Judging by the paparazzi photos in weekly celebrity rags, today’s young stars have something against solitude. Paris, Britney, Jessica et al seem to spend every moment surrounded by an always evolving gaggle of friends and employees—whether they’re shopping on Robertson, partying in Vegas or making a Starbucks run. When did Hollywood’s catchphrase go from “I vant to be alone” to “I won’t leave my house without my assistant, my mom, my hairdresser and my three Chihuahuas?” It’s easy to mock such entourages, but recent reports have led some to wonder whether something more serious than social butterfly–ism is at play. Could this addiction to company be pathological?
Take Lindsay Lohan. Nearly every week, the tabs accuse her of bedding a different guy, from movie stars to fellow patients in rehab. In defense, she told a reporter earlier this year that “being an actress is lonely, and I never want to be alone. I hate sleeping alone.” In August an unnamed friend backed up her story, telling People magazine that Lohan “refuses to sleep alone. She’ll make her friends stay the night.”
“If my boy-friend was not staying with me, I would drive to the nearest hospital and sleep in my car.”
Paris Hilton is another example. When she discussed her recent jail stint on Larry King Live, Hilton revealed that it wasn’t confinement but the fact that there was no one else with her in her cell that bothered her. “That was really, you know, hard for me in the beginning, to be so alone,” she said.
Extreme fear of being alone is, it turns out, a legitimate psychological condition. Called monophobia, the fear must interrupt or inhibit the patient’s daily routine in order to be considered pathological. It’s not enough to cringe at the thought of eating alone in a restaurant; monophobes panic at the idea of performing the mundane tasks of everyday living solo—driving, shopping, riding the subway.
Whether Hilton and Lohan actually suffer from monophobia is not something any therapist can judge solely on the basis of tabloid reports. Alec Pollard, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute, points out that there are a host of other reasons one might crave constant companionship. “I think what drives most celebrities is the pursuit of attention, as opposed to the fear of being alone,” he says. “It’s more addictive than anxiety-driven.”
True monophobia, on the other hand, is generally “tied,” in Pollard’s words, to an anxiety-related psychological problem. Some patients with panic disorder develop monophobia because they are afraid of having a panic attack when no one is around to help. Agoraphobes might believe that if they venture out alone, they will be caught in a harmful situation that they can’t escape on their own. Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder might fear, say, forgetting to turn the oven off if left by themselves.