“There Must Be A Better World Somewhere"
Sometimes I wonder
Just what am I fighting for?
I win some battles
But I always lose the war
I keep right on stumblin'
In this no-man's land out here
But I know
Mmmmm yes, I know
There must be a better world somewhere
Some joker clips my wings
Just because he gets a kick
Out of doing those kind of things
I keep on fallin' in space
Or just hangin' in mid-air
But I know
Ohh yes, I know
There has just got to be a better world somewhere
Every woman I want
Only wants herself
Everybody I love
Seems to love somebody else
And every woman
Got a license to break my heart
And every love, oh it's over
Over before it gets a chance to start
If it ain't dead
Maybe in the here after
Instead of tears
I'll learn all about laughter
But meanwhile I'm stuck out here
It just ain't fair, but I know
I said I know
Oh yes, I know
There must be a better world somewhere
There's just gotta be
Gotta be a better world somewhere
It’s Valentine’s Day. The day when there is some kind of Big Brother (or Big Sister) command from on high that today you must be romantic, offer cards and pink fluffy things to the person of your dreams, make grand gestures intended to demonstrate the extent of your commitment, and perhaps go out for an evening meal in a red rose-strewn restaurant offering a “special” (ie. monumentally overpriced) menu. For many couples, Valentine’s Day is a day of judgment—a day spent feeling bad that their relationship does not measure up to how love “should” be (Christmas can have a similar effect). One study found that relationship breakups were significantly higher around Valentine’s Day than at other times of the year. Some couples resent the obligation, the command to conform, and all the crass mass marketing of love that goes with it, and deliberately do nothing at all to observe the day. For people in the early, fledgling days of a new relationship, Valentine’s Day can unhelpfully raise the stakes. For people who are suffering from loneliness, it can make you feel 10 times worse. Crisis hotlines will see a spike in calls today.
Valentine’s Day can be great of course, a start, or a celebration, a renewal. But love, romance and sexual arousal don’t tend to respond to command. Perhaps overall, on the balance sheet of human joy versus human misery, Valentine’s Day is a net contributor to the latter rather than the former.
Neverthless, with love I offer here a humble buffet table with some Valentine’s Day morsels and delicacies about love, sex, relationships etc.
• Dealing with love, romance and rejection on Valentine's Day
• The psychology of why Valentine's Day ruins relationships
• 7 science-based tips to make you sexier on Valentine’s Day
• A Valentine's Day look at sex through the ages
• Happy couples are probably deluding themselves
• What straight couples can learn from gay couples
And good advice from The Guardian’s Oliver Burkman: All dating advice is as terrible as the people who give it.
Your relationship demystified
The key to happiness is love and understanding. The more you know someone, the more you can love them; the more you love them, the more you know. Attachment style—mine and yours—is the scaffold upon which a relationship is built. To understand the dynamics of your relationship—past, present or future—check out the 6 relationship types. What colour is yours? (This is far and away the most popular, most viewed thing I've written on this blog.)
The latest news
Shocking to hear that Black Eyed Pea Fergie and Josh Duhamel are in marriage counseling after six years together—if those two beacons of togetherness are struggling, what hope is there for the rest of us ... the Ministry of Social Affairs in Saudi Arabia is implementing a mandatory pre-marital couples counselling program ... a similar mandatory scheme has recently been proposed in Colorado ... a voluntary government-funded marriage counselling program in Australia was recently dumped after attracting just 10 per cent of the expected participants ... pre-marital counselling in Jamaica ... domestic violence can sometimes be perpetrated by women against men as this report from Ireland points out.
