Are You Lonely?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jennifer Senior, contributing editor for New York Magazine, talks about how New Yorkers tend to live alone but don’t seem to be lonely. And John Cacioppo, director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago and co-author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, talks about how urban alienation is a myth.


John Cacioppo and Jennifer Senior

Comments [29]


I find NYC to be very lonely. I lived in Paris for 4 years and met strangers all the time and would be invited to their apt. for dinner or invite them to mine or we would have dinner in a restaurant. Sometimes we would remain friends or I might never see them again but we had fun. When I moved to NYC I thought it would be so easy to make friends being in my native country and where people speak English but no I walked around feeling like a ghost in a city full of people. It seemed very clicky to me and difficult meet people or try to build friendships...I guess everyone is just too busy?

Jul. 02 2009 01:53 PM
A. Vergaray from New Jersey

There is something undeniable about city life—it is artificial. That is, it is human-made in such a way to make it the furthest thing from a natural dwelling. If you agree with the founder of modern science, Francis Bacon, you may think that human mastery of nature is a good thing. The suggestion is that humans can twist and turn nature to its needs. Humans are after all, not a part of nature, but wholes in and of themselves. Therefore, why not alter nature, through our genius, to suit our needs? This is not to suggest a radical return to a natural simple life, but it is to suggest that exalting a lack of loneliness in cities, incorrectly exalts a way of life that exalts our genius and infinite possibilities, rather than understanding humans as a part of nature that is dependent and limited by it.

For more on this turn to:

Wendell Berry
Faustian economics:
Hell hath no limits

Alexis de Tocqueville.

Nov. 25 2008 12:20 PM
up in the mountains from Catskills

I moved from Williamsburg to the Catskills almost three years ago and have never been lonlier. It's a drive to get anywhere to see anyone and the folks here are quite wary and guarded. I have a son in the local school and still, he is not included straight out nearly as much as the other kids...we have to really push. It's a total drag. But, having said that, i have to say, williamsburg changed so much in the decade + I lived there, that it was actually becoming lonely. My neighbor who still lives there and has for almost 20 years says the same thing. I really miss walking also. I walked from Times Square to Union Square everyday after work and although I didn't talk to anyone on the way, I was never lonely. I agree with #19. If you are loney in NYC, you want to be and that is a great thing in a city of a million people!

Nov. 25 2008 12:15 PM

Does anyone know what the song was that ended this segment? I recall the lyrics "people are everywhere" but an internet search only yielded results that weren't the correct song.

If anyone could help I'd be grateful!

Nov. 25 2008 12:06 PM
Mike Treder from Brooklyn

I go around the city and I DO talk to people on the subways or in the parks, and they DON'T look at me like I'm a weirdo. I've spent years living in small towns, and that's one of things I love about New York -- residents are openly friendly and social, much more so here than in other parts of the country in my experience.

Nov. 25 2008 12:02 PM
Lisa from brooklyn

Part II,

I love the Bette Davis quote and had to include. But it looks so blase sitting there on the screen. Yes, it can be a lonely city; I freelance and some days only talk with my cats (yikes). Anyway, having recently come across the Davis quote I try to keep it in mind when feeling too alone.

Nov. 25 2008 12:00 PM
aw from uws

I'm from Iowa and have lived here for almost 10 years. I find it much easier to stay connected with friends and family from OUT of town, even people from other countries (they all come to NY to visit), so that has been great. But it can be challenging to stay connected or get connected with people who LIVE here... even if they only live a few blocks away! We are all so busy!

Nov. 25 2008 11:58 AM
Maggie from Brooklyn

This morning I went to the laundromat and had a conversation with someone I would normally never cross paths with about the Maury Povich show, which was on and which I never watch. I treasure these encounters, which are daily if you're open to them.

Nov. 25 2008 11:57 AM
YourGo from Astoria

i miss hanging out with other new yorkers. this city is full of tourists. were did all the new yorkers go?

Nov. 25 2008 11:57 AM
Jesse from New York

Anyone who is lonely in New York wants to be. The ability to be left alone is a huge draw of New York, unlike a small town where being left alone is a challenge.

Nov. 25 2008 11:56 AM
Rupa from Harlem, NY

The social psychologist Stanley Milgram introduced a concept called the 'familiar stranger' - people we see on a day to day basis but don't actually interact with (people on the subway, at the gym, coffeshops, etc). He found that people feel more at ease in locations where these familiar strangers are present.

New York, huge city that it is, makes it possible to go through the same travel patterns day to day but never see the same person twice, which I personally find incredibly depressing (I just moved to NY for grad school). But on the other hand, when I DO see a familiar face, even if it's someone I've never spoken to, I find it to be a very grounding experience.

Nov. 25 2008 11:56 AM
Lisa from brooklyn

"people who don't enjoy their own company are usually right"
Bette Davis

Nov. 25 2008 11:55 AM
esquared from East Village

I feel much more alone in a crowded place or room than I am being alone being alone.

Also, you're not really alone in NYC, since you are amongst other lonely people or people who are also alone.

