Divorced. The children have left home. If the phone rings, it's only a call centre… I admit it, I'm lonely
00:35 GMT, 27 July 2012
09:48 GMT, 27 July 2012
Arriving home from work, the lamp on a timer that has welcomed me back through the gloom of the past few months, burns, unnecessarily, in the sunny kitchen.
I’m reading a thriller, which is living up to its name. I sit down, still in my work clothes, and return eagerly to chapter three.
Two hours later, I put the book down and realise it’s dark. The lamp provides the only pool of light in an otherwise pitch-black house.
It’s also quiet, deathly quiet, without even the hum of the central heating or the swoosh of the washing machine to break the silence.
The mobile phone on the table beside me is silent. It hasn’t rung or beeped probably since yesterday, maybe the day before.
No calls, no emails, no texts, no Facebook notifications, no tweets, and there’s nothing blinking on the answering machine because no one has rung my landline since December, except people in call centres who can’t pronounce my name.
Novelist Marion McGilvary has opened up about how lonely an empty house can feel
All these methods of communication, and yet no one is communicating with me.
There was a time when coming back to an empty house would fill me with pleasure. I’d luxuriate in the extra, unexpected bonus of having the place to myself, and happily breathe in the peace and quiet.
But now, with the children grown, gone or not yet home from college, it’s just lonely.
There, I’ve said it: I’m lonely.
We’re all so popular now, so connected. Social networking is the buzzword.
We have all these new verbs: we blog, we Skype and tweet our thoughts in fewer than 140 characters.
We post our status on Facebook and talk and surf constantly on our mobiles, so that the trains or buses in the evening are a sea of heads, all bowed as though in prayer, worshipping their BlackBerries and iPhones, tap, tap, tap — the rosary of the text message.
It’s a mark of shame not to have any friends, real or virtual, no followers, not to be linked in to everyone you ever met for five minutes — once — at a party in 1974.
So finding yourself at home, alone, with only 30 followers on Twitter, four of whom are the same person, a silent phone and no one you care to call must mean there’s something wrong with you.
You’re unpopular, friendless, abandoned, alone. Lonely.
Surely somewhere there’s a party you should be at, a dinner you should be invited to, a partner who should be partnering you, a family who should be missing you
Marion McGilvary says too much 'me time' leaves her feeling lonely
In my case, I have four children and my solitude is only temporary. Soon my newly graduated son and student daughter will arrive to re-colonise their bedrooms.
For the next year or two, my semi-adult offspring will continue to be reluctant, economic refugees in the house.
Even grown-up children need their parents — but they just need them to be alive. They don’t need them in the same room.
They want you to be uncomplainingly happy somewhere over there. In the background, out of the way.
And only to step forward when needed. They don’t want you to tag them on Facebook. This is as it should be.
You raise them to be confident, caring, well-adjusted, independent adults with rich, fulfilled lives and friends of their own.
You can’t whine about being lonely if they then do just that. If mine were still clinging to me for company, I would feel I had failed them.
Like, surely, I have failed at this popularity contest called life if I’m lonely; as, apart from Eleanor Rigby, the elderly and the recently bereaved, apparently I’m the only one who feels this way.
It’s not as though I am unfulfilled. I’m a novelist with a convivial job in a publishing company. My colleagues are sociable and fun.
‘Can’t you call someone from work’ my former husband urged recently, when a back injury transformed me from able to disabled in the course of a day, and I realised, with horror, that he was one of the few people in my support system I could call on for help.
Well no, I can’t.
To quote the thriller I’ve just devoured in page-turning haste, work is not ‘the equivalent of adult daycare’, there to provide me with play dates and nursing care.
Work is what people do to earn enough to facilitate their other ‘real’ life of home and family and friends and leisure activities.
'I love being by myself’, people say,
defensively, as though the mere suggestion of loneliness was like being
incontinent or having herpes.'
I may spend more time with my desk-mate ‘office wife’ than I ever did with my husband, but I still can’t intrude on her private time. The fact that my private time is often all too very, very private is my problem.
Not for others, though. ‘Oh, I long for time alone’, ‘I need my space’, ‘I love being by myself’, people say, defensively, as though the mere suggestion of loneliness was like being incontinent or having herpes.
They’d rather admit to alcoholism than loneliness. And at least, then, they’d have the meetings.
But also they don’t have time to be lonely. As journalist Tim Kreider wrote in the New York Times recently, there’s also that ‘boast disguised as a complaint’ of those who are so, so very busy all the time.
