You Don’t Have To Be Alone
For the first year in retirement, I murmured this phrase over and over again, “I’m bored.” After regularly working 60 hours a week and interacting with clients, I suddenly had too much time on my hands. Instead of being bored, maybe what I really felt was loneliness.
After my wife took the bus to work at 8:30 am each morning I was left twiddling my thumbs. After 13 years of working in finance, I had been accustomed to waking up by 5:30 am. So I spent my time writing while she was sleeping instead of writing while she was away.
The vast majority of my friends couldn’t play tennis or hang out during the day because they had jobs. Therefore, there was a constant struggle to fight FOMO as they went on to do bigger and better things. Eventually, I found more productive things to do by consulting for startups.
The pandemic seems to have exacerbated the loneliness epidemic as more people distance themselves from others. Here’s the data to prove it.
The Rise Of Loneliness In America
The first chart is from The Washington Post and the American Time Use Survey by the BLS. It shows since 2013, Americans 15 and older are spending nine hours more alone a week today. Americans are also spending four-to-five hours less time a week with friends and companions.
This second chart is from The Financial Times and analyzes the same American data. It shows:
- Male and female Americans ages 15-33 are spending about 100 more minutes alone (50% more) a day today compared to in 2011.
- Loneliness starts to tick up between ages 38 – 40 and doesn’t stop until death.
- More women start spending time alone after age 60.
Feeling Sad About The Loneliness Data
Life isn’t as enjoyable without a companion. The loneliness data makes me feel melancholy. But it also makes me want to take action to counteract the loneliness epidemic.
At 45, I’m at an age where the data shows I will get dramatically more lonely from now on. As an extrovert who loves taking action, this is an undesirable outcome I plan to fix.
At the same time, I’ve come to realize maybe there’s no need to fix anything in my life. All that’s needed are some minor adjustments that you or I can do to increase our happiness.
Here are some solutions to loneliness I can think of. I’ve come to the conclusion feeling loved and less lonely takes effort. Therefore, maybe we don’t have to follow the path of the Rônin if we don’t want to.
Solution To Loneliness #1: Have Children Later
As an older parent, I used to regret my decision for focusing so much on money and career. However, I’ve come to realize we older parents can actually spend way more time with our children than if we had children earlier.
The second realization I have as a writer and as an older dad is that since 2017, there is almost never a moment of loneliness! 100% of my free time can be filled with the demands of our two children. We are like magnets to them where they want to cling to us 24/7.
I can’t wait to give my kids hugs and play with them after I finish writing this post. However, as two stay-at-home parents, sometimes we feel like we spend too much time with our kids. As a result, we sometimes feel like we need alone time to decompress.
Therefore, the solution to not feeling more lonely after age 40 is to have children later! Instead of having your first child by age 25, maybe have them at age 35. Alternatively, just have a lot of children throughout your adult life.
If you have your first child at age 25, they will potentially be out of the house by the time you turn 43. So much loneliness thereafter! But if you have your first child at age 35, they won’t be out of the house until you turn 53, at the earliest.
The latest U.S. Census Bureau figures show that, for the first time, the average age of women giving birth is now 30. So at least the trend is going in the right direction to counteract loneliness. However, there are significant risks to having children later.
Solution To Loneliness #2: Retire Later
Loneliness is another reason why the ideal age to retire is not before 40. In this age range, there are simply too few people available to share time together during the day.
Once you get to your mid-40s, the ideal age range to retire, you’ll find many more people to drink mimosas with during the weekdays. If you’re working 60+ hours a week until you’re 65, it’s much harder to have any alone time!
Although I disliked my career enough to retire early, I also enjoyed a lot of my time with colleagues and clients. For example, every year, I’d fly to Hong Kong to attend the Asia Investment Conference. The conference always coincided with the Rugby 7s tournament, which was one huge party.
Not only would I go out and bond with clients every day for dinners and drinks, but I’d also have fun with colleagues from other offices. After the conference was over, sometimes I’d tack on trips to China, India, or Taiwan for more company meetings.
One of the negatives of early retirement is not having a sense of purpose. Until you find something you enjoy doing, you have to be OK with feeling like a nobody.
Even if you retire to something, chances are you will still feel this huge emptiness inside for an unknown period of time. Be forewarned. Loneliness in retirement is real.
Solution To Loneliness #3: Find An In-Person Hobby
Finding a hobby other people also enjoy doing is one of the best ways to counteract loneliness. People come together due to a shared interest. The hobby can be in the arts, sports, activism, philanthropy, and more. The more hobbies you have, the better.
For my entire early retirement time period, I’ve played league tennis. The hobby is perfect for keeping loneliness at bay due to the formation of teams. You make friends with team members and have a unified goal to be the best team in your district. If you win districts, you move on to sectionals. Fun!
Having online friends is better than nothing. But I think an online friendship is equal to no more than 5% of an offline friendship. There’s no substitute for in-person relationships, which is part of the reason why there’s a strong push for many relationship businesses to go back to the office. Don’t confuse your follower count with meaningful relationships.