• 42% of UK marriages end in divorce
• Almost half of divorces involve children under 16
• In 2011, 66% of divorces were on petition of the wife
• Of every divorce in 2011 - it was the first divorce for both partners in 70.1% of cases, while in 19.7% one party had been divorced previously, and in 9.6% of cases both had divorced previously
• Second marriages are more likely to be successful than first marriages. If one or both partners are remarrying they have a 31% chance of divorce, compared to 45% if it is both partners’ first time
• 34% of marriages are expected to end in divorce by the 20th wedding anniversary
• 16% of marriages reach the 60th wedding anniversary without separation or death
• Those who marry younger are more likely to divorce. Having children or staying childless has no clear effect on risk of divorce
• While divorce rates are falling—people are getting married at older ages and are increasingly cohabiting beforehand—the number of divorces among the 60+ has significantly increased from 1991 to 2011
• Reasons proven for legal divorce:
--36% of divorces granted to men and 54% of divorces granted to women were due to unreasonable behaviour
--32% of divorces granted to men and 22% of divorces granted to women were granted following 2 years of separation and consent
--16% of divorces granted to men and 9% of divorces granted to women were granted following 5 years of separation
--15% of divorces were granted for adultery, same across genders
--Less than 1% of all divorces were granted due to desertion
• In 2010-11, one third of all children aged 16 and under were not living with both of their birth parents
• Almost 25% of families in the UK are lone parent families
--44% of resident parents said their child either splits their time equally, or sees their other parent at least weekly
--29% of resident parents said that their child never sees their other parent
--20% of all resident parents said that their child has not seen their other parent since separation
• There are 7.7 million families with dependent children:
--4.7 million (60%) are married couple families
--1.2 million (15%) are unmarried opposite sex couple families
--1.9 million (24.5%) are lone parent families (8.8% of lone-parent families are lone-father families, the remainder are lone mother families)
--8,000 (0.001%) are civil partnered couple families
--5,000 (0.001%) are same-sex cohabiting couple families
• The first UK civil partnership was on the 5th December 2005: approximately 120,908 individuals entered civil partnerships between 2005 and 2012
• The number of civil partnership dissolutions granted in 2012 was 794, an increase of 20% on the 2011 numbers. By the end of 2012, 3.2% of male and 6.1% of female civil partnerships in England and Wales had ended in dissolution
Relate also offers 6 secrets of how Relationship Counselling works, and from the Huffington Post: Everything You Need To Know About Premarital Counseling.
The top-10 nations for divorce
It’s nice for Belgium to have something to be famous for: It’s the country with the highest divorce rate in the world.
According to The Richest: “A first glance, Belgium appears an example of European modernity: a nation with a rich history and splendid architecture which is the centre of power for the European Union and Parliament. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll realise that all is not well in the nation so famous for its chocolate. Politically, Belgium is fiercely divided between the French speaking south, which includes the capital Brussels, and the Flemish speaking north, close to Holland. The nation is so divided that successive elections have resulted in collapsed governments with Belgium going a record 535 days without a government as a result. Against this backdrop divorce levels have been climbing, with the decline of the Church cited as a key factor in these figures.”
Ratio of divorce rate to marriage rate
1 Belgium 71
2 Portugal 68
3 Hungary 67
4 Czech Republic 66
5 Spain 61
6 Luxembourg 60
7 Estonia 58
8 Cuba 56
9 France 55
10 United States 53
I live in you, you live in me;
We are two gardens haunted by each other.
Sometimes I cannot find you there,
There is only the swing creaking, that you have just left,
Or your favourite book beside the sundial.
To a stranger
Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me,
as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall'd as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me, or a girl with me,
I ate with you, and slept with you- your body has become not yours
only, nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass- you
take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you- I am to think of you when I sit alone, or
wake at night alone,
I am to wait- I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
On Raglan Road
On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.
On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay -
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.
I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that's known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May
On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay -
When the angel woos the clay he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day.
—Patrick Kavanagh (sung here by Sinead O’Connor and here by Van Morrison and here by Mark Knopfler)
My Funny Valentine
Chet Baker sings it in 1959, 29 years old, already a hardened heroin addict, but with the sweet voice of an angel. You can see the ravages of time and hard drugs when he plays it again 28 years later in concert in Tokyo. A year after that he fell to his death from a hotel room in Amsterdam.
Obligatory quote from Gandhi
“Where there is love there is life"
It’s Christmas! Excited? Happy? Full of festive spirit, glad tidings and ding-donging merrily on high? Have you decked the halls with boughs of holly? Or does the whole sorry business make you shudder and want to crawl under the duvet until 2015?
“Christmas”—by which I mean that holiday period butt-end of the year that also encompasses Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, other denominational time off work, atheist trips to the pub, New Year's Day etc—can be a great celebration; a send off for the year gone by and a welcome to the new. But all too often it’s instead a time of abject misery, a welter of disappointment, a year’s worth of sorrowful Sundays rolled into one. Calls to the Samaritans peak at this time of year (they received over 240,000 during the holiday period in 2013)
The pressure is on to have a good time. Money is tight. It’s dark and gloomy. If you already feel lonely, as so many people do, at Christmas time the loneliness gets turbocharged. The people we normally rely on—friends, colleagues, therapists—are away. Sometimes it all makes us feel sad. Sometimes it makes us feel murderous: Forget goodwill to all—a kind of infantile jealousy and rage kick in against anyone who is seemingly actually having the exalted “Happy Christmas,” the one that we’re supposed to be having, the one we deserve. Psychoanalysts attribute “Christmas neurosis” to sibling rivalries reawakened by the baby Jesus, or to some sort of Oedipal conflict with Santa Claus (yes, they really think like that).
