Back in the day, a decade or so ago, I proudly claimed the title of a boot-scootin' wanna-be over-the-hill Saturday night cowboy. My sole focus in those days was finding the perfect woman...or what I fondly refer to as my next ex-wife. Being somewhat narrow-minded in my search for that perfect woman, I was determined I'd find her in, of all places, a bar. (Well yes, I did write a book about those adventures.) While it's true that I've held a thousand women or more in my arms out there on some dance floor or another, I had more than a few bad nights. On those occasions, I'd find myself hunkered down at a table for two, in the darkest corner of the bar, alone and lonely. It was always a safe bet that somewhere around midnight on those lonely nights the DJ would play the one song I did not want to hear...'Ain't Nobody Lonely' by a local band who called themselves The Maines Brothers. The first time I heard that song, I had tears streaming down my face as the lyrics floated to my ears, "Ain't nobody lonely, lonely as me." I vowed right then and there, I'd not sit all alone in the dark and listen to that song ever again. From that night forward, when the first few notes played over the speakers, I'd leap to my feet and grab the first woman I could find. I didn't care if she was buck-toothed and had a glass eye and a wooden leg. By gosh, I wasn't sitting at that table all alone...lonely and crying in my beer.
According to recent studies, forty percent of Americans over the age of forty-five experience loneliness on a regular basis. Between 23% and 31% of millennials report feelings of loneliness. The most common response as to the number of friends the average American has is zero. I guess that explains all this loneliness America finds itself immersed in. But why? Why do we as a society not have friends in this day and age? Why would we. by the millions, choose to sit at home and be lonely?
I personally tend to refer to myself as somewhat introverted. I'm a writer. So, do I have introverted tendencies because I write or do I write because I am an introvert? Writing is not a social activity. One doesn't invite friends over for a night of writing. It's a lonely job but someone has to do it. All of those lonely people need something to read while they sit alone at home, the despair on their faces illuminated by the glow of their smartphones. But I find myself drawn less frequently to the laptop. Yes, I am alone much of my time, except for the company of a dog and a college-aged offspring whose daily activities are similar to that of a hummingbird. Blink and she's gone. Alone I may be, but I rarely consider myself lonely. So, I can't say with full honesty that I relate with the loneliest of our society. But still, I have questioned why do so many choose to remain lonely? No, I don't have the answer.
People tend to begin losing close friends around the age of twenty-five. At that age, people begin to go their own way, whether it be a result of marriage or careers. Those most often to admit their loneliness often cite a feeling of being left out...left behind. A trend of individualism hampers social interaction. We hesitate to interact for fear of offending, fear of 'political incorrectness.' Small talk and shallow conversations hold our attention span a mere few seconds. You know, like a hummingbird. We've talked about the weather and I'm fine and you're fine. And we move along, allowing our loneliness to settle back in once again. Reaching for our smartphones, we retreat to our safe zone, alone. Celebrities and the weather girl are our only 'friends' and as a society, we've become okay with that. We don't feel the need to connect eye to eye with anyone. We have Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify to fill our void.
Physical touch is obsolete and in fact, in spite of the genetic need for human contact, we shun hugs and handshakes out of fear they will be misconstrued as a form of sexual aggression. We don't date anymore...ask any single millennial when the last time they actually went out on a date. Ask me when I last went out on a date!
To a point, I'm as guilty as anyone. Fear, yes. Fear that I may be rejected if I put myself out there. I more often as not say things all wrong and someone who doesn't know me misses the intended humor more often than not. I think people, in general, miss the humor in anything these days. And that's sad. We've become a sad, lonely society.
Man is meant to be a social animal. The bonds of family, community, and faith give meaning to our lives. The government cannot fix the longings the human heart has for fellowship. The government cannot bind us together. Neither can social media and in fact, it goes without saying, social media has done nothing positive to correct this epidemic of loneliness running rampant through our country. We no longer actually call each other on our smartphones. I was schooled in the inappropriateness of such action a decade ago. Rude, I was told, to interrupt someone else's loneliness with a phone call. Texting is a preferred method of social contact. Anymore, even the sound of another human voice is considered an invasion of one's loneliness. Loneliness has become a way of life for many.
So, I'm good just as I am. Sure, a cookout on the patio with friends would be great. Good music floating through the night air and dancing beneath the full moon under the carport sounds like a perfect night. It seems that nights like that are nothing more than a dream in this day and time. Folks would rather stay home and be lonely. I've become adept at cooking just one steak. I've come to enjoy sitting on the patio watching the stars all by myself. And, if you promise not to tell anyone, there have been a few occasions that I've danced in the moonlight all by myself. Doesn't bother me a bit...until that old Maines Brothers song comes on.
"There's got to be someone lonely as me..." Apparently so. Millions.