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I'm hearing much discussion these days about the dangers of loneliness (heart disease, cancer, anger, anxiety, hostility, pessimism) and the benefits of marriage or relationship (improved immune system, reduced blood pressure, inceased oxytocin, reduced cortisol levels, and better psychological and physical health).

Well. Sounds like and either/or proposition and like most black-and-white, yes-or-no situations, the solution begins in the proper framing of the situation.

Loneliness, as perceived by the individual, is very destructive, because human beings are social animals like dogs and chimpanzees (and many others), and social interaction and bonding is a necessity, not an incidental.

Howsomever, not all living arrangements are created equal. Some marriages can be so awful that the loneliness is intense. Other independent living arrangements can be not lonely at all, but peaceful and serene. I wouldn't begin to advocate for marriage--or against it.

Two of the most sane, intelligent people I know live alone. But that simple statement tells not the whole story. Each of them in his own way is involved with and related to the world around him--daily walking trips to the town center, music lessons, exercise classes, work, etc. I would not call them loners, but I would call them independent individuals. (Yes, I envy their living arrangements.)

And, of course, each is connected to the wider world via the internet. A friend at work lives in a housing complex for senior citizens and she says that nearly every single resident has a computer and access to the world outside via the internet. The agony of the shut-in and the limited access elderly is gradually giving way to a world where we can stay in touch with each other electronically.

True, it's not the same as holding hands and hugging, but a virtual hug can be warm and welcoming nonetheless. She says that the widespread use of computers has raised the morale of the complex's residents in a profound way. Several have learned how to connect with families and friends via streaming video as well as by voice and email.

For myself, I cannot imagine being lonely unless I were incarcerated in a facility or shut up in my own body due to a physical ailment (like a stroke). Even when my mother was at her psychotic worst and wanted to shut us up in the house, pull the shades, lock the door and turn off the lights, I used to leave and go next door to visit the neighbors. Also, I always went to school unless I was really sick. It was the one place I could be away from her. And I was a reader--another means of escape.

I had the driving, not-to-be-denied, need to connect and be part of the human race. My mother used to ask me, "Why do you want to be with other people?" I was too young to give a psychological/sociological answer, so I just shrugged. And kept on reaching out to other people, until I was finally old enough to leave home.

I always felt a little guilty about wanting to get away from my mother as far away as possible. Though I did not understand for many years what schizophrenia was, instinctively I knew that it was a wrong way to look at the world and I maintained my connections to other people, no matter how many times we moved (21 times in 16 years) and no matter how often my mother shut up the house and went to bed.

I am so deeply grateful to the Universe not to be psychotic, as she was.

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