People who enjoy spending time alone may be less neurotic and more imaginative than those who shun solitude
Bella DePauli, Ph.D.
“Single people aren’t to blame for the loneliness epidemic.” That’s the title of an article I wrote that was recently published in the Atlantic. Single people aren’t to blame for the supposed epidemic, I argued, and neither are the subset of single people who, intuitively, might seem most at risk for loneliness: those who live alone.
I’ve been working on this for a while. Last year, a whole raft of articles all over the media included arguments such as this one, which was the lead paragraph in a story at Business Insider:
“As more people opt to live alone, delay or forego marriage, and recede into their smartphones, rates of loneliness are skyrocketing in the United States, according to new research.”
The researcher most often cited is Julianne Holt-Lunstad. Type “loneliness, living alone, unmarried, Holt-Lunstad” into Google, as I just did, and you will get more than 210,000 results. In testimony the BYU professor gave to a Senate committee hearing on loneliness and social isolation, she pointed specifically to another big subset of single people, in addition to ones who live alone — those who have been single all their lives.
Living alone, living single, and living single longer (maybe even for life) are on the rise in many places all around the world. The trends are part of the ascendance of individualism. It is not just these individualistic practices that have been implicated in the loneliness blame game. So, too, have individualistic values, such as freedom and self-expression. The pursuit of “selfish autonomy,” claims Washington Post columnist Christine Emba, “demands no concern for the wants and needs of others, or for society as a whole.” Family bonds have been devalued, she argued: “And in the end, we’ve all been left terribly alone.”