MY son had an exercise on extemporaneous speech in school. He was given a topic on the spot and was supposed to talk about it for 90 seconds in front of the class. The topic he was given was “Every Man Needs a Wife.”
While he does have stage fright, when we are together he can usually talk my ear off about any topic. That I have long specialized in a related field called improvisational theater also made me expect that he would have been able to speak about it a bit longer. The topic though was entirely unexpected for him – after all I had been raising him as an independent single parent since he was a toddler. There has been no woman in our life as a nuclear family since he first became conscious of the world. How could he answer the question easily?
He ended up stammering for 30 seconds.
When he told me about what happened, I was upset at first. I found the topic dated and biased against families like ours which do not conform to traditional structures. I realized though that as an academic exercise, it achieved its purpose. It is a valuable skill to be able to talk about things that are outside our realm of experience and things that we might disagree with. We shouldn’t expect the world to tiptoe around our triggers. That’s not the way it works. And we all should be able to talk about things that might be difficult to discuss.
Still, the topic almost made me wish I had a wife to fight the teacher.
Over dinner we talked about what he would have answered though. After a thoughtful pause, he told me this:
Marriage didn’t work out for my dad and he didn’t look for a wife anymore after his separation. I do not want to go through the stress, the hassle and the trouble he went through to defend my right to have a normal and happy childhood. Sure, I grew up without a mother figure, but I have a great relationship with my dad. We live a quiet life, and all the stress comes from external sources: school, my friends, other people. But my family life is not a source of stress.”
In the end, he might not have gotten the highest grade in extemporaneous speech. But in my book, he has high marks as a human being and as a son.
The topic though did get me thinking.
My son will go away to college in less than a year, leaving me a solo empty-nester at mid-life. While living alone might just be on the rise in the Philippines with society being more accepting of younger people moving away from family homes to live on their own, it used to be unthinkable as recently as twenty years ago. The rise in availability of small apartments and better income opportunities made it possible. While I could not find any relevant numbers for people living alone in the Philippines, in the United States they made up 28 percent of all households in 2021.
Now while the benefits, such as having your own privacy and space and freedom to make your own life choices are obvious to those who live solo, there are disadvantages too. And while it would be foolish to assume that all those who live solo are lonely, a recent warning by the US surgeon general identifying loneliness as being as significant a health risk as smoking a dozen cigarettes a day should make us pause and think.
About half of U.S. adults say they’ve experienced loneliness, Dr. Vivek Murthy said in a report from his office.
“We now know that loneliness is a common feeling that many people experience. It’s like hunger or thirst. It’s a feeling the body sends us when something we need for survival is missing,” Murthy told The Associated Press in an interview. “Millions of people in America are struggling in the shadows, and that’s not right. That’s why I issued this advisory to pull back the curtain on a struggle that too many people are experiencing.”
Thankfully, the solutions suggested by the surgeon general aren’t as drastic as going off and marrying the nearest available person. Instead, places like churches, schools, offices and community centers and community groups could concentrate more on creating connectedness. In our local setting ,that could mean going out and seeing your old friends a little bit more and spending time with them, volunteering at local organizations, spending time away from friends on Facebook and spending more time with real people in our parks.
While I still don’t agree with the statement that “Every Man Needs a Wife,” maybe the problem of loneliness can be addressed just as effectively with the statement, “Don’t Be a Stranger.”