We eat too much, we drink too much, and we feel bad. A vague sense of religious guilt seems to descend like a fine mist. Maybe we are not so optimistic about the coming year. We think about a Christmas from a while back, or from many years ago, when we were younger, healthier, and we remember people who are now gone, and it all aches. The losses accumulate; on significant days on the calendar, they seem to get multiplied and amplified. The magical wishes we had from childhood never came true, and this time of year is a keen reminder of those past disappointments, and a harbinger, too, of inevitable frustrations to come. We turn into Scrooge—cynical, alienated, depressed, numb—as a defence against all the pain.
We get the Christmas blues. Santa Claus isn’t coming to town after all. There are no chestnuts roasting on an open fire. The tiny tots’ eyes are all aglow but only with fury or disappointment because they didn’t like their present—you got the wrong one, or it’s broken already, or it’s lacking batteries or some other vital part is missing. It’s not a white Christmas—it’s grey. Those loud noises you hear aren’t party poppers, or champagne corks, or funny punch lines, but the eruption of family tensions that have simmered all year. (Or worse, they don’t erupt but just carry on simmering in silence.) Your Christmas is a million miles away from the one that’s depicted in all those ads on TV.
If it could be accepted for whatever it turns out to be this year, Christmas might be OK. A lot of the problems come with the feeling that yours doesn’t quite measure up—and, by extension, you don’t measure up, either. You try and inevitably fail to live up to an idealized, fantasy version of what Christmas “should” be. It “should” be the most wonderful time of the year, bathed in celestial light, warmth and goodness. And while we’re at it, you “should” have done more with your life. Your relationship “should” be different, better, more loving, more alive. You “should” have written a novel by now, made more money, been a better parent, son, daughter, student, employee, neighbour, friend. You should have made a difference. You should have fed the world. Oh yes. How small our grandiosity makes us become. We wallow in our deep and dreamless fog of self-recrimination while above us, unnoticed, the silent stars go by.
6 survival suggestions this Christmas
• Modify your goals, expectations and hopes. Maybe you don’t need all the trimmings this year. Literally and symbolically, if there are too many decorations on the Christmas tree, you can’t even see the Christmas tree or, worse, it buckles and collapses under the weight of expectation. Less can be so much more.
Years ago, the English child psychologist Donald Winnicott propounded the notion of the “good enough” mother. The guilt of not doing more, not being a perfect mother, not being a goddess offering an ever-flowing fountain of selfless love—it all just gets in the way. As the saying goes, great is the enemy of good. Sometimes, accepting mediocrity is what gives you the space to transcend it. You can’t be extraordinary without first embracing your ordinariness. And so it is with Christmas—and other things in your life. So here’s to a good enough Christmas. And a good enough everything else, too.
• Have the Christmas you want. What would be good for you? There might well be family obligations, duties, expectations that have to be met, but are there also spaces over the holiday period where you can do what you want? Where and when and how are you going to play? Are you going to start or continue your own quirky, individual Christmas traditions that have nothing to do with how it’s all supposed to be? Are you going to do your thing? When Scrooge awakens, transformed, from his dreams on Christmas morning, he is liberated, free, alive, and sets about living his life like an unleashed puppy. Writes Dickens: “He cared not if people laughed at him—his own heart laughed.”
• Look after yourself. It’s a stressful enough time as year as it is—our coping strategies are more important than ever. Yet there’s a tendency over the holidays to stop doing all the normal things that you do to keep healthy and happy. It’s a time of year when we give ourselves permission to relax the normal rules. In Freudian terms, we give our “superego” the rest of the year off, and our normally repressed “id” leaps onto the stage, ready to party. We stay up late eating ice cream, we have red wine for breakfast, we wear really terrible sweaters. We do silly, impulsive, embarrassing things. That’s all fine, well and good—Christmas is indeed playtime. But then sometimes, it suddenly isn’t good, and we feel listless, irritable, bored, apathetic, empty, guilty or anxious. We’ve gone too far; there is psychic indigestion. We need some balance. There’s no need to completely lose control; no need to give the “ego” the rest of the year off, too. Think about the things that make you feel good—a little exercise, perhaps, a good night’s sleep, some healthy food, creativity, some music, meditation, moderation. Don’t abandon them—or you—just because it’s Christmas.
