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Loneliness #495

On the Regular version of today’s show …

Dr J.W. Freiberg, “Terry”, joins me to discuss the epidemic of loneliness. It is a far too common issue and has negative results on our health and life.

Learn more about Terry at his site

On the Xtended version …

Terry and I continue our conversation about loneliness – in particular the seasons of loneliness that we all will face.

Enjoy the show!

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Speaker 1: You are listening to the regular version of Sexy Marriage Radio,
You've turned on Sexy Marriage Radio, where the best sex happens in the marriage bed. Here's your host, Dr. Corey Allan.

Corey Allan: Well, it's Thanksgiving week here in the States and I am thankful for the SMR Nation and how each and every week they spend some time with us. They call in, they email, they ask their questions, they share their praises and supports. They jump on iTunes, they rate and review the show. They subscribe their family members, whatever it is that they may do.

Pam Allan: Right, right. We're so grateful for that.

Corey Allan: Totally. And so we want to take just a quick moment out to say, thank you, because this is the time of year where it's a good idea to take stock of what's going on and who you're grateful for and the things that add value to your life.

Pam Allan: That's right.

Corey Allan: And the SMR Nation adds value to us as we hope we add value to them.

Pam Allan: That's right.

Corey Allan: And so the way you can let us know what's going on and ask your questions or tell us what's going on and how you're celebrating or what are you looking forward to, (214) 702-9565 or That's how we interact with everybody, it seems. The inbox keeps pinging and the voicemail, if you leave a voicemail, gets you to the front of the line. We're so glad that you're here.
Coming up on today's regular free version of sexy Marriage Radio is a conversation that I had with JW Freiberg, who is a social psychologist and a lawyer and he has a couple of different books out that are all on the thread and topic of loneliness.

Pam Allan: Which is an interesting topic right now, especially when you talk about the holidays and the combo of the pandemic and the holidays and so many people that maybe have been holed up for so long and now it's just emphasized even more.

Corey Allan: Absolutely.

Pam Allan: I'm excited for this.

Corey Allan: And the other interesting thing to this too, Pam, is that the whole concept of loneliness is pre-pandemic.

Pam Allan: Sure it is.

Corey Allan: It's an epidemic of loneliness that it actually is a risk for your life. And even over in the UK, the prime minister has appointed someone to help address that issue within from government level down, for the countrywide, to start looking at the aspects of loneliness. And so in this conversation, he and I go into some of the different books he's got and his take on it. Because he just tells stories and the importance of it and the value of the connection and how things have changed from what we were as a civilization, to what we are now.
That he even made a comment that stood out to me that he and his wife for a while lived in an apartment in Boston and the firewall that they shared butted up against to their neighbors' bed too. It's theoretically, they were sleeping 20 inches from somebody else and they had no idea who that someone else was. And it was just, you think about that's the state of our world. And so it's fascinating conversation that he and I had. And then coming up on the extended version of Sexy Marriage Radio, which is deeper, longer and there are no ads. You can subscribe at, we continue the conversation, but we get into the idea of looking at the loneliness through the lens of the seasons of life, from birth to mid, to later, to end. And how all of them fit. Because one of his books looks at four different stories of the different life stages that are all cases he was experiencing as a lawyer. And so he just kind of took it and ran with it.

Pam Allan: Interesting standpoint.

Corey Allan: And tells their story. All that's coming up on today's show.

Pam Allan: Great.

Corey Allan: Well, joining me today for this episode of Sexy Marriage radio, is a social psychologist and a lawyer, that's an odd combination, I guess, but I guess maybe not so much, the more I think about it, is JW Freiburg. That the way I was kind of found you is you would be in the loneliness world is kind of where you've landed. And you have a trilogy of books, even that I think it's called the Loneliness Trilogy, right Terry?

JW Freiberg: Indeed, that's right.

Corey Allan: I guess to start off and just so we kind of fill in one gap because the official name is JW Freiburg, but you go by Terry, those don't seem to go together.

JW Freiberg: No, they don't.

Corey Allan: Where's that come from?

JW Freiberg: Oh that. That because when my mother was pregnant, so was her best girlfriend and they sat on a beach in 1944 and talked about what they were going to nickname their kids and agreed on Terry. We're both called Terry, even though our legal names have no link to that.

Corey Allan: Okay. Predetermined nicknames. I like it. All right. When I'm looking at all the different books you've got out and it's all with this undercurrent and the whole thread of loneliness, how did you land in this topic and in this category?

