The other day, when I went to  the zoo, I noticed a lot of clumping, swarming and clustering.

The Harpy Eagle was happily hanging out at the entrance with his trainer and a whole crowd of gawkers, the Flamingos were squawking it up together around the pool, the fish in the  snapping turtle pool seemed to be clumping together for safety and the gorillas were all clustered up within 15 feet of each other, despite their huge, grassy, multi-storied, multi-waterfalled home.

What is that about?

A few nights ago when I went to bed, the same kind of  swarming together and hanging-out-close seemed to be going on,  so  I closed and latched my bedroom door so I might get some sleep.

It was a good thing. At 1 am they tried to break in and then again at 3 am I heard them banging on the door. But I held my ground, and as a result got some sleep. I know why they wanted in. They wanted my body, it’s warmth. because they are little and thermophilic and cold at night.

When I got up they were still by the door — my two cats, hungry for company, heat and love and … cat chow.

The creatures seem to not to want to be too much alone.

More and more people are living alone these days, however, partiularly in urban areas. Eric Klinenberg, in his new book,  Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, reports that in recent years, particularly since the 1950’s, solo living has grown, and it has grown most  in countries with booming economies: China, India, and Brazil. The US is lagging in this going-it-alone stuff,  but more people live alone in the United States than ever before, 28 per cent of all households, about 31 million people.

Studies on living alone have found that women, in contrast to men,  are more likely to have strong social networks, and that this enables them to live alone without being alone. Men, living alone, are more at risk of withdrawing into isolation that, in the extreme, can make them very unhappy and that can even be dangerous for them.

According to a Finnish study, “Living alone is associated with an increased risk of alcohol-related mortality — from alcohol-related diseases and accidents.”

It can be fine to live alone, but I think that for most of us, it is not fine to be too much alone. Household practices are changing, but not our core need for clumping.

This is particularly true when we move from our family of orgin to whatever we design next.

I remember in my college years, driving places alone, talking to myself in the car and  saying stuff like, “I need more than me, here…” The loneliness in the front of the car was palpable. It felt like cold, dark  water running through the bottom of a deep cave.

I find the desire for human warmth to be quite universal.

I spoke to a homeless man a while back, “What is hardest about being homeless?” I asked.

“The loneliness,” he said.  “I just need someone to talk to.”

It seems like, no matter how we choose to live, we can’t get away from it — the need for clumping and swarming. It’s weird, almost like we were wired for this, like God himself wired a social port into us. Perhaps it feels like that because …  that’s the way it is.

In the beginning of the beginning of the very beginning it was said, “It is not good … to be alone.”

I’ve been thinking a bit about that, and I think that perhaps it is one of the vast accomplishments of life to understand what exists that will never not exist and then to act accordingly.

We are inveterately, undeniably, intrincically social.

So what’s next?


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