• If things get really bad, seek help. Organisations like the Samaritans and Sane are there for you throughout the holidays. Go to my help page to find details of organizations that offer support.
• Do some giving that doesn’t involve a credit card. Give some of your time, energy and presence to a friend in need, a neighbour, a charity, a crisis centre. Make your Christmas presents instead of buying them, and make them personal. Giving is a massive reward—a gift to you, too. (Trade secret: That’s why people become therapists.)
• Plan your own ascension, renaissance, transformation. Away from Christmas—the loud and drunken parties, the relentless extortions and exhortions to buy things, the epicurean excesses, all the tinselly, frivolous nonsense—there is something else, something eternal, timeless, a kind of immutable wisdom. For some, of course, this has religious significance. For others, it’s all about the Winter Solstice. At this time of year, long before Christmas was invented, people would celebrate Saturnalia, a pagan festival of light—December 25 was said to be the birthday of Invictus, the Sun God. The shortest day is past and a new sun is rising. The days will be getting longer and things will soon start to grow afresh. The world turns. Here, in the quiet and stillness of the dead of winter, when everything is stripped back and bare, we can reflect, plan, and prepare. Sometimes we make a list of new year’s resolutions as a substitute for actually doing them, making changes, taking charge of our life. Maybe this time it will be different. It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life.
You spoke to no one today. The sun came up, moved across the sky, then went down. Nobody cared what you wore, what you did, what you thought, how you felt. You came home to no one. No messages. You imagine that you could die tonight and no one would discover your corpse for days, maybe weeks. You try to keep busy, or you slump in front of the TV, then you go to bed for another restless night. The world is utterly indifferent to you and your existence. You’ve never felt so alone.
Haven’t we all had days like this? Certainly we’ve all felt the bitter sting of loneliness. You’re definitely not alone—we’re all in it together. Britain is the loneliness capital of Europe. Five million Brits have no friends. Nearly 30 percent of households in the U.K. now consist of one person. This has been called the “Age of Loneliness.” We’ve become an alien-nation, isolated from each other—and our own selves. The cup of human kindness is empty these days.
What exactly is loneliness, anyhow? We might define it as a painful subjective experience borne of insufficient human contact and intimacy. The subjective part is important: Only you can judge whether or not you’re lonely. There is no external standard; no required threshold of Facebook friends. It’s possible to have a life filled with people and feel very lonely. It’s possible, too, to feel completely content with a solitary existence. (Possible, but not very likely—as Sullivan wrote: “There is no way that I know of by which one can, all by oneself, satisfy the need for intimacy.”)
A significant contribution to our understanding of loneliness came from British child psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1950s, who claimed that contact and intimacy are basic needs in themselves, as vital as food and water to our survival both as individuals and as a species. He used the term “attachment,” which he defined as “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” We are social animals. We seek connection; it is through what Cozolino calls the “social synapse” that we develop and grow, certainly as babies but throughout our lifespan, too. As Sue Gerhardt writes in the excellent Why Love Matters: “My understanding is that human beings are open systems, permeated by other people as well as by plants and air and water. We are shaped not only by what we breathe and eat but by our interactions with other people.”
Loneliness, then, could be thought of as useful information akin to hunger or thirst. It is a call to arms, a warning, a klaxon in the dark night. We can tolerate it for a while and carry on, but the more socially starved and weakened we become, the harder it’s going to be to rectify. And we do need to address it. Because loneliness can be a toxic companion. It is bad for your health. Ever since Émile Durkheim’s 1897 book Suicide, we’ve understood the dramatic negative impact of social isolation. “We know that loneliness shaves about eight years off your life expectancy,” says Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, which are those places around the world known for extraordinary longevity. One study claims that chronic loneliness increases your chances of an early death by 45 percent. By contrast, the opposite of loneliness—love, connectedness, belonging—promotes longevity. Love is not all you need, nor does it make the world go round. But it is certainly a vital part of being human.
