The article goes on to state that people are now spending more time alone and less time socializing with family and friends—with a quarter of adults under the age of 30 reporting they felt lonely the day before they were surveyed. It goes on to say that the strongest negative factors were for people who were never visited by family or friends—resulting in a 39 percent increase in risk of death during the study period compared with those who had daily interactions with others.
As I read The Wall Street Journal's article and recalled Mr. Cacioppo’s work, I thought about the irony of how we, as a society, are embracing singleness as a more “fulfilling” lifestyle choice than marriage, which provides these vital social connections that keep us both physically and emotionally healthy.
Single non-parents spend more than 70 percent of their social/relaxing time in front of a television or computer screen, detached from meaningful human interaction. Although that's also true of 65 percent of married parents, those who are married with children are likely to use that additional 5 percent of time socializing with others—such as other couples or parents—because they're likely to be more involved with outside activities, such as church, playgroups, and school events, that encourage such interaction.
The result is that while singles may be “captains of their own ships,” they're captains of ships drifting without purpose—the purpose that's provided through the company and care of loved ones.
So, what's the takeaway from all this? I know there are many singles who aren't deliberately choosing to be single—all one has to do is listen to the heartbreaking stories of singles, especially those over the age of 30, who desperately want the social connections that marriage and family bring.
These singles wrap themselves up in other activities as a way to either dull or run away from the inner pain they feel from lack of social connectedness—and in some cases, they live in denial by embracing their “freedom” as a way to dull the emotional pain. But many would gladly trade their “freedom” for human connection.
For those of us who are married, these studies emphasize the importance of being involved in outside activities—such as attending church, participating in community organizations, or just being present in our children’s lives—enjoying multi-generational ties that bring joy and purpose. Rather than chasing “self-fulfillment,” we need to be reaching out to those around us and developing strong relational ties that will not only benefit us in the long term but also those around us, and, ultimately, our entire society. This is true for singles as well.
By doing so, we will not only live longer, happier lives, but we will also be more likely to build bonds that bring us together rather than keep us apart—bonds that can only be beneficial for a country that finds itself increasingly isolated and divided. Ultimately, it isn't the quantity of time that we have, but the quality, which comes through sacrificing being the captain of our personal ships and instead becoming contented first mates.