Why can't I be me

I can't be alone - is that normal?

Women are burdock, is a popular prejudice of men unwilling to commit. The question from KR reader K., who cannot be alone, seems to confirm it. I would first like to counter this with two statistics. The first shows that women are more likely than men to want to divorce. While only 40 percent of applications for divorce in Germany come from men, more than half come from women. In the US, the proportion is even higher. According to a study by Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld, 69 percent of divorce petitions were submitted by women but only 31 percent by men.

The second statistic shows that they don't want to get married in the first place, at least when they're older. While more young women between 20 and 35 years of age than men would like to marry, it is exactly the opposite for those over 50. Most women of this age are happy and content on their own, whereas men cannot be alone and long for a wife. With that I don't want to say, but also not to rule out, that men are possibly the real burdock.

Now to your question, dear K. After I published it, Mandy wrote to me. She is 26 years old and also finds it difficult to be alone. She has a boyfriend, but "when we can't see each other and I'm home alone, the ceiling often falls on my head," she writes. "I would have enough to do to occupy myself alone, but then I am lacking energy and can think of nothing else than that I want him with me." Mandy has never lived alone, was off and on with her mother at the time moved in directly with her boyfriend at the time. She was with him for ten years, and “of course you aligned your entire day-to-day life with one another. We were also at the same university and the same chair. It went so far that I actually had no social safety net at all, which ultimately meant that I could not break away from the relationship (which actually had not been made of love for a long time). This could only be shown to me through therapy, I learned to build up my social network a little and to become more independent. "

Alone, loneliness and the search for love in all their facets are the most important topics in literature, film and art. Almost all popular music feeds on these feelings; it is estimated that more than 90 percent of all pop songs are about them. A look at the “Best Songs of All Time” selected by Rolling Stone and Musikexpress proves this: One time “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division is number 1, and one time Bob Dylan's “Like a rolling stone”. Just because of these everyday perceptions I would spontaneously call out to you, of course, it is completely normal not to be able to be alone, to look for love and relationships.

Nevertheless, there are of course (self-) destructive forms when the relationship takes on the status of a drug, those affected are addicted to bonds and a partner. In addition to a fixation on the relationship, withdrawal symptoms can be observed when the partners separate, as the anthropologist Helen E. Fisher from Rutgers University (New York) has demonstrated with the help of brain scans. These include nausea, sweating, chills, tremors, restlessness, obsessions, insomnia. Unfortunately, there is no data on how many men and women suffer from addiction to relationships. It was interesting for me to read that both too much closeness and too much distance carry the risk of addiction, which I would not have suspected with the latter at first. In the first case, the addictive behavior serves to differentiate and in the second it becomes a reliable relationship partner itself.

However, there are reliable figures on the living conditions of German citizens: According to the Federal Statistical Office, almost 16 million people in Germany live alone. That corresponds to around a fifth of the population. A good 20 years ago it was 14 percent, in 15 years it will be 23 percent. More than half of those living alone are women (8.5 million, men: 7.4 million). The quota of women living alone, at 21 percent, was thus slightly higher than that of men at 19 percent. Of course, that doesn't mean that all of these people are actually alone, i.e. without a partner, or that they all feel that way. And vice versa, of course, singles live in shared apartments or joint projects. The figures show, however, that single-person households continue to increase, whereas fewer and fewer people (49 percent) live in families.

Some time ago, the market research institute TNS Infratest asked a representative group of almost 20,000 men and women whether they often feel lonely. Almost eight percent of the respondents unreservedly agree with this statement, and a little more than one in six feels lonely occasionally. However, the majority of those questioned do not feel alone.

According to psychologists like John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, loneliness is just as important a signal from the body as hunger. It ensures survival. Man is a social being. In the evolution of Homo sapiens, the loss of the Horde could easily be fatal for him. And even today people live longer if they have social support and stable relationships, as an analysis of 148 studies with data from 30,000 test subjects has shown. Alone makes you sick. But that does not mean that it is generally unhealthy to be alone or to have the desire to be alone. According to a study by the Allensbach Institute for Demoscopy, almost two thirds of those surveyed also like to be on their own, only just under a third do not want to.

Finally, dear K., I would like to recommend the attachment theory of the Canadian psychologist Kim Bartholomew to you. She identified four attachment styles that adult loneliness follows. The safe guy (1) doesn't worry about being alone. The possessive (2) has a strong desire to be close to others, while the rejecting (3) wants to remain as independent as possible. The fearful (4), on the other hand, do not want to be alone, but at the same time fears closeness, for fear of being hurt. Which type you belong to is shaped by the early childhood relationship that you have especially with your mother.

So it is perfectly normal not to be able to be alone, dear K. It seems to me that the decisive factor is finding the right balance for yourself.


Lead photo: Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland in "Cast Away" (© 20th Century Fox)