OK. Loneliness is painful enough without having additional, secondary things to feel bad about, like its impact on your health. Or anxiety that it will always be this way. Not to mention the guilt and shame of loneliness, the bitter pill that you’re not living life the way you’re “supposed” to, the way you hoped, the way others hoped for you. Calls to the Samaritans are always highest around the Christmas holidays, when the stream of TV ads depicting perfect people being nourished by perfect meals, perfect friends, perfect families and perfect gifts makes us feel so utterly starved.
Are we getting lonelier?
We imagine loneliness to be a modern malaise, and to an extent, it is. In the olden days, we suppose, people would spend their sepia-coloured evenings together, gathered round the hearth, the repast, or the piano, at the beating heart of the home, family and town where they grew up, where they would live, work, marry, procreate, recreate, retire and die. Then central heating came along and we retreated to our bedrooms. Then the TV was turned on and conversation petered out. Headphones—we retreated further still. Then aeroplanes—we could get even further away from each other. Then came the Apollo rockets, and the aching prospect of an infinite outer space, and the terrifying idea that when it comes to life, our planet is all alone—or the terrifying idea that it isn’t.
The capitalist machine cranked up a gear. It used to serve mankind; after what Polanyi called “the great transformation,” mankind existed to serve the machine, and ever since we’ve been working longer hours, moving to the ever-sprawling suburbs, and spending an awful lot of time commuting. Meanwhile, the old customs and niceties have been bulldozed in the name of progress and development. In the immortal words of Joni Mitchell, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
With society already on its knees, along comes email, the internet, mobile phones, virtual reality. Kafka-esque scenes of humans avoiding real contact with each other and their environment, even at social gatherings, family meals, weddings, vacations. We commune instead with tiny little screens. The lure of texts, emails and what is laughingly called “social” media. Alfred J. Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons. Ours are measured out in “likes” on Facebook. “Did you have a good life?” the nurse will ask us on our deathbed. “I don’t know,” we will answer, “I missed most of it. I was too busy checking my email.”
Broken attachments—we’ve been ripped apart from one another and scattered to the four winds. The family, the clan and the community lie in pieces. We’re disillusioned with the state; we’ve lost faith in faith. Without a social life, society breaks down. All the old certainties gone.
Loneliness: a key to love?
In reality, however, though social cohesion may well be declining, on a broader, more philosophical level, loneliness might be as old as humankind, an inextricable part of the human condition. Mijuskovic says we are “intrinsically alone and irredeemably lost”; the human being is “continually struggling to escape the solipsistic prison of his frightening solitude.” (I don’t know—maybe Mijuskovic just spends too much time alone in front of his typewriter.) Loneliness has always served an evolutionary purpose, ensuring that cavemen sought out other cavemen and created cave babies. Thanks to loneliness—and other unpleasant tendencies like anxiety, which has kept us ever-alert to threats—our species survived and thrived. Thanks to loneliness, our ancestors, stretching back to the dawn of time, got together with each other. Thanks to loneliness, you and I are here, today.
In his classic, slimline 1961 volume Loneliness, Moustakas writes: “Man's inevitable and infinite loneliness is not solely an awful condition of human existence but . . . it is also the instrument through which man experiences new compassion and new beauty." In the womb, we are alone. At death, we make a journey to something else, and again, we travel solo. In the part in between, our hour upon the stage, we might well essentially be alone. But if we can embrace it, it is our loneliness that guides us and teaches us how to live. It shows us that life is better with other people around, people we see into and who we feel see into us. We are more human when there is humanity—when there is love.
What to do about loneliness
I wrote an article for the Harley Therapy blog site called How to Overcome Loneliness:
The basic premise is that before you can know and love others, you have to know and love your loneliness—and yourself. Krishnamurti beautifully sums this up: “The entity who tries to fill or run away from emptiness, incompleteness, loneliness, is not different from that which he is avoiding; he is it. He cannot run away from himself; all that he can do is to understand himself. He is his loneliness, his emptiness; and as long as he regards it as something separate from himself, he will be in illusion and endless conflict. When he directly experiences that he is his own loneliness, then only can there be freedom from fear.”
Read my how-to-beat-loneliness story by clicking here.
Videos about loneliness
• TED Talk: The lethality of loneliness by John Cacioppo.
• Orson Welles debates loneliness with Henry Jaglom in Jaglom’s terrific, unknown movie “Someone to Love.”
• Eleanor Rigby: “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”
Books about loneliness
• Loneliness. By Clark Moustakas
• Loneliness in philosophy, psychology, and literature. By Ben Lazare Mijuskovic
• On love and loneliness. By J. Krishnamurti
1. What is a psychopath?