Weekend loneliness is an alarming trend that has hit the postmodern world.
It’s a Saturday night. You have slogged all week and want to step out for a night with friends, but no one is free. Your married friends are busy with their husbands and kids. Your siblings live in another city. Your single friends are travelling. You live by yourself and are literally home alone! So you do the best under the circumstances. Order takeaway and watch a flick on Netflix. You may actually enjoy yourself and feel content to fall asleep with a glass of your favourite drink by your bedside.
But can you do this again, the next day? Walk to the silence of an empty home, saunter into the kitchen to make yourself a cup of coffee. The bell rings, but it’s either the newspaper guy or the milkman or your maid, who is probably your only window to the world outside. Another long, lonely day ahead is staring at you. Weekend loneliness is a reality of the postmodern world.
That Empty Feeling
Srikanthan Kumarasamy, a Bengaluru-based life coach says, “Weekend loneliness is extremely exhausting. It is like a person has two different personalities — busy, bold and confident all through the week — but as the weekend approaches they become timid and vulnerable. This goes back to the paradigm shift we experience in the society. We all once lived closer to work and could meet friends whenever we wanted because traffic was never an issue. But, now with careers been given the highest priority and the need to improve ones financial and social status, pushes us to go beyond our boundaries. Thus, this modern affliction results in lonely weekends away from family and friends. This is a signal that’s generated from within us, specifically when we aren’t experiencing a social connection.”
Dr. Mallika Patri, an American-trained psychiatrist and therapist, who practices in Bengaluru says, “Urbanisation and its accoutrements is certainly driving the loneliness epidemic. But rural residents also suffer from loneliness, owing to smaller families, younger generations moving to find work, and limited access to transport, healthcare, opportunities for meaningful activities across spread out areas.”
The BBC conducted the Loneliness Experiment, 2019 campaign in which 55,000 people responded to a survey. Thirty-three per cent of the respondents confessed to feeling lonely, while 40 per cent of the 16-24 demographics expressed that they felt most lonely vis-à-vis their older counterparts. Also, most lonely people may have maximum number of online pals, but they tend to fall ill due to lack of socialisation in real life. Psychology professor Pamela Qualter, who teaches at the University of Manchester and led BBC’s experiment, “found that there didn’t seem to be a time of day [nor] a season when people felt especially lonely. But we didn’t ask about the weekend.”
Bengaluru-based psychologist Sharanya Jithin concurs that weekend loneliness is definitely a product of this modern era that runs behind career goals. “I had a client who moved to Pune for a better job role and pay, but the isolation over the weekends got to him. He stayed home and cooked for himself, and just dreaded weekends. He soon slipped into depression and sought solace in alcohol. During the therapy sessions I learnt that his childhood was also lonely because both his parents were busy working. So friends played an important role. But since his colleagues and friends in Pune were busy over the weekends with commitments, he had nobody to cope with. He thus suffered from acute weekend loneliness.”
Zubair Agloria (54), a Mumbai-based CEO of Venom Ancillary lives by himself in his Lokhandwala apartment. The silver haired biker shares his home with the love of his life, Taquila, a black Labrador.
He believes that pets help alleviate feelings of loneliness as they give you an abundance of love. “They give us a sense of security. You can have a conversation with them and the best part is they don’t argue,” he says and adds, “I used to have a five-day week and I added one more work day to it as I had too much time on my hands.”
There are days and moments when living alone can be a nightmare and that is why Zubair believes it is important to take up a hobby. “You can make that your core strength and become a gyan guru of sorts amongst your circle of friends,” he says. And that is precisely how he converted his love for biking into a full time career.
When Susan Quilliam, a psychologist and relationship expert was asked by The Guardian to define weekend loneliness, she said: “Being lonely centres around the feeling of being unappreciated. There’s nobody to talk to on a minute-to-minute basis. If you’re with a partner, even if he’s out, he’ll be coming back. So learn to get comfortable with your own self. Make friends with members of the opposite sex. Not for dating, just for friendship. Have a wide range of friends, that way you’re not reinforcing yourself as being in a ghetto of singles that have nowhere else to go.”
And this is exactly how Francee Rao, a lively widow in her 70s leads her life in Whitefield, Bengaluru. “I lead a very vibrant and fulfilling life. I have many friends and I meet up with them. I do not let time or distance stop me from doing what I want to do. There are many things to do such as art shows, pop-up markets, concerts and movies. If you can’t find anyone to go with, go by yourself and make friends. You will be surprised to who you might meet at these events. I have done this and have run into someone I know who I could hang out with and maybe have a coffee afterwards,” she says.
Sudeshna Bannerjee, a Bengaluru-based sociologist offers an interesting perspective when she analyses weekend hyper loneliness as “a market-driven social construction”. “And people who go through weekend loneliness fail to recognise the multiple sources of happiness. Rather than suffering alone, people can visit the elderly in old age homes or children in orphanages as they crave for company. People who suffer from this crave for personal warmth and not impersonal interaction.”
That is why people like Francee are worth emulating as she is confident and radiates positivity despite living alone. “I know weekends are more family oriented but sometimes one of the couple is busy so the other partner may enjoy meeting up for a coffee or lunch. I invite people over to my house and they invite me back. I feel very fortunate to have friends who include me in their activities,” she says.
But there are some individuals who despite their best intent are in strange lands away from their family, facing challenging circumstances. Srikanthan says, “My clients are friendly at work, but they are unable to take this friendship beyond work and that is what makes them succumb to weekend loneliness. In such cases it’s best to find a hobby and master it. There is no limit to what people can do if they can recognise loneliness and seek help.”
Sudeshna adds, “I think this predominantly may be a problem more for migrant singles that don’t know many people and are living in PG. This makes them more vulnerable to weekend loneliness. Otherwise, after a busy week, there are lots of domestic chores, catching up with rest and sleep. There are pets to take care or hobbies to pursue, books to be read, movies and series to watch etc.”
Sunny side up
Visweswaran Sivakumar, a student in Canada is one such individual who is struggling to forge social bonds outside his university. He confesses, “For me, loneliness is not only restricted to the weekends, weeks days are lonely too. During the week, I have class, a part-time job and in the evening I go out to a bar with friends. But on the weekends, it becomes hard, as my friends here tend to spend time with their families. So I am left with nothing to do. I end up watching moves, shopping alone, doing assignments or finishing household chores.” He further adds how interaction with people around him is also difficult. “Though I have roommates, they too have a packed schedule. When it comes to neighbours, I haven’t seen any so far. Like in India where every person in society knows everyone else, here there is nothing like that,” he says.
So we ask Francee to offer some basic tips to counter loneliness. “Always look forward and don’t dwell on the past and the way things were. Times change and as you get older you need to stay positive and sunny so people want to be around you. I read a lot and play games on my tablet, which I call mental exercise. I also listen to audiobooks to help pass the time,” she says.
— With inputs from Ruth Prathana, Dr Mallika Patri, Lipika, Subhash K Jha and Sitara Suresh Naidu