Let’s talk about this boa constrictor called loneliness this Valentine’s Day.
Because loneliness is a boa constrictor that tightens its body around its prey, cutting off the circulation system, stopping the heart.
Dramatic, you say? Not as dramatic as the lengths people go to to stave off loneliness. Especially on Valentine’s Day when being lonely (read: without a romantic partner) seems like a curse.
My colleague recently wrote an article about women who send themselves flowers on Valentine’s Day and of a male friend of hers who once accepted money to be someone’s date just for that “day of love”.
But loneliness does not afflict only women. Writer CJ Gicheru recently penned a moving article titled ‘What I know about love’, recounting what it’s like for a modern young man trying to find love.
Anyone who has ever been lonely can relate to this. As Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera told us in their award-winning hit song “Nobody Wants to be Lonely”, nobody wants to be lonely and nobody wants to cry.
Growing up, my mother would often say that loneliness never killed anyone.
It was a way of warning my sisters and me against being in relationships just for the sake of it.
But show me a teenager who listens to their mother and I will show you a liar.
So loneliness ( and an unhealthy dose of hormones plus peer pressure) led me into a rather awkward “relationship” with a neighbourhood boy whose guts my mother hated.
I will spare you the details of this ill-fated relationship but there would be a number of examples among friends and myself later in life, of relationships borne of loneliness.
Of marriages borne of loneliness.
Of friendships borne of loneliness.
Of the very human, very basic need to connect with others and the lengths we go to to make this happen.
But my mother could have been wrong because one of the longest studies on happiness by Harvard University proves that one could actually die of loneliness.
The study tracked the health of 724 men from 1938 during the Great Depression. It was later expanded to include 2000 of these men’s children. The study was meant to find out how early-life experiences affect health and aging over time.
One of the surprising findings of the 80-year-old study, according to the director Robert Waldinger, was that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health.
According to Waldinger, they learned that not only do good relationships keep us happier and healthier, but also that social connections are really good for us and that loneliness kills.
” When we gathered together everything we knew about them about at age 50, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old, it was how satisfied they were in their relationships. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends , to community are happier, physically healthier and live longer,” he said in a popular TED talk titled What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.
My mother would have loved to pick apart this study but who can really dispute eight decades worth of research?
My colleague and I were discussing the euphoria around Valentine’s Day.
From the endless emails from corporates, service providers and the copy-pasted “offers” from every hotel and club in town ( red wine, one wilting rose flower, a cheapish chocolate) and other equally ridiculous gestures which make some women and men behave irrationally.
Which reminds me of a joke about flowers on Valentine’s Day where men are warned not to give women flowers because they are not bees!
But they ( senders of these messages and givers of wilting flowers) are not at fault because they are responding to a demand in the market. Demands made of women and men alike.
I can’t even count the number of bad marriages and unwanted pregnancies that stemmed from this kind of loneliness.
The pressure to have and be with a romantic other especially on Valentine’s Day sometimes exacerbates our loneliness and stops us from nurturing other relationships around us from which we can derive great happiness from.
I’m talking about relationships with our siblings, parents, colleagues and friends. Those relationships that don’t require “Dinner for two and free rose flower at the entrance” or “Free wine for the first 50 ladies” treats.