JW Freiberg: Well, my law practice was a little constricted in the sense that I had these two degrees, the doctorate in social psychology and then the law degree from Harvard Law. And I became the Boston lawyer who was general counsel to most of the social service agencies. And as the years and decades went by, clinicians would call me with case specific legal consultation needs. More and more people were showing up lonely in their clinical practices. They had other issues too many of them, but they kept reporting being so isolated and feeling like they had no linkages to others that meant anything to them.
And so the topic of loneliness arose in the world, if you like and I became probably behind the curve, slowly sensitized to the fact that I didn't know anything about loneliness, what was going on. And so I read the literature 25, 30 years ago, what was there and have since seen the topic just balloon. It's now a public health crisis of significance. The Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, under President Obama called it an epidemic of loneliness. And in the United Kingdom, the prime minister actually appointed a cabinet level secretary of loneliness to deal with these issues.

Corey Allan: I guess let's just start there. What is it that creates it? Because I know that one of the books you've got is called Surrounded by Others Yet So Alone, which is a fabulous title, because that seems like that we seem to be living in an age of the most connected world ever. If you think about it on just a macro level, that's the way it can all be spun by the social media and all the different technology companies that are out there, but yet it's still an epidemic.

JW Freiberg: Exactly. Think for a moment back in history. And I don't care what continent somebody's ancestors came from, all around the globe we lived in villages, we lived in communities. We grew up around our siblings, our first cousins, our second cousins. We married someone whose family was completely known to our parents. And so there was no space, no social space to grow lonely in. There was probably no privacy either. There were plenty of downsides in communal village life, but there was no loneliness if you like. Individuals who might've been psychologically divided from others and had that issue but sociologically, there was no massive creation of loneliness. Today, we live in big cities where we don't even know our neighbor. One of the class examples I used to use when I would lecture on the topic was the apartment that my wife and I used to live in, in downtown Boston through the firewall was another couple sleeping 20 inches from us, if you like, just divided off by a row of bricks. We would never meet.

Corey Allan: Right. And that's fascinating because here in Texas and in the suburbs and the areas where we live, one of the things that my wife and I have discovered is the house we've been in for over 20 years now, we were very intentional that we bought in a neighborhood that the driveways were in the front, the garage was in the front of the house because a lot of the neighborhoods around us, the garages are in the back. And so you actually have alley entries and you come and go behind the house. And there's something about you don't even know if someone's home or not, but if there's a garage in the front, you know when people are home, there's more likelihood you're going to be out front. And there's such a difference in the dichotomy of the way those two neighborhoods feel that you see people or you don't. You know there's neighbors there or you don't know.
And there is something interesting about the fact that we can live so close to each other, but yet not know each other. Is that kind of a, a thread of something that's changed over people that we don't go out and meet our neighbors? Or is it because we don't have that communal upbringing that kind of established that where you already knew them because you were growing up around them?

JW Freiberg: I think all the above. I think they work together so yes, we live alongside someone in a house and we may say, "Hello, good morning," to them. And, "I grabbed your trash can and brought it in yesterday because you didn't seem to be home," but that's different from in communal society when people know each other through multiple generations. I grew up, when I was very young, my family lived in Cincinnati, Ohio for five or six generations and the kids I knew and grew up with, were the children of friends, my parents and their friends and the grandparents had all known each other and the great grandparents had all known each other. You saw those same names in school, that you saw in your parents' phone calls to their friends, that you saw in the graveyard. Families knew each other throughout generations and that's of course not at all typical today.

Corey Allan: Yeah, the only thing only place I can think where that can almost still be occurring is in the small towns. My wife and I, when we first got married, we went to a small town in East Texas and we felt like outsiders because we didn't have generations that we came from within the town. And there was an element of, if you grew up there, you were known, because it's small enough and there was one school and so there's this thread, but an outsider coming in there was this whole, how do we kind of fit with some people when we don't know grandma and great grandma? And so maybe there's a little bit in small towns, I hope. Let's kind of at least we can throw it out there and hope.

JW Freiberg: Of course, you're right. There can be. And there often is. And a lot of us seek some element to our life that is communal. For example, many people go to summer vacation or winter vacation, depending on where you're living and want to get to some good weather and we find the same groups of people at our summer site. Or we do this in clubs and various voluntary organizations, where we on purpose make ourselves part of a community of other people who love bowling or this kind of film or this kind of music so that we are in a community setting. We seek that. And it's really interesting to ask why we seek that. And I think it's not just our human element. It's our animal part. We are a type of mammal, like the cetacean mammals. Those are the seagoing mammals or some of the herd animals, not all and some types of great apes, not at all.
And so there have been some fascinating studies, for example, baleen whales that migrate 12, 15,000 miles from summer to winter, they've put electronic following devices on some of them. And the scientists in that field have learned that the whales, particularly the females, find each other year after year, 12,000 miles from where they started.

