Global warming. Terrorism. Governments. Mental illness. Cancer. Losing our job. Our parents dying. If you're anything like me, you'll swing from total paralysis about the sheer number of potential or imagined dangers mounting against you, and violently rejecting panic as a concept, charging almost self-destructively towards a future. There's plenty to be scared of as a young person – but how do you quantify those fears? Which specific ones keep you up at night?
In the VICELAND UK Census, we asked readers "What are you most scared of?". The answer that came out on top was: never finding love. You're more scared of never meeting the love of your life than being homeless, losing your job or finding yourself in the middle of a terrorist attack. It's even stronger for people who are single, a significant 42 percent say it is their biggest fear. Are we more romantic than we thought – or just lonelier than we'd like to admit?
This fear of not finding love is, on some level, driven by isolation. It speaks volumes about self worth. Are we lonely? Every study from the past few years would suggest that we are. Loneliness was, until recently, thought to be a shadow following old people, but despite social media, we're the ones suffering from chronic disconnection. Britain was voted the loneliness capital of Europe, and it's not our ageing population we have to thank. In 2010, the Mental Health Foundation found loneliness is a greater concern among young people. The 18-to-34-year-olds surveyed were more likely to feel lonely often, to worry about feeling alone and to feel depressed because of loneliness than the over-55s. According to a 2014 national survey, 48 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds said they often felt lonely compared to the overall average of 34 percent. Young Londoners were roughly twice as likely to be lonely than the national average.
Perhaps this plays into our ultimate fear because we're a generation that has grown up living between two parents' houses. Our template for life-long love is fractured, so we understand the transitory nature of relationships more than ever. It's not surprising we're cautious about commitment, or at least enter into it with a somewhat defeatist attitude and limited expectations. Although we know that separation often means longer term happiness when relationships break down, there's no clear end goal for our love lives. Maybe that's exactly why we crave it so much.
The nature of dating is changing. The cycle of relationships gets tired. In your 20s, every time a relationship dies, it takes a little more energy to ready yourself for the next one. Perhaps we've shot ourselves in the foot by having so many options, or the illusion of options, this feeling that there could be someone better or more a fulfilling relationship out there. Is the answer holding out for an idealised love while your fears of being single for too long are legitimised by the people around you settling down? In your 20s, when you can't get security from your job or housing situation, a real, loving relationship becomes a more idealised prospect. We don't like settling when it comes to anything, but our overall instability makes us crave it from somewhere.
Another reason for our fear could be that we're finding it more difficult to maintain friendships. Being in love and in a relationship fills an undeniable void, even if you never thought you had it. Most people only feel fully "known" by the world when they're with another person; someone who sees the best and worst of you, witnesses you at every moment of any given day, takes you to hospital, knows with intimacy has to be the first person at your birthday or your gig or football match cheering you on. At my friend Jack Urwin's launch of his book, Man Up, he and a bloke from male suicide prevention charity CALM discussed that often the only person men will turn to in times of distress will be their partner. The reality is that many men lose mates throughout their 20s. Two and half million men over the age of 18 in Britain don't have a close friend they'd discuss a serious life problem with. Perhaps a big part of reshaping modern masculinity is the realisation that men crave intimacy just as much as women are stereotypically thought to.
Despite all this, why should never finding love be our greatest worry? It's not something any of us would easily admit (I certainly wouldn't). Professor Ben Fincham, who has just finished writing a book on fun, told me the other day that after all his research, he's concluded that you have to be with another person or people to have fun. It just doesn't work if you're alone. To have fun – a temporal burst of life, joy, however you define it – allows you to feel pleasure, contentment, happiness, excited for a longer, less defined period of time after the fact.
We're taught that interdependence is weak and individualism is to be celebrated – we don't want to be our mum or dad in our late 40s, divorced and lost, surrounded by the pieces of a half-baked identity. Yet when it comes down to hopes and fears, we're no different to our parents and their parents and anyone who came before us. We want to be our grandparents, linking arms for a walk to the shop and pissing each other off as way of conversation. We want something that will last.
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More stuff about who you are:
How Young People Feel About Britain, Politics and Discrimination