Why does admitting one is lonely such a deadly sin? Statistically, this population is increasing around the globe, especially with greater and greater trends towards individualism. There are more people lonely now than probably ever before. In the U.S. it is at least 25% of the population that feel lonely. That's 1 in 4 people who are currently experiencing loneliness. With so many people feeling lonely, one would think that people would be more accepting when someone says they are lonely and perhaps try to find way to help that person out.
Perhaps part of the problem has to do with the stereotypical characteristics associated with those individuals who feel lonely. If one says, "I am lonely," it is not just loneliness in itself that person is admitting to, but rather, he/she has also admitted that they are a failure: they are unsuccessful, unintelligent, passive, and unattractive. The responses Mrs. Rantzen received then certainly makes sense. You would get similar responses if you suggested you were ugly or stupid. People who care about you would say things to alter your perception about yourself. For example, if a person said, "I'm stupid" a friend might say, "but look at all the really smart contributions you have made" or even "you should have more pride in yourself." But what if we thought of loneliness the same way we think about diabetes or alcoholism (I'm not suggesting these are the same, just a hypothetical thought exercise)? Close family and friends would have a hard time saying, "no, you don't have diabetes," or "no, you are not an alcoholic." No one who really cares about the person is going to say, "well, you just have few drinks every day and you seem fine so you're not an alcoholic." There would be an acceptance of the problem and the focus would be on what can we do to help you get better. Why don't more people treat the problem of loneliness like this?
I think part of the problem has to do with how much can we blame a person for their own loneliness. Very often the assumption is that if you are lonely then it is your own fault and if you were successful, intelligent, active, and attractive enough then you would be able to overcome your loneliness on your own. Things like diabetes (I'm thinking Type 2 diabetes caused by obesity) and alcoholism, to some degree, become things outside of a person's control. There's an acknowledgement that they just can't turn it off like a light switch. Loneliness though according to the stereotype, should be as easy to cure as joining a Pilates class. The fact that anyone is lonely suggests laziness or a lack of effort on the part of the lonely person. It's very much similar to the idea of those that are unemployed. If you are unemployed for a long period of time, the assumption usually is you haven't tried hard enough. It is 100% the fault of the person. Sadly, especially with chronic loneliness, this is not the case. Chronically lonely people have experienced loneliness for a long time, and experience it because they possess certain hard to change characteristics that make them prone to experiencing loneliness. Some of it may be genetic: certain people have a susceptibility to experiencing loneliness more than others. Some of it may be due to very traumatic early life experiences, such as abuse, bullying, abandonment. Alternatively, some chronically lonely people experience loneliness for a long time because of the isolating, difficult-to-change situation that they are in, such as people with a crippling disability or living in an isolated area. One just cannot flip a switch, join a class, or change their way of thinking to make it go away. It requires much more of a deliberate effort, very much like people who have diabetes or alcoholism.
At the end of the day, it is a lack of knowledge that feeds into the negative stereotype of loneliness that often non-lonely AND lonely people hold. People often carry most of the blame for feeling lonely, thinking of themselves as a failure, as an outcast, and as part of a small minority of "weird people." Nothing is further from the truth. You see it so often on the Web of Loneliness, people feeling an instant sense of relief knowing that there are so many others who are experiencing exactly what they are experiencing, reading the words of someone else which sounds exactly like what that person would say. Like Esther Rantzen, we have to hold our ground, admit we are lonely, and change the stereotype: We are not losers, we are not failures, and we have been trying very, very hard to to rid ourselves of loneliness. We do not want your platitudes, we want your support.