So there I am, seeing shop signs going up for the “most wonderful time of the year” and it hits me – God, I’m lonely.
Now writing that, I’m really scared. I’m actually thinking of bottling this whole post. If I haven’t and you’re reading this, spare a thought for me because I’ll be sitting in a corner and worrying. Because out of the many social taboos out there, saying you’re lonely is one of the big ones.
Saying you’re lonely is the modern equivalent of walking through a busy street, ringing a bell and shouting: “Unclean. Unclean” while your leg drops off; an admittance that something is wrong, that you’re unworthy in some way because you don’t have a friend.
And that’s not true. I have friends all over the UK, on almost every continent there is, of different nationalities and cultures and classes, scientists and artists, believers and atheists and those who aren’t quite sure because Einstein was pretty bloody amazing but ooooh the choir makes you cry on a Sunday. I also have Mr 50 Sense, who is, next to my blood family, my very best friend through good times and bad.
And look at my social media numbers. I have hundreds of friends.
But I have no one to go wander around the shops with, or pop round to borrow sugar from, or talk for two hours about how unfunny The Big Bang Theory is now and at times, that’s hard.
A lot of this is my own doing. Mr 50 Sense and I have been together for more than 20 years and we’re now living in our fifth city.
This is the downside to moving around. The people you love don’t move with you and while Skype is wonderful, it’s too easy to let the real world get in the way and postpone that call.
You also move in more than the physical sense (that decades-old fight between your granny and the woman at number 73 who washed more than the semi-circle outside her front step and thought she was better than she was? That story pales a little when you meet someone whose gran had to leave her entire life behind because the fascists were going to shoot her).
Living in different places stretches you more than you’ll ever know, but sometimes the elastic binding you to the past frays a bit too much and things happen that can never be unhappened.
And then the people you love move away, too. (Which I think is pretty damn rude… How very dare they?)
So suddenly, you’ve got loads of friends and yet you’re in the middle of a shopping centre, surrounded by hundreds of people chatting and laughing and you’ve never felt more alone.
So I should feel happy that the government has appointed a minister of loneliness. But I’m intrigued as to what’s she going to do? Will she come round and moan about the boring Gogglebox newbies? She’s welcome, Tory or not.
Many people argue it’s just a case of just getting yourself out there. I go to many events with my job. I’m also that annoying person who chats to the shop assistant, bartender, fellow commuter on the train reading a book I fancy… I love it, but it’s bloody exhausting making small talk until you get to know people better and like many journalists, I’m an introverted extrovert and at times need to retreat and be alone to recharge my batteries.
So what’s the answer? Well, first of all, I have to acknowledge that it’s my life choices that have brought me to where I am – in a city that I love, doing a job I love and with the man I love. I wish more than anything I could have found this in my native Newcastle, but I couldn’t. And I wouldn’t change my life choices for anything. (Okay, I would have tried harder to actually touch Michael Hutchence when INXS were playing The Mayfair. But nothing else.) So it’s down to me to do something about it.
Secondly, realise that people have lives, too, and that social media is not the truth. (I know. It’s shocking, but I said it.) That feed full of happy faces having a wonderful time on a Saturday while you’re eating pie and chips and throwing empty cans of Carlsberg at The X Factor? It ain’t happening in real life. Dig a little deeper, as I did one mournful night, and you’ll find out that “my child threw up on me just as I was about to go out”, or “we argued half an hour after that photo”, or “I spent the night staring at xxx, while he got off with yyy”.
This piece from The Cooper Brothers sums it up perfectly:
We’re all guilty of trying to make our social media feeds look amazing and, like, wow, we’re so lit with our SIS*. But perhaps it is time to take a step back and think before we post – is this really our life, or only what we want it to be? And if it’s the latter, why are we photoshopping the way we want life to be instead of making the change?
Certainly we should think twice about what we’re scrolling past before we go sulking off and scream at Simon Cowell again.
Finally, cherish the people you know – even if they are far away – and make time for those people you meet every day. A small chat and a bit of human interaction may seem nothing, but it could be everything to someone.
And you never know, that little old lady who chunters on about the state of the world could be me…
(Most importantly, if all else fails and you do need to talk to someone, the Samaritans are always there and can be called free on 116 123.)
*I looked these words up