Why are we so obsessed with not dying alone?

We're told that serious, long-term relationships are the key to happiness — but there's actually no reason to be afraid of the alternative

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Jack Nicholson, a man who once said he woke up in a tree after taking LSD and smoking more than a hundred joints while on a film shoot, now apparently fears dying alone.

You heard that right. The man who has bedded Kelly LeBrock, Rita Moreno, Julie Delpy and scores more, is now so lonely that he sleeps until one in the afternoon and then drinks milk to sooth his stomach.

This is the perfect Hollywood parable: hedonistic sex symbol falls from grace into a forlorn and decrepit loner all because he chose to be a playboy, instead of a good family man. And guess what? This is what could happen to you! If you don’t settle and find your person to grow old with.

The 77-year old star of Easy Rider and The Shining gave an interview this week to the US magazine Closer. He talked about many things, but it was the subject of his single status that has grabbed headlines such as "Jack Nicholson, and the sad demise of the ageing Lothario" and "Jack Nicholson's long list of Hollywood's leading ladies that have left him scared of dying alone".

Richard Young, Christopher Reeve, Better Midler & Jack Nicholson, London, 1978

But does this really add up with what Nicholson actually said? “I would love that one last romance," the old rogue told the interviewer. "But I’m not very realistic about it happening. What I can’t deny is my yearning.” I don’t hear any regrets, do you? In fact, the suggestion that he fears dying alone actually comes from an unnamed "source".

Even if Nicholson does have jitters abut exiting the world without a hand to hold, I don’t imagine for a minute it’s anything to do with his relationship status. This is the man who once laughed “I’ve dated all the women, I’ve done all the drugs and I’ve drunk every drink." With this in mind, it seems much more likely that his "yearning" is actually just nostalgia.

As a society, we have an appetite for any evidence which depicts marriage and monogamy as the remedy to all ills. In the movies single people get fixed up, and philanderers mend their ways. Families are wholesome. Singletons are deviant or hopeless.

Nicholson’s interview has been hijacked as propaganda for this classic fairytale narrative: If you don’t find a life partner you’ll die alone and unhappy.

If, on hearing Jack Nicholson’s supposed confession of "loneliness", you are shocked into abandoning all hedonistic pleasures in favour of finding someone to die with, please consider this. Isn’t it more selfish to seek a relationship specifically to ward off a hypothetical state of loneliness in forty years from now?

I’d say it’s no less shrewd than buying a life insurance policy. There isn’t even a guarantee that whom we choose will outlive us. Or we may grow to hate them. Or they may become physically, financially or emotionally reliant on us.

So don’t be fooled. We shouldn’t twist the party man’s comments into another outdated fairytale parable. He is not full of regret at what he’s missed, but at what he can no longer do.

None of us should be scared of growing old alone. We should aspire to have the strength to do so. Any relationship you find along the way should be because you want and cherish it, not because you view it as a self-serving prop for your autumn years.

Helen Croydon is author of Screw The Fairytale: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Sex and Love (John Blake Publishing)