Isolating the problem.

Millions of Americans know what it is to be lonely. Their need for satisfying relationships has stimulated a flock of new enterprises in recent years, including singles’ bars, encounter groups, singles’ apartment complexes, and computerized dating services. Even the Christian community has entered the market. An ad in a Christian newspaper assured single Christians that “God did not ordain loneliness” and urged them to subscribe to a monthly publication through which they could supposedly get to “know” other single Christians on four continents. Popular music sounds a constant lament of broken relationships and loneliness in songs like “All By Myself,” “Lonely Street,” “Have You Ever Been Lonely,” and “I Ain’t Got Nobody.”

A fourth of the people questioned in one survey said they felt very lonely or cut off from other people at some time during the preceding few weeks. In another study, 27 per cent of the unmarried women (plus 10 per cent of the married women) and 23 per cent of the unmarried men (plus 6 per cent of the married men) expressed intense loneliness. Almost half of the widows over fifty living in one large metropolitan area said that loneliness was their worst problem. Loneliest of all, researchers find, are elderly men who live alone and are infirm.

For so pervasive a problem, loneliness has received surprisingly little attention from psychologists. A University of California psychologist, Anne Peplau, compiled a bibliography on the topic that as of April, 1977, had only 175 articles, dating back to 1937. Among the first to consider it a distinctive problem were the personality theorists Harry Stack Sullivan, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, and Clark Moustakas. Erich Fromm suggested, in 1941, that ...

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