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An Epidemic of Loneliness in the Age of Boundaries

Washington Examiner

June 7, 2024

Social media features a different viral villain every day. If we’re lucky, he or she tells us something about ourselves.

In just such a case, a man named Marcus Shepard got more than 12 million views on his post bragging of a breakup with a friend with whom he hadn’t had “meaningful offline contact in almost a month.”

“Therefore,” Shepard wrote in a text that he forwarded to the entire world via X, “I’d ask that you seek your care work from somebody else….”

Dumping a friend for four weeks of being out of touch and then posting the text exchange online is extraordinary, thus earning Shepard his virality. But in many ways, Shepard was perfectly embodying the clinical and alienated spirit of our age.

“Care work” is the phrase for what used to be called “friendship” or “advice.” That’s fitting in a world that tries to sanitize and sterilize human life — that tries to replace relationships, which can be so controlling, with transactionships in which consent is asked and received at every single step without presumption.

In such a world, “personal boundaries” are not merely how we protect our privacy or reject inappropriate behavior. Boundaries now surround every inch of ourselves and dictate all aspects of our social lives.

Texting too much crosses a boundary. Texting too little crosses a boundary. Befriending the wrong people crosses a boundary. And because consent becomes the sole determinant of morality, and autonomy the highest good, we end up living fully bounded lives.

We strictly and pointlessly try to enforce our property rights — I won’t give up my airplane seat; don’t let your dog step on my front lawn; it’s sad she got shot, but she pulled into a stranger’s driveway.

Yes, boundaries are necessary. Yes, in some times and in some places, boundaries are too few, too low, or too little regarded.

“In the mountain homes of Jackson,” J.D. Vance wrote of his ancestral home in the holler, “privacy was more theory than practice. Family, friends, and neighbors would barge into your home without much warning. Mothers would tell their daughters how to raise their children,” and so on.

That can be almost oppressive. Today, no doubt, we err in the opposite direction. Excessive boundaries are why young people don’t get married, and it’s why we don’t have babies. An era of boundaries has caused an epidemic of loneliness.