How Marriage Fights Loneliness and Instills Belonging
Recently, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis wrote about the rising phenomenon of young men eschewing relationships with real women in favor of artificial intelligence (AI)-generated girlfriends. That’s right, a “girlfriend” that only exists on a screen and is not a real person. It would be comical if it weren’t so tragic.
The AI girlfriend phenomenon is just one symptom of an American culture immersed in loneliness, and the pattern began well before the COVID pandemic. The statistics are stunning. According to a recent U.S. Surgeon General report, between 2003 and 2020, the time that Americans spent with friends dropped 20 hours per month, while the time spent alone went up by 24 hours. The loneliness epidemic has hit young people particularly hard. The same study found that 15 to 24-year-olds experienced a jaw-dropping 70% decline in time spent with friends over the same time period.
While the causes of this surge in loneliness are many, arguably a leading factor is the ubiquitous rise of internet-based technology and how it continues to increasingly dominate our day-to-day lives. AI-generated girlfriends notwithstanding, online pornography can easily be pointed to as one of the biggest culprits to the loneliness epidemic, especially for men, who tend to turn inward when stressed and placate their natural yearnings for companionship by consuming porn. The omnipresence of porn consumption and its connection to loneliness has become so clear that even Men’s Health, a fully secularized and left-leaning publication, is now admitting that porn consumption has become a “mental health coping strategy” that “is damaging us” by “furthering our sense of loneliness.”
But it’s not just internet vices like online porn that are causing loneliness. Our cultural addiction to screens and reliance on the internet has now reached into every corner of our lives. One fascinating example is the working from home (aka “telework” or “remote work”) boom. For those who are married and have families, working from home can be great for allowing more regular contact with loved ones throughout the workday. But for those who are single and living alone, remote work can lead to even further societal isolation from coworkers, who often serve as a primary social group in a secular culture that has stopped going to church.
On top of working from home, technology now allows us to pay all our bills from home and have all of our food, clothes, and every other essential material item delivered to our front door. Through technology, a person could conceivably have all of their basic bodily needs met without ever needing to step outside of their residence and have actual face-to-face contact with other human beings. If loneliness sets in, the feelings can be temporarily brushed aside with the distractions of endless amounts of Netflix, porn, and AI-generated girlfriends.
It shouldn’t be surprising that our society is increasingly lonely and unhappy. But there is a way out of this mess, and it’s not rocket science. It’s rooted in how our hearts were formed by our Creator from the very beginning of creation. “It is not good for man to be alone,” He said in the first book of the Bible (Genesis 2:18). Marriage is indeed the means by which we find permanent companionship and keep the human race going, and it is the ultimate solution to loneliness.
New sociological evidence overwhelmingly confirms this. A recent Gallup poll found that those who are single are twice as likely to experience loneliness than those who are married. As reported by sociologist Brad Wilcox, the latest General Social Survey found that “among married women with children between the ages of 18 and 55, 40% reported they are ‘very happy,’ compared to 25% of married childless women, and just 22% of unmarried childless women.” The numbers are similar for married versus unmarried men.
I believe that a further crucial benefit to marriage is how it instills a sense of purpose and belonging, which is particularly crucial for men. As I was driving home the other day, I happened to be listening to the Switchfoot song “Where I Belong.” Just as I pulled into the driveway of my home where I live with my wife and children, the chorus kicked in:
Until I die, I’ll sing these songs
On the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong
It struck me in that moment that I was arriving at the place where I belong, where the marriage that I entered into years ago has given me a supernatural sense of purpose and an unmistakable sense that I belong here — a powerful antidote to loneliness.
As young men increasingly abandon marriage, loneliness has exploded, the birthrate has nosedived, the American workforce has shrunk, and debt has skyrocketed. It’s all connected, and it’s not a coincidence. Let us recommit to encouraging a culture of marriage in our communities and circles of influence.
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.