Corey Allan: Interesting.

JW Freiberg: Yeah, they have sort of friendships and that's the kind of mammal we are. We nuzzle up. Other mammals nuzzle up against each other. They nurse their young after all and they nuzzle in herd security. That's who we are. We're still animals, even though we're human animals. And part of our animal nature is to touch each other, to be close to one another, to form ongoing alliances. That's when we feel safe. That's why people who aren't bonded to others in communal or family settings, experience loneliness. Loneliness for me is not a thought. It's not an idea. It's a sensation like hunger or thirst or fear.
We don't think hungry, we feel hungry. We don't think thirsty, we feel thirsty. And we don't think lonely, we feel lonely. It comes up at us. And let me give an example from another kind of mammal. Just a few weeks ago, I was driving on a little tiny road near where I live and at dusk and I ended up separating one deer from his little herd of deer on the other side of the road. When he realized that my car was, which I was going super slow, because it was a lovely evening. Just looking at nature. When this deer realized that he had been separated from his herd, you could see his whole body straighten up in fear. That's uncomfortable for him. He didn't have the support of his herd. And that's the way we humans feel when we find ourselves isolated. And the name we give that feeling is loneliness.

Corey Allan: Right. We'll be right back with more of our conversation right after this.
Pam, we've had a long term sponsor now for the shows and that's That's H-E-L-P. And one of the things I absolutely love is there are all kinds of times in life where there's something that prevents our happiness or achieving our goals or we're facing loneliness. It's good to know that Better Help will help assess your needs and match you to your own licensed professional therapist and in many cases you can start communicating with somebody in under 48 hours.

Pam Allan: That's great.

Corey Allan: That is, it's not a crisis line and it's not self help. This is actually professional counseling done securely online.

Pam Allan: Are these folks, they do things that are different than you. You focus on couples, men, adults, that kind of thing. And this is a variety of other counselors that hit all kinds of other gamuts? Or how is that different?

Corey Allan: Yeah, some of them would actually do what I do as well. And so this is actually one therapist recommending other therapists.

Pam Allan: Wonderful.

Corey Allan: Because one of the things that matters to me is that this is a service that's available worldwide. And it's also one, it's a service that matches you with the right therapist, because not all people will jive with my style or my thought. Some other people like a female might want a female to talk to.

Pam Allan: Right, definitely.

Corey Allan: And that's a reality. And so I am a big proponent and Better Help has been so successful lately that there are over one million people who have taken charge of their mental health with the help of an experienced professional. And there's been so many people that have been using Better Help, that they're actually recruiting additional counselors in all 50 states.

Pam Allan: Wow.

Corey Allan: To help meet the need because as the today's show talks about with loneliness, it's an epidemic. And so Better Help is committed to facilitating great therapeutic matches and to make affordable traditional counseling. Better Help wants you to start living a happier, healthier life today. You can visit That is better and listeners will get 10% off their first month. It's a special offer just for our audience. That's Take charge of your life with the help of a professional today.
This year's Thanksgiving holiday might be one of the most challenging anybody's ever faced because we're all facing a lot of unknowns and a lot of uncertainty and spikes in numbers, but it doesn't mean that you can't feel close. That's why I'm giving my loved ones the gifts that is the most meaningful this year, which is a chance to tell and hear stories and share memories using our sponsor, StoryWorth. StoryWorth is an online service that helps your loved ones share stories through thought provoking questions that are about their memories, their personal thoughts and it's a fun way to engage and pass things down.

Pam Allan: That's super cool.

Corey Allan: Because of the oral tradition. And so each week, StoryWorth will email a particular family member that you designate or to several, they get to answer those questions, like how was how's your life turned out differently than you imagined it would? Or what are some of the best pranks you've pulled? Or some of my favorite or what are your favorite family vacations? Or whether you remember about this grade school incident.

Pam Allan: I wish I had that from my dad.

Corey Allan: Absolutely. Reading the weekly stories is fun and it makes your family feel close, even if you're not together. And then the coolest thing, Pam, is after one year, StoryWorth compiles all of these stories, including any pictures that you share into a beautiful keepsake book that's shipped to your family for free.

Pam Allan: Oh, that's so cool.

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If we're talking about, because I love the idea of it's a communal aspect, that that's a little bit of our hard wiring. We're born into relationships, I love that kind of concept. And so when we find ourselves in these states of feeling, but we also then maybe are in a situation where I don't have a community. I don't know my neighbors. What's my next best step, I guess I should take when I'm trying to combat this feeling?

