Yet they do, the lonely people—they pull themselves together. They fend off the fact of their own misery and trundle forward, carrying its granite load, hour by hour, job by job, year by year. They walk down the streets, grazing knuckles against buildings just to confirm, despite how unwelcome and unnoticed they may feel, that they do indeed exist. They remain rooted to the front seat of the minivan, trying to figure out how to get from the drive to the house without shattering in front of the children or the husband or the indefatigably chirpy couple across the street. They sit, recently divorced, carefully groomed, and warily hopeful, for hours on a Saturday afternoon in the park.
They are exhausted by their separateness. They are strung out by their worry over it. And they are legion. It's estimated that ten to 15 percent of the population is chronically lonely—some 29 to 45 million people. But researchers are discovering more and more about the socially isolated, especially the effects of loneliness on their health, and this work is changing the way we look at those who chronically feel alone and cut off.
Keep reading: What researchers have discovered about loneliness
Take the quiz: Determine your loneliness quotient
How to help: 9 ways to to help a lonely friend