Why Do The Middle-Aged Feel More Lonely
Most striking in all the recent statistical analysis and commentary on loneliness, is that middle-aged people report feeling isolated more than any other age group.
One in seven people between the ages of 45 and 54 suffers from loneliness, according to the Office for National Statistics.
We feel most constrained by pressures from all sides in middle age, when our possibilities and freedoms tend to contract dramatically.
When we believe there is no escape from unfulfilling work, unhappy family life, and poor health, the disappointments and anxieties intensify.
A feeling of loneliness like that is easy to imagine.
While there is nothing new about this state of midlife resignation, it takes on a new meaning in our age of connected social media.
Our lives are ever more psychologically and economically precarious; the families, homes, jobs and pensions that we look to as guarantees of a secure future are instead sources of deep uncertainty.
At worst, it can feel as though we’re caught between a regrettable past and a hopeless future.
As a result of these conditions of precariousness, we are even more vulnerable to judgment from others and ourselves. It is common for middle-aged people to look in the mirror and see someone who failed to fulfill their hopes and dreams.
At this point, what hope is there for change? No matter how disappointing work or family are, giving up either may seem far worse.
Out of the corner of your eye, you’ll see the wry mockery of younger people – perhaps your own teenage children. Worse still, you feel compelled to join in.
The ideal remedy may seem to be social media. You can reinvent yourself online, project the person you want to be, if everyday reality has become cumbersome and gray.
A constant affirmation of your value and lovability is provided by Facebook and Twitter. The loneliness returns as soon as it is banished.
The gap between your happily sociable online and lonely offline lives becomes a kind of reproach because this idealised version of yourself is really just a defensive carapace.
The perception of online friendliness is quickly undermined by both subtle and direct attacks, which entrench the very feelings of isolation you sought to escape.
There are two sides to every story: affirmation and rejection.
The use of social media does not, by itself, cause loneliness. Yet they are a manifestation of a culture that encourages us to interact in ways that undermine our very sense of security.
The psychoanalytic neutrality Freud described, wasn’t surgical coldness, but an attitude of benign receptivity, an ability to listen to whatever someone has to say.
A psychoanalyst called DW Winnicott described this way of being together as cultivating a “capacity to be alone” that is very different from loneliness.
It is rooted in the infant’s early intuition that her mother continues to exist, allowing her to feel someone’s presence, even when she is alone.
We feel less helpless dependent on others when we sense this intuited presence.
Doubts and insecurities wear away this sense of internal assurance in our middle age.
It is further undermined by our culture of consumerism and competition.
Middle-aged loneliness will not abate as long as we build relationships on the shaky foundation of an infantilising desire for attention from others rather than the quality of intimacy.