Before you read this post have a look at this which I found powerful and moving.
It is not my intention to discuss the post here but use it as a starting point for some reflections on loneliness. It was loneliness that led the author into the abusive relationship she describes and loneliness that led her to stay in it. This sparked a discussion on Twitter of the nature of loneliness and I want to share my story. .
First of all loneliness is not the same thing as being alone. Being able to spend time alone is necessary for mental well being and essential for creativity. I enjoy my own company but do so knowing that I have a loving partner and a circle of friends and that when I am alone it is through choice. Loneliness is not having the choice. Loneliness can strike anyone. You can be clever, attractive witty, whatever, it makes no difference. It happened to Cat. It happened to me.
After university most of my friends moved to London. I started work in a small town in the Midlands. For a few months weekends involved either having university friends to stay or going to visit them. I hardly noticed how they were building new lives, lives that did not include me. In the Midlands I had little opportunity to make new friends and after a year or so as university friendships that I had thought were for life began to wither, I found myself on my own. . .
It is a horrible thing when you dread Fridays and look forward to Mondays simply because you will have someone to talk to. I began to think I was strange. I felt unclean and took to washing obsessively. Then I met Jill. Jill too was new in town, and without friends. It seemed natural that we should get together. For the first time in ages I went out on a Friday evening. We went to the pub, drank. smoked. laughed and afterwards got a take away curry and took it back to my flat. I found her funny and sharp as a tack. Our Friday girls night out became a regular thing. Then things changed and I saw a darker side to Jill. She insisted on meeting up more often, phoned me nearly every day for long chats that swallowed up my evenings, on occasion turned up announced at my flat. I found this emotionally draining, as if she was colonising my life. So I told her gently, I thought, that I needed a break from her. She stormed out of my flat in tears and as it turned out, I never saw her again. I felt relief. I had by now met a man. My new boyfriend had a wide circle of friends we socialised with and I was lifted out of my personal well of loneliness. Jill evidently was plunged deeper into hers.
The next thing I heard of her was six months later in the newspapers. She had apparently developed an obsession with police women and taken to following them around on the beat. She had been arrested a couple of times and warned but eventually came before the court again and was sent to prison. This is a shocking example of the harshness with which society treats those who struggle to cope. Jill had mental health issues. She needed help. What she got was a prison cell.
I still wonder what I could have done. Giving her the constant reassurance she craved was, though, a burden I was simply unable to bear. I needed space, time away from her. I sometimes think that I could have ended up like her had I not been given a way our of my loneliness. I too could have devreloped a deep seated sense of worthlessness and ended up clinging to people and driving them away.
Society is still uncomfortable with people who are on their own and this must reinforce their lack of self worth. These days I often work away from home and three or four times a week eat in restaurants on my own. It is not unusual to be seated in an obscure corner or even offered a table in the back room as if I had a disease. A middle aged woman out on her own? Clearly a social misfit or maybe worse, a raddled and desperate call girl in search of business. That seems to be the thought.
If you are reading this and are lonely please remember that many others were once in your position and whilst I have no magic remedy please believe me when I say that it will end. There is someone out there who will love you and cherish you. For now you can start by loving yourself. Eat well, dress well, go to the gym. Treat yourself regularly. Start on Friday evening. Another night in on your own? Look forward to it, cook yourself a favourite dish, buy a bottle of wine (drink the rest on Saturday if you don’t want to get trashed!) dress up, light a candle. You are worth it. You are lovely. Love yourself and sooner rather than later you will meet someone to join you in that love.