There’s an irritating jingle, as they tend to be, playing over and over and over in my mind, as they tend to. I haven’t heard it for a couple of nights so why it has popped in now I have no idea. The ditty runs, “You don’t have to be lonely on Farmer’s Only Dot Com” – yes, it’s a dating website for countryfolk! I am not in the market for a dating website, I am not lonely, so why is it there? Maybe it’s a subconscious realignment in response to the televised GOP debate last night – I don’t imagine there is a lonelier path than that of a politician.
Whatever the reason, the refrain has got me thinking about loneliness. I have been lonely. Not I am glad to say for many years, because it is a miserable state in which to be. I think though we sometimes muddle loneliness with solitude. As a writer I spend a lot of time in self-imposed solitary confinement. I value the quiet, even if there is a steady hum of traffic in the background much as when I am marching along Houston’s bayous. I don’t play music when I am walking or writing, but make up for it when I am cooking. I find Tina Turner and Luciano Pavarotti marvelous chopping and stirring partners!
Loneliness whacked me in the solar plexus when I first moved to London from Papua New Guinea, nearly forty years ago, but I remember like it was yesterday. I had floor space in a friend’s flat for a few nights before she disappeared off to a kibbutz for two years. Fortunately I found a job the first day, finding somewhere to live proved much, much harder. I found a wholly unsuitable place in Wembley, North London, but it was clean and the chap who owned it seemed okay. I wasn’t sleeping with him and I figured everything else could be worked out. Wrong. Working for an advertising agency was exciting, my boss was an American so we both spoke strangely – I still carried a hint of Australia in my voice. I was too busy to be lonely at work. But getting back to the flat was flat. And lonely. And sad.
After a couple of miserable months, I finally rented a bedsit in Willesden Green, not an entirely salubrious part of London, but it was mine, and mine alone. To start with I was still lonely. I listened to a lot of music, most of which probably did me no good at all. I drank and smoked far too much. But slowly, and with the help of a new friend who worked at the same agency, and her family, I came to realize I was moving away from loneliness to appreciating moments of solitude.
Moving to a new country can be a challenging experience, whether you are moving alone, as a couple, or as a family with children. I’ve been through all three. And all three can have moments of loneliness. Those times in the middle of the night when you wonder what on earth you are doing. Or when you are trying to decipher a script wholly alien to you, for me it was Thai, and you have a moment of confusing and overwhelming loneliness. Or you wave the children off with a smile as they skip into their new school and the day ahead looms, lonely for you.
We get our heads around our new environment, we meet new people most of whom understand what we are going through, we make a life for ourselves in our new posting. And then we move again. With each move, however, most of us learn those instances of loneliness will be short-lived.
I have a most gregarious friend, who has been single a long time, and yet she told me the loneliest she had ever been was when she was married. I could not and cannot imagine a worse kind of lonely. I am lucky. There have been cross words in a thirty-five year marriage, but I would not want to share it with anyone else. Rather than worrying about being lonely in a new place, or in an old place, we must try to relish those alone moments to realize company does not always provide companionship.
I have encouraged both our children to live alone before setting up house with a partner. I think we have to like our own company, so we understand that difference between loneliness and being alone. No one wants to be lonely but we all need moments of solitude, of quiet, to realign ourselves, to think. Wordsworth said it all in the final verse of I wandered Lonely as a Cloud.
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.