Nov. 25 2008 11:55 AM
KC from Sunnyside

The issue is *real* connection, not just warm bodies.

Nov. 25 2008 11:55 AM
Tom Smo from Brooklyn

i recently traveled the country, i spent a few years in rochester, ny and philadelphia, pa. i personally am, and my friends are as well, generally lonlier in nyc.

there's a lot of superficial "going out" and seeing people occasionally, but as there's less physical apartment space, it's difficult to be social in sort of small group community levels.

there's also the plight of having too much to pick from, and getting friends together to go to one event is trying. i find i have more acquaintances here than friends.

Nov. 25 2008 11:53 AM

I feel I've been lonely all my life because I see the world differently, and don't relate to anyone (yeah, it's hard for me to keep friends, let alone a job). Writing short stories helps a little, but I still feel like Travis Bickle, knowing everything and everyone yet nothing and no one knows me.

Nov. 25 2008 11:53 AM
KC from Sunnyside

In smaller cities, you interact with the same people over and over again, which helps foster civility and helps create community. In New York, the onus is on the individual to cobble together a community, which few people can successfully do. In addition, there's the fact that people who gravitate to New York tend to be ambitious and to believe in a credo of self over others, and so you have, in New York, an aggregation of a certain mindset.

Nov. 25 2008 11:53 AM
sarah from Philly!

My husband and I moved to Philadelphia 2 months ago and we are amazed at the difference. Our lives are much more calm now (much less eating out and bar hopping) but the quality of our lives is astronomically better because of the community feeling here. We live in a 100% more diversified neighborhood than when we lived in Williamsburg and our daily interactions with our neighbors are so warm and caring. No one is alone out here : )

Nov. 25 2008 11:53 AM
Robert from NYC

I don't feel alone. Sometimes I feel lonely but I don't feel alone. It's been many years since all my friends died and I've not really made many new ones but I have neighbors and other people I see daily and know, even storekeepers, and with that I feel there is a community to belong to. May not be what folks in Nebraska consider community but community is what it means to you. And god knows living in the midst of NYU dorms whatever else they own I can go out at 4 am and it seems like 7 pm and it's community and reminds me I'm not alone.

Nov. 25 2008 11:53 AM

Some days I could be just as connected walking across the desert...NYC can be very dehumanizing, alone with 8 million people around you is very humiliating indeed especially after moving here not knowing anyone...and Jennifer is full of it, we, as New Yorkers, may have a lot of friends but are they "genuine" friends...I find it interesting coming from a fast talking woman's perspective...

Nov. 25 2008 11:53 AM
hjs from 11211

hey a shout out to those who live with some one and are still loney!

Nov. 25 2008 11:52 AM
Samuel from NYC

Ok fine;-)

Nov. 25 2008 11:20 AM

#5 and #6:

OK, get a room you two

Nov. 25 2008 11:09 AM
Samuel from NYC

Totally agree

Nov. 25 2008 11:01 AM
Susan from Gramercy

One look at the personal ads on Craigslist will allow anyone to draw their own conclusions about how New Yorkers are keeping their loneliness in check ... Sex, faux intimacy, and fantasy. This city is laden with lonely people all pretending to be having a ball.

Nov. 25 2008 10:34 AM
Suki Shackelford from Williamsburg

I think it's a question of loneliness is as much about space as it is about solitude.

Currently, my boyfriend lives a few doors down and it's the most perfect living situation I could imagine.

Personal space is important in a city that forces us atop one another on a daily basis.

Nov. 25 2008 10:31 AM
Samuel from NYC

Living in New York can be very lonely. I think no one can disagree with that.
People who live in the city and are active in the community and know at least a few of their neighbors are far less likely to feel lonely. This is not exclusive to New York or the cities for that matter. Anywhere you live, if you take an interest and show you care for the people around you, you will never feel alone.

Nov. 25 2008 09:59 AM from Greenwich Village, New York

I believe it is particularly easy for single people to be lonely here, especially for those over 35.
You are never alone, but it's quite easy to be solitary in a personal sense. First, there are rarely family members close by. Secondly, being busy is what New Yorkers do--we tend to keep our time heavily scheduled and we don't like to appear idle. This can make forming new friendships more difficult. If you watch two aquaintances, much less two friends, trying to schedule a time to meet or have dinner, I guarantee you'll see far more back-and-forth calendar-juggling than you'd see two similar people in the suburbs engage in. Thirdly, as we New Yorkers are bombarded with humanity, we guard our personal space a bit more than other Americans might be, and I believe this makes it's easier to know dozens of people in a superficial way but to have few truly close connections with people. How many of us know our neighbors, who live twelve feet away, for example?
I love New York and have no intention of leaving after 9 years, but if anything ever drives me to leave the city while still single, it will be the city's unique way of making a solitary existence among 8 million people more likely than many non New Yorkers might imagine.
Ron in Greenwich Village

Nov. 25 2008 07:56 AM
George from Bay Ridge

I'm too busy to be lonely. Can't fit it into my schedule.

Nov. 25 2008 05:50 AM

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