Those who are too busy to fit you in
for supper before May 2013 may well, as Kreider suggests, ‘dread what
they face in its absence’, their busyness ‘a hedge against emptiness’.
And why not Emptiness is lonely.
the lonely people, where do they all come from’ asked The Beatles. Not
North Kensington, where, surely, only sad losers get lonely.
Marion McGilvary said she likes her own company, but she does miss her old, busy life. Picture posed by model
And none of us are sad. We’re successful, we’re posting a link on Facebook, putting our holiday snaps on photo-sharing website Flickr, then tweeting about it so everyone knows how busy and relevant and popular we are.
But look, I’m busy, too: I volunteer, I write, I belong to a choir, a quiz team, an evening class and Chelsea Football Club. It’s not that I don’t have enough pastimes, it’s that I have too much past — all of it full of people who aren’t here.
Furthermore, I like my own company and don’t want to turn every hour, every evening, into a whirlwind of displacement activity.
I enjoy indolence and know how to manage it. I never said I was bored or without inner resources. I said I was lonely. It’s not the same thing.
I miss my old life — the dull, companionable drone of marriage and the analgesia of motherhood, my chattering, once ever-present younger children and their ever-present needs.
'A silent phone and no one you care to call must mean theres something wrong with you'
I miss the sound of competing CD players, the clash of a computer game battle, the dissonant ringtones of four mobiles, the silence of bedtime when everyone was safe inside a circle of which I was the centre.
I miss my dead parents and the extended family seated around my equally extended table that turned meals into an episode of the Waltons with mince.
Now, with distance, divorce and death, everything has contracted. The table has only one leaf, and dinner is often just me eating salami on Ryvita, standing by the fridge.
Of course, I could have a glass of wine and sit at one of my three tables, set with linen and crockery from my several sets of 12. I could light a candle to make it special.
But it’s not special. It’s miserable. My life is too big for me. I’ve shrunk in the wash. I’m a desperate housewife without the rest of the cast.
I do entertain: I cook, I invite. But I’m actually not that sociable. I’m not the life and soul. I also have a long-term lover. So, I’m not lovelorn. I have children who care about me. So, I’m not unloved.
But as cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said: ‘One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder when you are coming home at night.’
The partnered up don’t appreciate the quality or, indeed, the quantity of ‘me’ time that exists when I survey the desert of the evening stretching before me, and wonder why I hurried home from work.
Of course, I do have friends. Some. A few. The ones who aren’t too busy going to the opening nights of plays; the last people to leave the party after my marriage broke up, who got stuck with me in the split.
But despite my evening classes and Girl Guide range of worthy preoccupations, it’s hard to make new friends.
It’s like waiting to be picked for a team when everyone else is already paired up. All the good players have gone.
No dinner invitations come from couples we used to see. I get the odd off-peak coffee or lunch outside weekend socialising hours, but mostly I’ve fallen into the black hole of divorce. Anyway, I don’t need someone to go out with — I need someone to stay in with.
'Yet. I am not drowning, or even
paddling, in self-pity. I’m more embarrassed than distressed. I don’t
feel sorry for myself, only ridiculous.'
So what to do At 54, it’s too late to suddenly turn myself into the most popular girl in school.
Especially as I can’t just sleep with the football team. Well, I could. Now the house is empty, I could finally be the hedonistic slut that propriety and good-girl morals prevented me from being in my youth.
But I don’t want a one-night stand. Loneliness has nothing to do with libido. It’s far easier to find love, or at least sex, online than it is to find a new best friend. If only there were a match.com for friendship.
But as no one admits to needing any friends, who would join And who wants to meet a lonely loser like yourself
If you were halfway interesting, or as vivacious and funny as you think you are, then you’d be Dorothy Parker, and Truman Capote would be inviting you for the weekend. You wouldn’t be spending it with a box set of the U.S. medical drama Grey’s Anatomy and barely quenched panic.
And anyway, as I mentioned, I already have a lover. But a lover doesn’t keep the wolf of loneliness away from the door. It doesn’t skulk off into the night for just anyone.
I’m lucky. I’m not old. Yet. I am not drowning, or even paddling, in self-pity. I’m more embarrassed than distressed. I don’t feel sorry for myself, only ridiculous. I count my blessings — of which I have many. I just get lonely.
But it’s not a character defect. It just is. You probably didn’t even know I had it. It’s my superpower. I’m like a comic-book hero with a double life. By day I go about my business, and by night I sit at home and disappear by myself.
Though I also have a cat. But you probably guessed that.
Guardian News And Media.