JW Freiberg: Well, exactly. We live in an era, when we're supposed to watch what we eat, watch what we drink, get some exercise. We're aware of these issues and how we ought to best treat our bodies. And we all take some steps. Probably most of us are disappointed that we don't take yet more, but we do. Conscious of these things. We also now need to be absolutely aware and conscious of our relationships with others. They're not automatic like they were in communal society. You couldn't get rid of them in communal society. You were the child of a certain family. You were from a certain part of town. Your parent, usually your father had a trade or craft that you would go into. All of that was determined. Now, none of that's determined.
Well, you have to consciously watch that your relationships to others are sound and solid and working for you. That they're nurturing and give you care and a feeling of safety. And we have some wonderful tools to do this with. On my website, which is called, there's a section called articles. And I put under there an article I wrote from Psychology Today about how to monitor your relationships. Just like your monitor, your eating, your drinking, smoking, your exercise, there's some tricks to the trade and they're very available and quick to absorb. They're not complicated or fancy they're right there.

Corey Allan: Yeah. No, and I like that because it is that idea of, what's coming to my mind, Terry, is this idea that I came across a study that was referencing how the state and the health of your relationships is the best determinant on longevity of life and quality of life. Even beyond some of the other things that maybe have become in vogue of our diet, our exercise, that's an important factor, absolutely, but it seems to be dismissed. Before we wrap up this little segment, I am curious your thought of where does social media fit into this and the connectedness quote unquote, that it proposes? How does that either aid and help or be a deterrent to what you've come across?

JW Freiberg: Well, of course, it's a complicated question.

Corey Allan: Totally.

JW Freiberg: Social media on one hand can absorb, particularly generation X and the millennials into their device, to the point where they're not bothering to relate to real skin and bone friends who live around them and go to school with them and so on. Yes, the media can, the modern communication media can be misused, but they also can be wonderfully well used. For example, I'm a grandparent of two small grandchildren who I'm not able to see because of COVID-19, but thanks to FaceTime and Zoom, I'm able to share with them what's going on in my life. And they are being kids of modern media, they have no mystery at all about how come they can see a picture of their grandpa on the phone and talk. And so you can use them well or you can misuse them like most things in life.

Corey Allan: Absolutely. I think all of that falls under that umbrella of use it, don't be used by it. And that kind of the whole, all the different things that we have that are aids to life and assist, they can also have a negative consequence to it because even this, just this whole idea, I'm thinking of you alluded to, there can be downsides to being part of a generational community because you're labeled, you're already hamstrung into, well, you're going to do this. You don't have some of the freedom and agency in some of the things that maybe the world has shifted to, by going more urban and bigger city, but the unintended consequence of some of these things is now, we don't know the people that we live next to. And now we don't know that we are too mobile and so you don't ever have roots that are deep down of a connectedness with people that can just add such a great flavor to life.

JW Freiberg: Oh, absolutely. And for example, these Zoom and FaceTime and their equivalents provide the visual element along with speaking on the phone and psychologically speaking it's huge because what humans like other mammals do, is a process we psychologists called mirroring. We read the intent of the person we're looking at of the other animal we're looking at through all sorts of body language and facial expressions. And we see this all the time when you startle a wild animal, like a squirrel or a deer or something, they'll stare right in your eyes, trying to figure out, are you a predator? In fact, are you a hungry predator? Do I need to worry about this? They're mirroring and we do that all the time.
With my little grandchildren, having the FaceTime with a face along with the words is just huge, because for me, grandparenting is extremely important for children. Remember in school, they taught us, it takes two points to define a line. Well, I think it takes two generations to define a lineage. It's through your parents and then your grandparents that you're led back to discussions of your roots and where your family comes from and what your way of life and values and normative structures are all about. The modern media provide the opportunity to add the pictorial element to the audio element and psychologically that's extremely important.

Corey Allan: Totally. Especially in today's day and age with isolation because of the pandemic and all that's going on, there's such a value to, don't just pick up the phone to call somebody, pick up the phone to FaceTime them or Zoom them or Skype them or something, because that's the one thing I've also noticed, Terry, is when I'm on the phone with somebody, I can put on my earbuds and walk around and do other things while I'm talking to them, even though I'm not really with them as if I was sitting next to them and we're just chatting. And so there is something about the uniqueness and the closeness and the non-distractedness that a kind of conversation can have, even if it is through a screen that that's still a tremendous benefit because I'm not doing other things while I'm talking to them.

