on loneliness


I saw Last Chance Harvey on the plane to California last week.  Two icons of contemporary loneliness — the man unmoored by divorce, now just an ex bearing sorrowful witness to his former family, the woman still single after years of  skating on the very thin ice of dating noncommittal men.   Is loneliness the cost of our present-day zeitgeist?

One of my graduate students took issue with the sociology of family this past semester, arguing that the books we read seemed to assume that people need to be connected, need intimacy, need partnering.  And a battery of recent research argues that singles are just as happy, more likely to help take care of their parents, and create fulfilling lives by knitting together communities of friends.  Do we even need romantic relationships?  Do we need intimacy?  Or is that just an ideology, one that makes Cherlin’s marriage-go-round turn?

Perhaps because of my focus on dependency and need, I tend to think we need relationships that last even when they are not immediately gratifying.  As our cultural idea of intimate partnerships moves away from that model, perhaps they are better thought of as an intermittent luxury.   Meanwhile, other relationships — parent-child, sibling-sibling, even sometimes neighbor-to-neighbor, as I discovered on my trip back to my old street in Oakland — can accrue enough ballast to last the tougher moments.  What do all these have in common?  You don’t choose them, they are just what you get.  As my kids like to chant when someone is clamoring for a particular piece of birthday cake:  “you get what you get and you don’t get upset.”

So is Last Chance Harvey yet another propaganda film — albeit one with a sort of gentle elegance — about our need to couple up?  Maybe.  But still the palpable loneliness of the film rings true.  Maybe we just need to get Dustin and Emma some neighbors.

Explore posts in the same categories: About Intimacy

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3 Comments on “on loneliness”

  1. Cameron85 Says:

    Allison, I find this sentiment among your graduate students fascinating, especially in light of how it contrasts to the views of my UNDERGRADUATES. How old are they? And how do their views on intimacy relate to children?

    I was thinking about the interesting views of so-called Gen-Y when prepping a class the other day when I came across a wonderful post by the brilliant Nate Silver of five-thirty-eight.com on the recent bru-ha-ha about the latest Gallup Poll on public opinion on abortion.

    He argues, among other things, that the trend towards pro-life may reflect, in part, the sentiments of Gen Y who are, oddly pro-life (though within limits) and pro-gay marriage. He doesn’t refelct on why this is so, but I will.

    My experience of teaching 400 18 year olds Sociology of the Family every year has made me aware of a strong trend towards valuing commitment of ALL KINDS, in particular, commitments to children. Although the majority of my small town Wisconsin students identify as religious conservatives who are moderately pro-life, they are also strongly in favor of civil unions, if not gay marriage. This comes not from a strong equal rights stance, nor from necessarily a strong belief in tolerance for “alternative” lifestyles. It stems, rather, from a deeply held belief in the sanctity of PARENTHOOD, and the belief that once, built, parent-child bonds of all kinds should not be severed.

    Thoughts on this?

    • allison Says:

      I think I share their belief, and perhaps am communicating this in the reading for the graduate class. It may be what the grad students are reacting against. I have a friend who teaches at Austin who said that her grad students were equally belligerent about intimacy as a trap, a limiting construct.

  2. Loneliness it is just like a sorrow you feel it when you lost a very special person in your life or you missed something very important things or when you are alone reminiscing the past.

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