beginning of life do not behave as stereotypes into which they then turn. Six-month-old boys are likely to cry more often than
girls of their age, will be more likely to enjoy mother's face, and more likely to relate our expression of emotions to ours. In general, up to 4-5 years old boys show more emotions than girls
Changes start from school: at this age, boys start
to cope worse than girls
with “changing facial expressions to support social relationships.” This is the beginning of the process of socialization in a “culture that supports the social development of girls, and suppresses it in boys,” according to Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson
. This affects our friendship early - in a study conducted in New Haven, boys from 10 to 18 years of age were much worse off than girls
in their circle of friends: “in two weeks boys more often than girls changed their best friends and the likelihood of mutual choice was lower than that of girls. ”
And yet, there is no better soil for growing friendship than a school, and most of the boys find friends in childhood. Wei, who summed up the results of her research in The Secret Secrets, found that, until early adolescence, boys were not shy about expressing their strong sympathy for friends. Wei quotes Justin, who just went to high school: “My best friend and I love each other. Exactly. It is a very deep feeling, so deep that it is inside you, and you cannot explain it. I think that in life two people can very well understand each other, trust, respect and love each other. ” Another high school student, Jason, told Wei that friendship is important because “you are not alone, and you need someone to turn to when you are bad.”
But for many boys - Wei calls this the “almost universal rule” - the shift occurs in late adolescence, somewhere in the 15-20 years. In this phase of life, which we often think of in positive terms - revealing ourselves, growing up - boys' trust in each other turns out to be fragile, like glass. Three years after the first interview, Jason said that he had no close friends, "and added that although he has nothing against gays, he is not gay." Another boy, whom Wei interviewed in grade 11, and who had been friends with his best friend for ten years, said that he now has no friends, because "in our time no one can be trusted." In an interview with thousands of boys, Wei saw a strong correlation between trust in close friends and mental health. She found that in all ethnic groups and incomes, three-quarters of the boys "began to fear betrayal and did not trust their male classmates" in late adolescence, and "more and more often begin to talk about feelings of loneliness and depression."
Worse yet, being in the process of being removed from other boys, in the process of growing up, we begin to rule a different set of rules about the permitted behavior. Psychologists call them demonstration rules
. The expression of pain, excitement, care, concern, in the opinion of the guys from the senior classes
, look “like gay” or “like a girl”. Blacks and Hispanics, according to Wei's interview, are under pressure and need to obey even stricter rules. Men who violate the rules, expressing "sadness, depression, fear, such dysphoric
emotions such as shame and embarrassment," are considered " effeminate,
" and sympathize with them less
than women. Wei told me that at the speeches he often quotes the words of a 16-year-old boy, who said: “Maybe you can be a good girl, because then you don’t need to hold back emotions.”
Still, it’s easy to be skeptical - don't men feel better in this world? How much does it harm them? They still have friends, don't they? And, yes, when people grow up, up to the age of 25 years, men and women retain an approximately equal number of friends
. For a casual observer, and for the man himself, it may seem that everything is in order. But, paraphrasing researchers from the University of Missouri, Barbara Bank and Susan Hansford, men have power, but they also feel bad. In Britain, the number of suicides among men is constantly increasing
. In the US, the number of unemployed men is increasing, and this is often associated with addiction to opiates
. In a 2006 paper
aimed at practicing psychiatrists, William Pollack of Harvard Medical School writes: “The existing socialization systems are dangerous for the physical and mental health of boys, and for their environment. They lead to problems with school, depression, suicide, isolation, and, in extreme cases, violence. ” Pollack investigated boys between the ages of 12 and 18, and only 15% of them showed “positive feelings about their masculine future.”
Women retain close relationships with their adult friends
, and men on average do not retain
: “Despite all attempts to dismiss the results of research, the fact that the friendship of men with men is less close and contains less support than the friendship of women with women has been reliably proven and widely lit. "
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