As I write this, I am sitting alone at home, on a Saturday night. This is something I’ve been looking forward to: I don’t often get my house to myself, and I’ve had a ridiculously busy couple of weeks. This is me-time that I treasure.
And yet, I am gripped with loneliness.
That last sentence was difficult to write. I’ve been alone for many years; I’ve been a single mother for most of my children’s lives; I paddle my own canoe. I actually genuinely enjoy my own company. To admit to loneliness feels like failure.
Further to that is the complication that I’m not entirely sure what the antidote is. It’s not just A Nother person. But do I have an image in my mind of the person I would like to have sitting with me? That I do not. Or at least, I do, but he is a shape-shifter.
Having lived on my own (albeit with children) for many years now, I do have an invisible friend. He is the one I am often cooking for as I stir the curry. He sits and watches a movie with me. He will pass comment (always complimentary, of course!) on what I’m reading, or doing, or wearing. He spoons me at night. He looks after me when I’m ill. But unlike the usual child’s invisible friend, he has no name, nor face, nor permanent features of any kind. He is a concept. A sense of something. My animus.
The problem with Mr Animus is that he comes from my sub-conscious. He is not a real, separate individual. So he IS always kind, and considerate, and charming, and randy when I want him to be and cozy and cuddly when I want that, and he leaves me alone when I want to be alone. And all without my having to even tell him! But he isn’t a real person. He isn’t even close to being a real person. Like Samantha, the Operating System in Spike Jonze’s brilliant film Her, all Mr Animus does is reflect myself back at me. I have no regular, male, peer to knock the rough edges off me, reflect less than flattering information, argue with me, or even politely suggest that I might be mistaken. Being alone can make you live too much inside your own head. It can make you decide that your demons are better company than none at all.
There is current and telling research about loneliness: that it is, like pain, a vital warning signal for humans. We are intrinsically the most social of species. And perhaps, in bio-evolutionary terms, any company is better than none. Although we are also, in evolutionary terms, wary of other humans, lest they kill us or burn our crops or eat our young. And as we’ve become more (at least superficially) sophisticated as a species, we have become even more selective about our mates and our company. Which has left many of us in this bind.
Loneliness is not a failure, any more than catching a cold is a failure, or twisting an ankle (unless you’ve gone out in Louboutins and had too many vodka-tonics, in which case, it is totally your own fault!!). As a mother, I have refused to be scared of my children’s boredom, or see it as a testament to poor mothering. I know that it can be a good thing, and is far more often the mother of invention than necessity. Maybe loneliness is a sister-state to boredom. Like anxiety and depression, it can be difficult to separate them.
Perhaps, loneliness is also a powerful, if uncomfortable motivator.
After-all, it has lead me to write this blog post.