Freedom – unbounded liberty to do as you please in your own home, unfettered by nagging, judgement or disapproval. Complete majestic dominion over the kingdom of your patch. But is being the king or queen of the castle always what it’s cracked up to be?
Imagine being in the room that you’re in now, and everything in it, save for the chair that you may be sitting on, spontaneously disappears. The furniture, your phone, computer, any books, the TV, all just vanishes. You can’t go out and there is no-one else in the building. Some of us would welcome it at first. Perhaps we’d sit and meditate for a while, plan tonight’s dinner, sing a song out loud, do some exercise – we’d get by. Two hours in, many of us would start getting agitated. 7 hours in, if we’re still awake, we’d probably be desperate to leave.
Imagine now that instead of everything disappearing, the TV and remote is left behind. You have full access to Netflix and all of your usual channels. What difference would that make? And how long would it take before that too started to bore?
For some people who live on their own, especially the very elderly who may have mobility issues, the only barrier between them and abject boredom with feelings of isolation and loneliness is the TV. It’s a very flimsy barrier, and it doesn’t take long before it is no barrier at all.
For those who are younger or more mobile, the options are far greater: going to the gym, going to see friends, going to work. These things break up the day, and if they are varied and sufficient in number, living alone can be a welcome counterbalance to an active lifestyle.
There is a problem though, a few actually. For one thing, a lot of adults don’t have a good network of close friends. This is not because of any anti-social element, but more because adulthood has a tendency to take people in different directions because of family commitments, work, etc.
Another thing is that some people don’t choose to live alone, but have it forced upon them. This is often a result of a separation, divorce or bereavement. Those who have to work remotely can also find themselves in a similar situation.
To live alone can require a tremendous amount of self-discipline, not just to do all of the washing, cleaning and shopping, but also to keep yourself sufficiently engaged beyond the TV and social media. Discipline is needed to maintain your friendships, see and speak to your family, do things and go places, often on your own. Without that structure, a day can drag out if you spend most of your time at home, and the weekends and evenings can be difficult if you’re a nine-to-fiver.
But then, like an apocalyptic asteroid from space, COVID-19 landed and obliterated many of the supportive structures that the solitary home dweller may have relied upon.
COVID has thrown the entire nation; it has affected every one of our lives in some way. But for those who have had to be locked down on their own, the challenges of living alone have been compounded and had a corresponding effect on the need for a structure in order to stay connected.
So what to do?
Well, it’s not an easy one. You’re not going to move in with a stranger or have one move in with you. However, if you find living on your own difficult, you can start working on those structures, even in COVID, that keep you feeling engaged and connected.
Before, during and after COVID, there was, is and will be a lot of people going through exactly the same thing. Indeed, between 1997 and 2017, the number of 45 to 64 year olds living alone in the UK went up by a staggering 53%. As the nation continues to grow older, so will the incidence of people being on their own. So the point here is that people who live alone,and are lonely because of it, are not alone.
You could say that that is all fine, but if you don’t know these people and they are not your friends, what good is it?
Before the days of the internet, by far the most common way of being introduced to new people was face-to-face. It probably still is (I’m not aware of any study on it). But since the internet age, millions of people have met with their first point of contact being online. Whether it be an email, online dating, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Skype, Zoom, the list could go on and on. Millions of people know somebody who is now in their lives in a personal or professional capacity – because of the internet. So the question is, why can’t people who live alone start connecting? Not to start moving in with each other, but to help each other build that support structure that engages beyond the TV?
The answer is that there are no obvious places to go to meet these people. Until now.
If you live alone and feel lonely and isolated, start building structures in the form of connections. Keep close contact with your family and friends if you can, and if you can’t, make new friends with people you share a common interest or circumstance with. Use social networking sites as a means to an end, not the end in itself.
The difference between feeling like a monarch or a trapped prisoner in your own home is very often down to the strength of your connections outside the castle walls.