‘Loneliness Kills’: A Middle-Aged Dad Seeks Friendship

‘Loneliness(ˈlōnlēnəs) Kills’: A Middle-Aged Dad Seeks Friendship

By A.J. Jacobs

In one sense, the journalist Billy(ˈbilē) Baker(ˈbākər) has undertaken a self-defeating task: to cure his loneliness by writing a book. He could’ve made a documentary(ˌdäkyəˈment(ə)rē) — seems more social — but instead he’s chosen one of the loneliest(ˈlōnlē) professions, involving endless days of solitary(ˈsäləˌterē) confinement(kənˈfīnmənt) in a room with your keyboard and self-doubt, to try to reconnect with friends.

Still, Baker manages to pull it off, mostly. When not typing at his desk alone, he speaks to psychologists, goes on male-bonding trips and tries to embrace(əmˈbrās) his vulnerable(ˈvəln(ə)rəb(ə)l) side. The result is “We Need to Hang Out,” an entertaining mix of social science, memoir(ˈmemˌwär) and humor(ˈ(h)yo͞omər), as if a Daniel(ˈdanyəl) Goleman book were filtered through the lens of Will Ferrell.

Baker, a middle-aged dad and Boston Globe writer, starts with the thesis(ˈTHēsis) that we’ve been in the midst of a loneliness crisis(ˈkrīsis) — even before Covid. “In the 21st century,” he writes, “loneliness has become an epidemic(ˌepəˈdemik).” He cites(sīt) a 2019 survey(sərˈvā) that found 61 percent of Americans are officially lonely, according to the “gold standard” U.C.L.A. Loneliness Scale(skāl).

As the political(pəˈlidək(ə)l) scientist and sociologist(ˌsōsēˈäləjəst) Robert Putnam put it 20 years ago, we are increasingly “bowling(ˈbōliNG) alone.” This is not a trivial problem. “Loneliness kills,” Baker writes. It’s a public health threat(THret) linked to shorter life spans, heart disease, obesity(ōˈbēsədē) and Alzheimer’s.