When I was 18 I went to live and work in Sweden for a year. Initially I lived with a family with 4 young children. Mid-way through the year it was decided that I would move to a different house, shared by several young adults. I remember vividly a conversation with the 7 year old daughter of the family. I was trying to reassure her (in Swedish, which was neither of our first languages) that I would still visit and see her often and wasn’t going to be far away. I asked her if she knew where I was going. She replied yes, and she knew why. Oh, I enquired, not fully sure of the reasons myself, why? “För att du är ensam…” she replied sadly. “Because you are lonely…”
To this day I’m not sure if the parents in that family saw something in me that I didn’t fully recognise yet myself, or if actually there were a multitude of other reasons for my move, but it struck at my very heart. Her gentle words and doleful eyes staring up at me, wondering if an adult could really be so terribly lonely, has stayed with me all these years.
I was reminded of it today when I came across this tweet:
I don’t follow the author, it was a retweet that showed up on my timeline, but I was drawn to it and that paragraph alone chimed so true for me that I started to cry.
Now before I go on, yes, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and things are pretty tough for everyone. I am ok. I am mostly doing pretty well, actually, considering. I have friends and family who are going through this pandemic whilst also dealing with cancer, depression, fraught relationships and/or unemployment. I am healthy and I have work and I live in Scotland where I actually trust our government to get us through this. I do not take these things for granted. But yes, I am lonely.
I have always been happy with my own company and do enjoy solitude. I am essentially an introvert and don’t seek the company of others often, sometimes indeed actively avoiding it. I don’t make connections with people easily or frequently. When I do I am either so overwhelmed that I babble about our common interests and don’t ever want to let them go, or get freaked because it happens so rarely and retreat into myself not wanting to ruin a possible friendship or more. I have always had a few close friends rather than been part of a large gregarious group. Since I left home at 18 to move to Sweden, I have lived away from my family, and over time, friends that I had or made have moved away too. It happens and is not unusual or tragic.
Unlike the article’s author, I don’t live completely alone. For the past 5 years, I have lived just with my 2 daughters, who stay with their dad regularly, usually 1 night per week and every 2nd weekend. So they keep me busy and provide that human contact, which I know so many people, especially now, don’t have. I am lucky in that regard.
Yet I am lonely.
The kids give a pretence of not-loneliness. They mask it and make it oftentimes bearable or forgotten. But it’s not the same. I of course love my girls and as they get older we can do more interesting things and have more interesting conversations but what I miss most is regular adult conversation. Not necessarily high brow repartee, although that would be nice, but just regular mundane everyday chat. A person, or people, to share some of my life with. The company of an 11 and a 7 year old is not the same as the company of adults, be they colleagues that you see every day or a partner that you come home to at night.
The pandemic, lockdown and social distancing has exacerbated the problem, but for me it definitely started a while before we were all forced into a world of quarantines and self-isolation. I’ve been separated over 5 years so that’s a part of it. I moved to mainly freelance work last summer, so that’s a part of it. In some ways, as my 7 year old Swedish friend noted, it’s always been within me. But now, without the possibility to seek out friendships and connections and interactions when I tire of my self-imposed solitude, it deepens.
The other day I missed flirting. I hardly ever flirt. I’m terrible at it. But once in a while the chance comes along and it’s fun. I miss the possibility of flirting.
It’s not all about romance or a relationship or sex. I’ve been single for 5 years. That’s a long time. I was cajoled by friends to try dating apps, but it’s not for me. As I said, I don’t make connections easily, I need time. I’m the kind of person it takes a while to get to know, and like. I’m great if you get to know me. I miss the possibility of getting to know.
Despite my introvertness, I enjoy meeting people. I’m actually fascinated by most people. I’m better 1-1 than in groups. I work a lot for Colleges just now and pre-pandemic I enjoyed meeting all the different students and lecturers and finding out about them and their lives. Now we are all online. I am let into the Zoom room just as the lecture starts and when it ends we say thanks and bye and the screen closes. No opportunity to discuss the news, the subject being taught that day, the funny thing that happened on the way here. I miss those small interactions and the possibility of more meaningful connections.
So what do I do? Too much time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, certainly. Texts, messages, social media comments and occasional zoom calls exchanged with friends. It’s not the same. I read, I’ve always read, it is escapism, it allows me to experience a different time, place or be part of a different group of people. I watch tv, seeking out characters that make me laugh or that I can relate to. I have the radio on, or listen to podcasts, it’s a form of intimacy. But it’s not the same. When I am watching the West Wing and I wonder out loud, “Whatever happened to Elsie Snuffin?” No-one answers.
The full article mentioned above can be found here, and is a beautiful read: