The Myth of Urban Loneliness

This interesting piece in New York magazine attempts to rebut the idea that big cities like New York, while buzzing with activity, are actually full of lonely people and that the size and pace of the urban environment contributes in some way to a sense of isolation. To the contrary, it argues that even though New York has one of the highest rates of single-dwellers (ie, folks with no roommates) in the country, they are “alone together”.

Here’s one graf about how loneliness, relationship status, and career stage are connected:

When the New Yorkers I know feel lonely—single women especially—it’s a product, too, of feeling asynchronous with their cohort. …[T]here’s a time in the lives of young professionals when they retreat deep into their silos, trying to make partner, get tenure, write their books, complete their residencies, or whatever it is that they’re hoping to do. If they’re lucky, they’re married, which helps sustain them through the work isolation. Then the next stage comes when they’re working hard in their newly minted careers (as partners, tenured professors, authors, doctors, or whatever it is they’re doing). And again, they’re fairly cut off socially, but they’re buoyed, one hopes, by the presence of a family at home. But if someone is out of step with this pattern—not partnered off, say, while still working really hard—New York can be a challenging place.

This seems right. I do think that if you’re entering an intense professional time being in a relationship probably beats being single, though this is oft-debated and depends on the situation.

Other nuggets from the piece include:

  • There’s also evidence to suggest that the religious people who live the longest are the ones who attend services most frequently rather than feel their beliefs most deeply. (It’s not faith that keeps them alive, in other words, but people.)
  • The relationship researcher Arthur Aron has pointed out that new experiences, rather than repeated favorites, are the best way to keep romantic feelings alive in a marriage, based on a series of six studies of hundreds of couples.
  • “The idea that you’re isolated when you’re online is, to me, just wrong…It’s an inherently social medium. What starts online moves offline, and what starts offline goes online.” Which explains why the people with whom you e-mail most frequently are your closest friends and romantic partners. “Online and offline life are inherently connected,” he says. “They’re not separate worlds.”

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