I just read an article I saw on CNN called “When it comes to love after 50, has Cupid lost his aim?”. It was written by Margaret Manning, who founded a group called Sixty and Me, which is for “a community of 100,000 women over 60, dedicated to inspiring and providing resources for them to live independent, financially secure and healthy lives.” She surveyed her group about loneliness and 1,119 responded, which makes it a significant enough polling number to extrapolate some data. She found that 75% reported feeling lonely. The respondents turned out to be 98% female, but that makes sense given the target of the group. What is not a surprise to me is that the baby boomer generation of free love and peace is turning out to be lonely and conflicted. It is not easy to work our entire lives on self-expression and cement relationships at the same time. Relationships take self-control not self-expression and many of us baby boomers have spent our lives in pursuit of self at the expense of lasting relationships.
Roy Baumeister, the eminent Princeton social psychologist, found that focusing on self-esteem (what baby boomers became preoccupied with as they aged) leaves people with fewer social skills, because dealing with real human beings over time takes self-control. And those who feel great about themselves do not need to control their greatness in front of others.
Relationships take ‘biting your tongue’ moments in great numbers. If we want to not feel lonely, then we should be a great partner and friend by not expressing ourselves all the time. Free love was cheap. Anything you are given for free always ends up being less valued. Real adult relationships come with conflict and managing that conflict (not trying to alleviate it entirely out of your life) is what makes for good long-lasting relationships. If you want to not feel lonely, then become the kind of friend and partner that people can count on, not someone they think is uneven and “charismatic”. Movies are made about charismatic people, but real lives are lived with real, and yes even sometimes boring, people.
One of the questions of the survey done by Sixty and Me was “How often do you find yourself waiting for people to write or call?”. A staggering 70% of people said either Sometimes or Often instead of Rarely or Never. This is telling in terms of how these people tend to see the world as owing them a call. This is precisely why a person would feel lonely if they were waiting on others to solve the issue for them.
What Roy Baumeister found in his vast research and published in his book “Willpower – Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” was “When psychologists isolate the personal qualities that predict ‘positive outcomes’ in life, they consistently find two traits: intelligence and self-control. So far researchers still haven’t learned how to permanently increase intelligence. But they have discovered, or at least rediscovered, how to improve self-control.” One study also found that American students’ self-esteem was much higher than their achievement. U.S. eighth graders did worse in math but felt better about themselves than students in South Korea, who did much better in math without the great self-image.
So us baby boomers should put down the books on self-esteem and pick up a book like “Willpower”. Start listening instead of talking and maybe you will start to notice more friends around you. Don’t wait for someone to call. Go ahead call and invite them to do something that they would like to do. The world does not revolve around us baby boomers even if we lied to ourselves about being the center of the universe.
How about start controlling yourself instead of fulfilling yourself and you will find yourself not only not being lonely, but actually having others want to be around you because you make them feel good about themselves not the other way around.
Margaret Manning is starting a site called Boomerly as a way to connect boomers. This is a very good idea and I do hope it works well. But boomers also need to know how to be a good friend and partner first and then they might just find that they don’t feel lonely anymore.
“When it comes to love after 50, has Cupid lost his aim?”, Margaret Manning, Special to CNN, February 13, 2015
“Dealing with Loneliness After 50 - Sixty and Me Research Results”, Margaret Manning, Sixty and Me, 2014
“In schools, self-esteem boosting is losing favor to rigor, finer-tuned praise”, Washington Post, January 15, 2012.
Baumeister, R.F., Campbell, J.D., Krueger, J.I., & Vohs, K.D. (2003). Does High Self-esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4, 1-44.
Baumeister, R.F., & Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. New York: Penguin Press.