Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Zolitude is a place in Riga, Latvia
This year I have spent a great deal of time alone. I have never minded my own company, and over the years have been happy, for instance, to go to the cinema alone if I couldn't find anyone else who wanted to see the film I had chosen. I don't feel lonely doing that. When I was young I didn't have much understanding of or sympathy with girls who said "I can't go to that, I've got no one to go with". But of course, solitude and loneliness are not the same thing.

I have almost never lived alone in my life. I left home at 18 and went to university, where I lived in halls ("living in college" as we called it then where I went, in Durham). Just before I finished university my father died suddenly and unexpectedly, and I went "home" for the summer. And then got married, as did my two siblings soon afterwards. There's bound to have been a connection, but none of us has felt like exploring it over the years. We had two children each. My marriage and my sister's ended after some years (we did try), and my brother's has lasted, with some hiccups. Then I did live alone for a little while, but not exactly. My son lived with me, and by the time he went back to his father, at fifteen, significant other and I were setting up home together. We have lived together ever since, and have been married for 14 years. Now, significant other works in the UK every summer (we live in France) and this year was away for nearly three months. He is away again, for only ten days this time, teaching a half-term intensive course. And yes, I have been lonely. What to do about it? Not turn down invitations to go out, is most of the answer. I have been doing that too often in recent times, because I am usually happy at home in the evenings, reading and writing and so on. Today I am going to the cinema with a new friend, and this is a Good Thing.

Loneliness among old people is a great problem, at least in this Western world. I know old people who are cheerful, friendly and sociable. But they are in the minority. Health problems may cause some of them to be negative, but talk of symptoms can be a kind of hobby too, and one that does no good. My uncle, in his eighties, has hobbies, such as model plane flying - he used to go fishing too and he was part of a dance club, all people of similar age. He has had some quite serious health problems recently, but has remained positive and cheerful. I saw him two weeks ago at a family wedding, that of his grandson, and he was very much the laughing raconteur - he had his moment on the dance floor too. My mother, on the other hand, whose health is not bad, is relentlessly negative - but let's not go there.

Most of us don't have to be lonely. Some old people say they are lonely because their families never visit them. I say to them - maybe your family would visit you more if you were more positive when you did see them.

Let's think about preventing loneliness. Human beings are designed to live in groups. The others in those groups may not these days share our actual household, but we need the contact they give us. If we don't have it, we are likely to become bitter and negative. Don't let it happen to you, as I am determined it will not happen to me.


Anonymous said...

You've posted about solitude/loneliness before, I think.

I never thought about it at all when younger - and actually loved being on my own - because, probably like you, I was usually never alone.I also still prefer goign to the cinema alone - always have. I have also only lived alone for very brief periods and then there has always been 'something' on the horizon in the interim - usually a man. I find myself thinking about being 'on my own' at some time a lot more nowadays. It is definitely to do with age and I hate it. I also, last night found myself, (in the midst of watching a 1950s drama series about Masters and Johnson - suddenly thinking about what year I would probably die. And then I thought about what likely year my children would die. I don't like this at all - but I find it happens more and more. At least writing fiction enables you go back.

Anonymous said...

Just adding to my comment above -- go and see Le Weekend.

Solitude in marriage.