I recently read an article in the AARP Bulletin (March 2019, Volume 60, No. 2) (and yes, I read the AARP Bulletin, or at least skim the articles) that adults have three life stages when they are most vulnerable to loneliness – our late 20s, mid-50s and late 80s. They don’t mention why these age milestones trigger loneliness in people, Americans in particular, but I’ll take a guess that they have something to do with thought-I-would-have-accomplished-more-by-now, not-where-I-thought-I-would-be-at-this-point-in-my-life, and not-what-I-expected-my-life-to-be-like. There is a common thread that runs through these assessments, a common puppet master that yanks our strings again and again. Its name is Expectation.
Ah, yes, expectations unmet, I know thee well. Yes, even I have lived my life under the specter of misguided goals and unreasonable milestones. What are they really, these self-imposed benchmarks through life, except for socially approved attempts at self-validation and grasps for kudos. I think about this, wrestle with it really, this need I have, that we have as humans, to seek approval from one another, even deem ourselves better than one another. I would like to say it is trained into us as children, the desire to get the best grade, get picked first (or at least not last) for a team, to be noticed, by him, or her, or anyone really, as someone worth knowing, but it starts earlier than that though, with squabbles in playpens and on playgrounds for what is “ours” and its inevitable conversion to “mine.”
I get it, really I do, this need to excel, but why don’t we make the leap that it is better to excel as a group? That it is better to share than to have? Why don’t we realize that these singular goals of grandeur come at a price far greater than ourselves? They are the breeding ground of loneliness, fertilizer for greater-than and less-than and the birth place of the great divide. They pit us against everyone around us and in our search for singularity we end up, well, alone.
I have for most of my life railed against parental expectations only to be trapped by expectations of my own making. Expectation is a grand puppet master and he has a string to pluck for every path I can imagine, so maybe loneliness does not come from our expectations, but our relationship with our self.
I would like to say I was happy in my late 20s (I cried inconsolably on my 25th birthday), but here I am in my late 50s and loneliness is once again looking for a toehold. I don’t see what I have to be lonely about. I have a wonderful husband, a delightful cat, wonderful extended family on both sides of the marital equation, and friends of all kinds (some I haven’t even met yet!). I really don’t have anything to be lonely about, except for maybe an expectation or two. And that’s the rub, right? Our expectations versus our reality. Well, take it from someone who spends a lot of time with her head in the clouds imagining fantasy worlds of all kinds, when it comes to the day to day, reality works better. Expectation free, grateful-for-today reality.