Do you, too, suffer from ‘poliphobia’?

By Patrice Lewis

About 20 years ago, when we were fairly new to North Idaho, our neighbors invited us to attend an Independence Day fireworks display at a casino located along a rural stretch of highway. It had the air of an outdoor party. Thousands of cars and trucks were haphazardly parked on both pavement and in fields. Friends, family, and neighbors congregated together, with lots of tailgate music and impromptu picnics. When dusk came and the fireworks display started, we lay down on blankets in the grass and watched a dazzling display of lights almost literally overhead: massive, awe-inspiring and probably dangerous (with cinders raining down on us).

We attended this event several years in a row. It was something we always looked forward to. But every year it became just a little less enjoyable.

First, the fireworks themselves were removed to a safer distance. (Couldn’t argue with that, really.) Next, vehicles were restricted to paved areas only. OK, I kinda get that too. The last straw, however, was the year incoming vehicles were rigidly directed to park in THIS slot, and THIS slot only. Friends and neighbors were not permitted to park next to each other; they were directed to THIS slot, and people were required to move or leave if they disobeyed.

When it came time to depart after the fireworks display was over, it took – literally – over an hour to leave the parking lot because vehicles were required to leave in a very precise order, allegedly to avoid gridlock. Well, it was gridlock anyway. I remember feeling like a sitting duck. What if something happened that required rapid evacuation? We would never make it.

That was the year my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Never again.” To the best of my knowledge, that is the last time we’ve been in a large crowd. A few years ago we downsized to an even more remote part of Idaho, due in part to a desire to be further removed from people.

The phobia enochlophobia is the fear of crowds. I have no such phobia. Instead, I find myself with a growing aversion to people. It’s sad, isn’t it, to increasingly dislike the pinnacle of God’s creation?

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Then, a couple years ago, my husband and I were visiting a good-sized city of about 75,000. He was behind the wheel. As we got deeper into the city, I noticed his personality altering. Normally the calmest of men, he underwent a complete change in demeanor. Every stop light, every intersection, every slowdown due to traffic triggered an alarming shortness of temper to the point where I offered to take over driving to our destination.

Since our visits to cities are so rare, I didn’t see any more of this behavior until recently, when we went on a second honeymoon and spent nearly two weeks touring around the southwest. During the vast majority of this trip, we restricted ourselves to rural areas, but brushes with an occasional urban area were inevitable. It was during this trip that my husband suddenly declared, “I’ve decided I have poliphobia.”

The prefix “poli,” according to this website, derives from ancient Greek πολύς (polús, “many, much”). My husband decided to use this prefix to coin the new term “poliphobia,” a fear of cities.

He doesn’t have enochlophobia either. Far from it. He’s fine with people. Nor is he “afraid” of cities. But in the last few years, he has come to loathe and despise urban settings with a passion. Driving through anything more than rural two-lane roads sends his blood pressure skyward and his temper south.

“I didn’t used to be this way,” he explains. Like me, he’s spent many years living in – and even enjoying – urban environments; but the older he gets, the less tolerance he has for such settings.

Why the change? When I asked him, he replied, “Too much sensory input. I’ve gotten so used to not having to be on the ‘swivel’ all the time. The odds of getting hit by a car where we live are practically nil. The expectations of civil behavior still exist in rural areas. Sure, there are nuts in every crowd; but in larger populations, there are that many more nuts, many of them driving around.”

I’m OK driving in cities, at least for now. I don’t like them any more than my husband does, but at least I can navigate through them without my blood pressure spiking. If an occasion calls where we both need to go to a city, I do the driving. If the occasion calls where an errand needs to happen in an urban environment, I’m the one who goes.

Frankly, I can see myself suffering from “poliphobia” at some point in the future. I’m not there yet, but I can see the warning signs on the horizon. Any place where people gather together has the potential for catastrophe. People, in general, are trouble. So what’s a peace-loving introvert to do, except to avoid cities and crowds?

My husband and I are getting older. He is 66, I’m 61. Is it normal to develop strong aversions at this stage of life? Is it normal to want to avoid cities and crowds? Is it normal to see remote and unpopulated vistas and think, “I could live there”?

We’re in a time when it seems the world has gone mad. Eternal truths are not just being questioned, they’re being tossed in the garbage. Government overreach is approaching Soviet-era levels. Violence and lawlessness are becoming the norm. Under these conditions, our aversion to crowds and cities – and our interest in cocooning ourselves in a rural and self-sufficient lifestyle – make more sense … at least to us.

All this simply dovetails into our innate inclinations anyway. We’ve always been introverts. We’ve always leaned toward being “hermits.” If our “phobias” keep us out of cities and away from crowds … well, yee-haw.

So there you go: The “phobias” of getting older.

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