Once again, it’s Valentine’s Day. For weeks, businesses have been adorned with flowers, hearts, and a thousand shades of pink. Yet, for many, this atmosphere doesn’t really reflect the actual feelings in the air. The overall mood isn’t love, but loneliness and isolation. 

This is not just an abstract feeling, but a measurable phenomena. We are living under what some have been calling a “loneliness epidemic”. Even the World Health Organization has declared loneliness a “growing health concern”. The US surgeon general echoed the sentiment in a report that showed loneliness can increase the likelihood of a premature death by nearly 30%, akin to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

The mental health consequences of the pandemic are still weighing on people. COVID disrupted social interaction top-to-bottom and the world has had a rough time adjusting. A poll by Forbes Health found 59 per cent of Americans now find it harder to relate to people. While the lockdowns are over, tons of people still feel just as isolated. 

Breakdown of human relations 

In the realm of romance, this means a marked growth of single people. Today, there is a record number of Americans over 40 who have never married, and a sharp decline of young people who have had sex in the past year. Japan has around 1.5 million hikikomori—people who have completely isolated themselves from the rest of society.

The source of this despondency should be clear. The past few years have brought about the most intense capitalist crisis in living memory. Global inflation and austerity have created constant pressure on working class people of every country. The priority of most is simply to get by. Less time, energy, and money means less opportunity to pursue dates and friendship. In certain cases, lonely and resentful people looking for answers get drawn into reactionary ideologies, like the involuntary celibate, or “incel” movement. 

The crisis of the capitalist system creates feelings of dread which only make it even more difficult for people to socialise and relate. Watching the world economic and political system tear at the seams naturally causes disillusionment. This has penetrated all aspects of life.  The past few years have seen a sharp rise of mental illness, domestic abuse, and now, loneliness. 

Capitalism and commercialization 

Under capitalism, absolutely everything is converted into a commodity. Land, water, industry, human labour, and even love itself are put up for sale alongside Whopper burgers and cellphones. So long as there’s profit to be made, there will be a capitalist to exploit it. In the United States alone, Valentine’s Day is a $25 billion industry.

The pressures of capitalist society also penetrate human relationships. People are forced to approach each other not purely on the basis of emotional attachment, but alongside the pressures of money. 

Working class and poor people are under pressure to form relationships on the basis of financial viability. In the midst of a capitalist crisis, there’s pressure to move in with romantic partners as soon as possible to split costs. In cities with rising rent, some people delay break-ups or stay in bad relationships because they can’t find their own home. Some are even forced to remain in abusive relationships because they can’t afford to live on their own.

We can even see this in the ways relationships are commonly spoken about. An ideal partner is called a “steal”, a “catch” or even a “hot commodity”. People look for a “high value” partner. Potential spouses are weighed by what skills they can provide and how much money they’re pulling in. We often lament that we “wasted time” on relationships that didn’t end very well. In capitalist society, relationships are thought of as a transaction. Dating is understood as a simple exchange of time for benefits. 

Apps and alienation 

Dating apps are another clear example of this commercialization. These apps now form a global industry that generates billions of dollars in revenue every year. Tinder alone has 75 million active users, with nearly 11 million of those being paid subscribers. The dating app industry has found massive success, in spite of the clear links they have to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. 

But these apps aren’t actually intended to form meaningful relationships. Providing users with an easy end to their search for love would make for a poor business model. Instead, these businesses are incentivized to keep people on the app as long as possible. 

Dating apps are purposely designed to be manipulative. These apps affect your brain in a similar way as casino games. In fact, many of them are built with similar addiction mechanics as gambling apps. Dating app users will relate to the experience of taking their phone out and swiping, without realising how much time they’re spending on it.  

Many find themselves downloading one of these apps out of loneliness, and spending hours swiping through, only to find it incredibly difficult to find any decent matches or meaningful connections. One marketing firm found that 90 per cent of young people find these apps frustrating. 

Once getting people sucked in, these apps then market special paid “gold” and “premium” features. Tinder and Hinge advertise premium plans for as much as $50 every month, with the promise that these features will make it easier to find a special connection. 

It’s ironic that apps are supposed to make it easy to date, but dating has been on a steady decline. People have never been more connected, yet at the same time, never more isolated. 

Death of the ‘third place’ 

But it often feels as if there is no other choice. Real life dating—and social interaction in general—has declined. Capitalism has broken apart communities and destroyed traditional areas of social interaction. As put by one article from The Guardian, “When people don’t use apps, it doesn’t mean they start meeting in person, it just means they don’t meet anyone at all.”

The daily grind of capitalism drains away the capacity people have for social interaction. Workers drag themselves to work, spend their entire day at a job they hate, and are so exhausted by the time they’re done that the only thing to do is to rest up for tomorrow. This is especially true for young workers who, on average, put in eight  and a half hours of unpaid overtime per week. 

Things haven’t always been like this, even within living memory. In the 1980s, American sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “third place” to describe community based social relationships. These are supposed to be areas distinct from the “first place” (home) and “second place” (work) where people go to socialise. 

Traditionally, people would go to bars and cafes not just to grab a drink, but to meet strangers and spend time  with friends. Social clubs used to be more prevalent than they are now, and community halls were generally more active. Barbershops and salons still act as pillars in some communities. Trade unions were also once very active in organising social activities. In countries with strong labour movements, like Germany, workers’ organisations were involved in nearly every layer of cultural life. 

Having access to these kinds of spots clearly benefits mental health. But for a lot of people, they just don’t exist anymore. Most communities today are atomized, and there aren’t many places left where people commonly go for the sole purpose of socialising. 

Some of these places that are still around are constantly threatened by market pressures. Big businesses force their way into communities and make it impossible for many beloved local establishments to keep running. For workers who live in expensive cities like Toronto and Vancouver, it’s no longer surprising to find out that your favourite restaurant is about to be replaced by a luxury condo development. The situation has only gotten worse after COVID. Lockdown forced many cafes, bars, theatres, and other places for entertainment to shut down.

End loneliness by ending capitalism 

What these facts point to is how capitalism ruins and distorts human relationships. The crumbs that the ruling class tosses down is hardly ever enough to cover basic necessities, let alone enough for higher fulfilment. As the crisis deepens further, we are forced to sacrifice more of ourselves in order to survive. This includes romance and friendship. 

As Marx famously wrote: “The less you eat, drink and buy books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorise, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save—the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor rust will devour—your capital. The less you are, the less you express your own life, the more you have, i.e., the greater is your alienated life, the greater is the store of your estranged being.” 

Yet, in a contradictory way, capitalism also has the potential to bring people together. As conditions worsen, workers will be forced to join forces and fight against the system as a whole. We can already see this in the growing number of communists globally. The fight for revolution will unite working class people together and give us something to live for. It gives us the ability to see past our immediate circumstances and imagine a better future. 

So long as capitalism is left standing, human needs will always be trampled over by the blind hunt for profits. The only way to fix this is by overthrowing the system as a whole and fighting for a communist society, where society isn’t geared towards making a tiny few rich, but rather, fulfilling the needs of people as a whole. Communism would give us the ability to repair human relations and create a world which is run on the basis of genuine solidarity. This is the world we fight for, and we appeal to you to join us.