In all the recent statistical analysis and commentary on the epidemic of loneliness perhaps the most striking is that more than any other age group it’s middle-aged people who are now reporting feelings of isolation. According to the Office for National Statistics loneliness afflicts around one in seven of those between 45 and 54.
Middle age is that phase of life in which our possibilities and freedoms seem to contract most dramatically – where our sense of who we are and will be is liable to feel most constrained by pressures from all sides. The disappointments and anxieties of unfulfilling work – unhappy family life – and our own or others’ poor health are intensified by the conviction that there is no escape: this is simply the hand fate has dealt us. It’s not hard to imagine what a lonely feeling that can be.
While there is nothing new about this state of midlife resignation it takes on a new force in our age of global networked consumer capitalism. Our lives are ever more psychologically and economically precarious; the families homes jobs and pensions that we look to as guarantees of a secure future are instead sources of deep uncertainty. At worst it can feel as though we’re caught between a regrettable past and a hopeless future.