During the pandemic, I enjoyed playing lots of softball. However, due to the risk of injury, I’ve decided to focus more on Pickleball, which is way more action-packed. It’s been great getting to know a whole set of new people from the San Francisco Pickleball community.
People who become fanatical about a hobby also become fanatical about keeping in touch.
Solution To Loneliness #4: Add More Value
The more value you can add to society, the more people may want to spend time with you. You will be invited to more parties and more events. From there, you will grow your network and potentially find more companions with shared interests.
For example, I partnered up with a woman named Shannon to play Pickleball the other day. It was our first time meeting so she asked me what I did. I told her I am an author. She asked about the title of my book and I mentioned, Buy This, Not That.
She then said, “I know that book! Other parents at my daughter’s school were mentioning it. They told me I had to read it because it talks about education, marriage, and divorce. Maybe I can organize a get-together with other parents who’ve read the book?”
Small world! I’m always surprised when someone says they’ve heard of my book or Financial Samurai. But maybe I shouldn’t since this site has been around since 2009.
It’s nice to know I can meet a bunch of potentially interesting new folks who are all parents. If my daughter wants to attend this private school one day, perhaps I can more easily gain recommendations. But I must say “yes” to the invitation and make an effort.
The longer you can help people without asking for anything in return, the more people may want to help you down the road. Hence, if you don’t want to be lonely, start giving more of your time and money today. Volunteering is great for loneliness because it makes you feel good that you’re helping others.
Not only might you get rewarded with unknown favors in the future, but you might also make new friends. At the extreme, the wealthiest people who give the most are always getting invited to fundraisers. But that doesn’t mean they are less lonely given it depends on the strength of their relationships.
Solution To Loneliness #5: Make A Bigger Effort
Now that we know the data about how much more lonely we are, we can be more intentional to counteract loneliness. Reverse engineering the data is easy. Perhaps we have more power to be less lonely than we think!
For example, since the start of the pandemic we are spending at least three more hours a week by ourselves. If we have a problem with this, then we can intentionally plan for three more hours with friends and companions a week.
Three hours can be knocked out with two lunches, one long hike, one sporting event, or a nice date night. Reach out to friends and loved ones to make plans. Put the plans in your calendar and do them!
I plan to play at least one more Pickleball or tennis match a week, which would make me spend at least one more hour with others. I also plan to pop over to friends’ homes more often if I’m in their neighborhood. Just the other day I had some saké outside with a buddy. It was nice to shoot the breeze for 45 minutes.
Recently, I was super-impressed with a fellow parent who met me and my son at a SF playground at 2:45 pm. He and his son were in the East Bay, an hour away since 9 am. But they got on the BART subway system, rode his bike to the playground and met up. We had a great conversation about being a dad and work-life balance. His wife was on a business trip so he rationally made a big effort not to feel lonely!
Loneliness Can Also Be So Dangerous
For over 13 years online, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing both the good and the bad of human nature. Thankfully, ~98.8% of the responses and interactions have been good.
I’ve observed there appears to be a correlation between loneliness, anger, and potential danger. The more lonely one is, potentially the more angry and dangerous they are. As a result, for your safety, it may be best to ignore your haters or try to better empathize with them.
Before kids, I was more combative with people who hurled insulting comments my way. Although I would never start things, it is in my nature to always fight back.
After having kids, I did a lot of reflecting on the type of father I want to be and the world I want them to grow up in. I also wanted to live long enough for them to become independent adults.
As a result, I’ve more easily let hate go. Not only does ignoring the hate protect my mood, it also saves me time and energy to be more productive.
A Revelation Of Experiences
The pandemic also revealed many of the negative experiences I’ve quietly experienced with the emergence of the “Karens” and those who display hate against Asian folks.
I spent more time learning about the backstories of those who hate me or people like me. And what I discovered was their anger was almost always partially due to loneliness.
One woman went through a traumatic divorce. Whenever I’d write about family finances she’d leave a nasty comment on FS or my FB page. Another man revealed he never had a girlfriend. He also lost money on a home he had purchased right before the global financial crisis.
When people are lonely, they don’t have enough supportive people around who love and respect them. As a result, the hurt they feel sometimes gets projected onto others. Again, online support is not enough.
The loneliness epidemic should worry us all, especially those of us who have kids. In my neighborhood alone, there are at least six adult men still living at home.
We should spend more time being patient and loving to one another. I know it can be hard when people are attacking you, but we must try!
Reader Questions And Resources
Readers, I’d love to hear what solutions you have for feeling less lonely and more loved. Are we all just too focused on ourselves to spare time helping others? Have you felt more lonely since the pandemic began?
If you want to become less lonely, pick up a copy of, Buy This, Not That. Not only does my WSJ bestseller help you build more wealth, it also helps you make more optimal decisions for some of life’s biggest dilemmas.
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