JW Freiberg: Exactly. And just to add what your listeners can't see as you said that to me, your hands were moving around a lot, doing body language. It's part of the way we express and the spiral is you hear me say that sentence because you're letting me know, oh, I hear you. You're making sense. We're relating to one another. All of this comes through visually not audiolly. I really urge people, I'm in my seventies, in my age group, some people are a little bit afraid of the technology, but of course it's become so user friendly, I urge people to add the visual element to their audio linkage to their family and friends while they're going through isolation.

Corey Allan: That's great, Terry. You already alluded to this just a few minutes ago in this segment, but I would love for the members of the SMR Nation to know how can they find out more about you, if you wouldn't mind, just I'll put all this in the show notes too, as far as links to your site, where they find the books and find more about you, but how do they find more of you?

JW Freiberg: Well, it's easy. I'm on Amazon, under my name, which is JW Freiberg, F-R-E-I-B-E-R-G or under The Loneliness Book. And my books are written in story format. I'm not trying to preach to academics. I write stories. I've been called and it's the greatest honor, I guess, that I've had, I've been called the Oliver Sacks of law. Quite an honor. We all know Awakening, the film Awakenings, where Robin Williams plays Oliver Sacks, who was a medical doctor and neurologist who in story format, tells us about the discoveries he made between brain injury and strange behaviors, if you like. And I write about law cases, but in story format, so that they're available to anyone.
I think the greatest compliment I've had with my books is I was once at lunch with an erudite intellectual friend of mine, a British fellow who was educated at Oxford, read everything kind of guy and was saying some nice things about one of my earlier books, Four Seasons of Loneliness. When the assistant cook walked out from the kitchen and very politely interrupted us. She had a small break and she just said, "Dr. Freiberg, I got to tell you, I loved your book. I related to it. It made me cry. It made me laugh. It made me feel and think." To be complimented at once by an intellectual and someone whose education probably had a modest ceiling. That was cool.

Corey Allan: That's very good.

JW Freiberg: What I write is available to anyone who can read the English language. It's not fancy. It's stories from real law cases that end up talking about how loneliness works, how it hurts people, but on the other hand, what they can do about it.

Corey Allan: Yeah, and I love that because this is one of those things that more and more, it's a bigger issue than even the pandemic. It's a bigger issue than a lot of the things that maybe we face, because it has such serious consequences.

JW Freiberg: It does. As for the consequences of Dr. John Cacioppo at University of Chicago for the last 30 years, he and his team have studied how lethal loneliness is. You are much sicker with each of the major diseases and you will die considerably younger if you don't have a set of rewarding, nurturing, soothing relationships with other people. It'll kill you and it'll make you sick. And as to how prevalent that is, in 2010, so this is already 10 years ago, about 35% of American adults self identified as chronically lonely. I don't mean a little bit lonely. We're all a little bit lonely from time to time. Just like we're all a little bit sad from time to time, but we're not chronically lonely, just like we're not clinically depressed. Big difference there.
Something like 28, 29% of the American population, we're talking adults, which was defined as not college students. Post college student age wise, about 28% of the American population now live alone. 28% of adult households in the United States are single person households. Think about that. And imagine what those people are going through particularly when we were under full sort of lockdown and they didn't even have the friendly hello on the street corner with the newspaper fellow or something. Yes, this is a big issue and it's very deleterious. It makes people sick and it kills them younger.

Corey Allan: Well, I applaud you for diving into this and being willing to share the stories and shed some light on this. And so I'm looking forward to the next segment to go even a little bit of a different way with you. But Terry, thank you so much for joining me today thus far.

JW Freiberg: Oh, it's my pleasure.

Corey Allan: What stands out to me, Pam, is when I'm thinking back through this conversation with Dr. Freiberg is just this idea of how we were raised. Initially our civilization began in villages and that had some pluses and minuses, where you're talking about generational names that you're born into a family that's known and known and known and known. And even if you're different, that's your label. There's a downside to it. But then if you look at it, how we've gotten a lot more mobile and a lot more independent anD able to just live and change and not have to necessarily be in the same spot, that has some pluses, but it also has some minuses.

Pam Allan: Sure it does.

Corey Allan: And one of them is the villages that we've lost. And so how important it is for us to seek out community. And one of the ways that comes to my mind right off the bat, well two actually. One is get involved with the church. I find a community of believers and people that are of like minded in some regards and they can help just scratch that itch. And then the other is join the Academy.

Pam Allan: Yeah. It's a great community.

Corey Allan: Because you got a bunch of people that are like minded and looking to just enhance and increase the capacities and the passion in their marriages, is where you can find more. Well, this has been Sexy Marriage Radio. Thanks for taking some time out of your day to spend it with us each and every week that you do. And a happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. We'll see you next time.