In which I ponder….loneliness


It was a beautiful day in Sydney on Sunday. Middle of winter and 26 degrees. I ran around in the morning sorting out washing and going to the supermarket so that I would be able to spend some time walking the dog from Bondi to Bronte in the afternoon. The weather was so lovely my shorts were reclaimed from summer clothing storage, and the hordes were out on the coastal path.

Sounds like a pretty nice day,eh?

But sometime after lunch, a little dark cloud settled above my head, and I couldn’t help thinking, not for the first time, how nice it would be to share the wonderful things in life with someone.

I’ve mentioned before that people who are married or in de facto relationships often express envy about my single life. They imagine the freedom of not having to consider others, of having the remote control for the tv for themselves, and of not having to share their bar of chocolate with anyone. They imagine that my life is more exciting than theirs, that I am out and about at restaurants and bars and events. And indeed I am, some of the time. But for a great deal of the time I am on my own.

There is not much time for the imagined glamorous life of the singleton in between the full time job and the every day domesticities of being a parent and a householder. The weekend is often a race against time trying to get all of the household necessities completed and enjoy some time with the children whilst still managing to do at least something that vaguely looks like having an independent social life. Sometimes I don’t manage it.

And I hesitate to talk about how isolating I can find my life, on the other side of the world from home and family, and how lonely I sometimes feel. There is a weird stigma related to loneliness in the 21st century – as if my loneliness must stem from being socially inept, or unlikeable, or both. I feel I shouldn’t be lonely and I should be out there enjoying every moment of my life, because in so many ways I am very lucky. Feeling lonely feels and sounds a lot like a failure.

In addition to this, it’s my experience that admissions of loneliness are often interpreted as neediness by other people, as if having needs – like spending time with other adults and making social connections – meant that there was something wrong with you. Recent research though has suggested that loneliness may well be our next big public health issue, on a par with obesity and drug abuse. It can also increase your risk of death by a sobering 26%. To be fair, I think I’d rather die fat and high than lonely…

A month or so ago I was made redundant. A couple of hours afterwards, I had to make a much valued colleague and friend also redundant. I can report that being made redundant is actually vastly preferable to making other people redundant, but the reason I mention this is that as you can imagine, in the scale of things, this was a pretty crappy day. It would have been nice to know that there was someone to tell about this, who would be there to give me the hug I needed when I got home and perhaps to make a cup of tea or pour me a glass of wine and tell me everything was going to be ok.

However, what actually happened was that just when I was about to leave work I got a text message from my daughter asking when I would be home. I asked her why and got the following message

‘I need to talk to you about my life. I feel like I need guidance or something – I just feel really unmotivated and crap and like a kind of failure and I don’t know I need help’

So although I could almost have written this message myself at that moment, I went home and gave her a cuddle while she cried a bit and we sorted out her life. I didn’t mention I’d been made redundant and then the evening continued much as usual – I made dinner, made sure everyone was ok, and then once they withdrew to their rooms and their laptops, I considered the white terror of being an unemployed single mother of two in silence, alone in my room.

It’s ironic because I used to like spending time on my own, I suppose because it was an occasional relief from being constantly accompanied by either children or husband. I still do like it though. I hate clothes shopping with other people. A night alone on the sofa with a bag of chips watching a movie is still a favourite pasttime. But it turns out you can get too much of a good thing.

Thankfully I have not yet reached the point where my loneliness outweighs my selectiveness in finding someone to share my bag of chips with and I don’t think I will. I’m just getting better and better at finding other things with which to fill my life – and if it all gets too much in the end, there is always overeating and drugs…


PS – in the restructure that had precipitated the redundancies I was appointed to a new, more interesting role. All’s well that ends well.

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