The Company We Keep

My husband wants to retire… to a desert island. He figures it’ll be great; we’ve already gotten used to being stuck at home “alone” during our 18 months of COVID lockdown, right? So why not? On any given day, he works from 9-to-5 (or 6:00 or 7:00, or even 8:00) at the house. On the days that I’ve been here, too, he’s on the phone or on Zoom most of that time. (I escaped early back to my office.)

Not only is he conducting business, but he has two friends (bromances, really), in particular, both of whom happen to be in the same profession. They talk for at least an hour at a time, two or three times each week, about work, about families, about their various professional associations, about problems that need solutions, and, yes, about gossip… you name it, they discuss it.

I know because I was forced to overhear them. (My husband can’t abide ear pods, although he bought me a set early in our quarantine.)

Human beings are social creatures. Our connections enable us to survive and thrive. Take them away, isolate folks and we decline, deteriorate, even fall apart.

But that being social on the phone, that’s my husband; it’s not me. I crave more intimate connection. I need to breathe the same air as the people with whom I connect.

Isolation is Debilitating

According to Sukarno, “The worst cruelty that can be inflicted on a human being is isolation.” Present-day statistics seem to bear that out. In 2018, the Kaiser Family Foundation, in partnership with The Economist, reported that one in five Americans “always or often feel lonely or socially isolated.” And we know that the health, relationships, and work of those who suffer from loneliness and/or isolation (the two are not the same) also suffer. After all, Research links social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression, cognitive decline, and, my personal favorite, a weakened immune system.

Even death. How often do we hear the tale of the woman, or man, who has passed away, only to be followed shortly after by her grieving spouse?

Just think of the movies!

Finding Empowerment In Isolation

Recently, we’ve seen an astronaut, Matt Damon, accidentally abandoned on Mars by his crew in The Martian. Now, while this movie is arguably about the survival aspect of being marooned on a planet where nothing grows, to my way of thinking, it’s more about abandonment and loneliness. As Captain Lewis’ disco playlist suggests, “I can’t survive, I can’t stay alive without your love.” Then, still early in the movie, the Mars Mission Director explains, “[Damon]’s 50 million miles from home. He thinks he’s totally alone. He thinks we gave up on him. What does that do to a man psychologically?”

We can’t help but wonder how we would “deal” in the same circumstances. I, for one, am certain that I would have retreated inside, spending all of my time writing about anything I could think of, before falling apart and slowly losing my mind.

Indeed. How does that make Damon feel? He has his own resourceful tactics for biological survival; he is a botanist, after all. But what about his emotional issues over his crewmates’ desertion and his resultant isolation?

Mark gives us a lot to think about. He suggests, “Think, don’t feel. Figure it out. You don’t need help.” Growing plants, he argues, is colonizing a place. “I’ve colonized Mars.” He creates his own world, in more ways than one.

But the entire movie only finds resolution by reuniting Damon with humanity. As we know it must.

Finding Connection In Isolation

Another blockbuster about isolation, “Cast Away,” begins by focusing on human interconnectedness: we see the world from the perspective of a traveling FedEx package. Eventually, we are introduced to Tom Hanks, an executive who roams the world for FedEx, resolving corporate productivity problems. The story begins by exploring his humanity and his connections — we also see him at a family Christmas party, and we understand that a proposal to the love of his life is imminent.

How is it that Hanks ends up alone? And how does that impact him? As the sole survivor of a plane crash, Hanks discovers his only friend, Wilson (a volleyball), in a FedEx box that also washes ashore. At a time when our own deliveries are critical to not just providing our supplies but also relieving our solitude, it’s unnerving to watch a movie in which packages kept this man alive in so many ways, especially by providing him with, let’s face it, a connection, of sorts.

But the movie, again, only finds resolution by reuniting Hanks with society. As, again, we understand it must.

Divorce Is Isolating

If quarantine has brought your spouse to the realization that your marriage is over, the abandonment you feel can be extraordinarily debilitating. This is especially true if you are still in lockdown, without the immediate support of your friends and family.

Isolation is a serious risk factor for your health, happiness and even your longevity. Divorce, like death, is one of the top time stressors of all time. Add that now to the isolation that the pandemic has wrought, and you must multiply that stress by several factors.

But think about this. Anyone experiencing a life-changing moment in his or her life can benefit from talking with others who are undergoing something similar. These moments, in normal times, often include leaving close family and friends behind, because they “can’t understand.” So look for the support you need and make it happen.

Finding tools to help you get through divorce while keeping your support system intact, or finding a new support system, is critical.

If you need help deciding whether to restructure your family, or, if so, how, visit us at Open Palm Law or email me at Joryn@OpenPalmLaw.com. We are here for you, during whatever change your family is going through! We can help you find your way out of your isolation.

Learn more about collaborative divorce. Follow Open Palm Law.

Need advice now? Contact Joryn!

About this week’s author, Joryn Jenkins.

Joryn, attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law, two of which she served as a professor of law at Stetson University. She is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen Award, an honor bestowed in the United States Supreme Court upon those who have provided exceptional leadership in the American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.

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