How loneliness has spawned an industry

girl sitting alone on bridge
CC BY 2.0 Thomas Leuthard

New businesses are springing up to offer human antidotes to loneliness -- a dinner companion, someone to walk with, talk to, even cuddle.

If you’re feeling lonely and have some extra cash on hand, you can now pay to have a temporary friend. Businesses are springing up across the United States that offer services such as ‘Rent-A-Friend,’ cuddle parties, and dinner dates. One man from L.A. offers pay-per-mile walks with engaging conversation for anyone who doesn’t want to walk alone.

Emily White writes in The Guardian that loneliness will be “the next great moneyspinner,” as increasing numbers of young people seek antidotes for their loneliness through paid services. Surprisingly, young people between the ages of 18 and 34 are more likely to suffer from loneliness than those over 55 years of age. So while it may seem normal to pay someone to help care for the elderly or to be a companion, it’s actually younger people who may need it more.

Why is this happening?

It’s understandable that older people, with limited mobility and poor physical health, are less capable of getting out to meet with friends, but young people present a tougher puzzle. It could be due, in part, to unaffordable housing in downtown city cores and young people being forced away from neighborhoods where it’s easier to meet up in parks or other (free) public spaces. Perhaps lower incomes and decreased employment are factors, making it tough to afford social outings and dates.

Widespread addiction to technology could add to the problem, since young people have become so comfortable communicating online that they’ve lost the skills to do it face-to-face. I’d argue, too, that those face-to-face social skills are not even being taught in the first place by parents, as basic social graces, such as formal introductions and the art of conversation, no longer seem to be part of the average upbringing.

Related to that is the lack of confidence that results from a lifetime of over-parenting. As White states in her article, there are urban meet-up events aimed at tackling loneliness and making human connections, but “those groups often require a degree of social confidence and stamina that many people lack.”

Has over-parenting also created a generation of young people who expect friends to fall in their laps easily, as so many other countless things have throughout their lives? Friendship takes work, a lot of work. It’s an investment, and there are ups and downs, but the payoff is worth it.

The idea of paying a stranger to walk and talk confounds me a bit, especially when I think that it wouldn’t take much more effort to ask another stranger – one whom you’ve noticed before and may want to befriend – to do the same thing for free. It’s called ‘making a new friend’ and it’s supposed to be fun and exciting.

White argues that exchanging money for companionship will become the new norm:

“In a decade or so, paying for connection may seem as ordinary as paying for therapy. The companionship market will make us uncomfortable, and we’ll criticize it, but it will persist. The need for social connection is too primal.”

While it’s good that a temporary solution exists for those who need it, we shouldn’t give up on addressing the root causes and battling this unhappy state from the bottom up.

How loneliness has spawned an industry
New businesses are springing up to offer human antidotes to loneliness -- a dinner companion, someone to walk with, talk to, even cuddle.

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