Earlier this week I was intrigued by an article in the Guardian called ‘The age when you hit ‘peak loneliness’ – and other life milestones’ thinking if I have ever felt lonely now is that time. In fact it described Peak loneliness for men as age 35 which was very surprising. At 35 I was busy with two job halves each of which demanded around 70% of my time, I was a single parent for growing 6 and 3 year olds, I was still playing cricket and had a rich seam of friends and family to support me. It felt challenging, unrelenting, exhilarating and busy but certainly not lonely. Now all men are different but for me at least loneliness did not figure at all.
I hinted above now would be my peak age for loneliness (65 this week, a genuine OAP!!) and I want to make it clear it’s all relative and I do not objectively feel lonely but just a little more so than a year ago when I retired. I think work has defined so much of my life that it’s absence in the past year has created gaps in my time which I have had to engineer to find things to do. I suppose I became so used to leaving home to work, travelling with work and attending events, conferences etc for work that my downtime at home was minimal. I was happy to spend time alone, relaxing, re-charging the boundaries, catching up on TV and seeing family and friends. It was good to be alone, away from the hurly-burly and my main leisure pursuit being cricket, as chair of my local club, I could be down at the club 5-6 nights a week in the summer. Life seemed balanced and no time to regret the absence of a personal relationship, lack of knowledge of my neighbours or what was happening in the village. My son still lived at home so life felt busy and fulfilling.
Fast forward to retirement and what was happily tolerated potentially become significant gaps in my timeline. I still don’t know my neighbours, my son now has his own home, nearby. I have very little interaction with the town though recently joined a Book Club partly to rectify that. I am now president of the cricket club but that is much more a passive engagement and maybe crucially I do not have a personal relationship. I have to say I do not want a personal relationship for lots of reasons but it would make my experience of retirement significantly different. It is perhaps easier to experience loneliness when you are on your own and stuck at home more than you want or desire.
I still like my solitude as a respite from that gregarious side of me which now takes more effort. But I like my solitude to be freely chosen and at the moment some of that time is forced on me through ill-health and gaps which I now notice post work. Ill-health in itself is miserable but when it stops you doing what you want to do, it’s frustrating and a bit isolating. I spend too many days just sitting, watching too much TV but with no energy to do anything more constructive, even reading can be difficult some days. I miss planned trips out to watch Yorkshire, identified as a retirement goal, or to get out to Nature reserves or just the countryside to take photographs, another retirement goal. I fail my personal deadlines: finishing my novel; preparing photo year books; exploring Yorkshire; and watching cricket. In these circumstances the tug of loneliness comes over the horizon to be resisted and rebuffed.
But what other peaks does the article indicate to which I can aspire to reduce this solitude. Not much hope given in this article I am afraid. Peak age for learning a new language is 8 so Spanish classes may prove difficult. Peak age for female attractiveness for men of all ages was 20-23 so way beyond that for me! Peak creativity is, according to the tests, 25 which may explain why I am finding it difficult to complete my novel. But like all psychological tests which determine these apparent certainties it depends what you are measuring as creativity to validate the results. My peak age for wariness about psychology was around 22 and I have maintained healthy scepticism ever since.
Peak age for chess is 31 based on a study with grandmasters so another career choice is missed. Peak age for contentment varies according to whether you are married, 40 or single 27. I was not yet married at 27 and no longer married at 40 so cannot identify with these ages. My contentment was at its height from 2002-14 as was my creativity as I produced an array of work achievements I remain very proud off and my two children were becoming adult and making me very proud. I feel content now too as I have no ambitions left and feel entirely comfortable with that position. Peak age for depression for men is 50 which hopefully means I have less chance now to become depressed than I would have 15 years ago. (I can use psychological insights when it suits me of course) The final peak was for Nobel prizes which are normally given later in life so maybe, just maybe, there is still a chance I guess. So which Nobel Peaks might I aspire to?
I think I am nearing my Nobel Peak for ‘Caring-less’. I still care about people and the world but I have also reached that point where I am happy to let some of the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ to pass me by. I think the complete lack of testosterone in my body may have contributed to this, I do not have the anger or aggressiveness about matters I might have once exhibited. I have somewhat belied this position in recent weeks as the anger of the mass media towards Labour has made me rant on political matters on FB something I normally avoid, but generally I am letting go. I am much more likely to be animated about the sighting of a yellowhammer than the results of the French elections or the fate of Boris Johnson.
My second Nobel Peak would be for ‘reaching old age’. I am chancing my arm here as it is Thursday before I reach my 65th birthday but this seems likely now and I consider that the greatest achievement in my life and worthy of a gong. At 59 and with a two year prognosis this milestone seemed a long long way away. But I have survived, I am still here and hopefully with a fair wind will get a year or two yet and if this does not warrant a celebration and a recognition I don’t know what does. So what buffers me against depression, loneliness, and my declining chess ability and keeps me contented, optimistic and fulfilled is existence itself – every day I extend my life expectancy. There is nothing so enervating as waking up and thinking yet another day to enjoy. I want the Nobel Peak for ‘glass half full’!
My week in photos.