I told my therapist I was feeling lonely the other day. She looked at me in surprise and said, "But you're always hanging out with friends." I replied that some of the people I hung out with, I didn't actually like. I was just filling the deep but inevitable hole left by the recent breakdown of a relationship, and filling time with people -- any people. She suggested it might be better just to be lonely than do this, and I looked at her in horror. Better to be lonely?
The only part of the movie Julie and Julia I enjoyed was when Julie turns around and says, "What does it say about you when you don't like your friends?" and her friend replies, "That you're perfectly normal." Why is it worse to spend Friday night alone with HBO, than Friday night with a bunch of people, none of whom you particularly like, respect or admire -- in fact their only redeeming quality is that they are there?
Perhaps because there's a certain undeniable stigma attached to loneliness. Google 'loneliness', and you get pages of pages of links related to mental illness, as if the clinically diagnosed have a monopoly on this condition. Have you ever tried saying to a friend, "I feel lonely?" Unless they're in some kind of cult (AA, the Manson family, Scientology etc), in which case they leap upon your fragile state and inculcate you into their insane 'family', this phrase is usually met with a brisk brush off ("Pull yourself together and stop being so self-absorbed") and a return to more comfortable topics: the weather etc. Yet loneliness is a staple of the human condition. It's something that everyone feels at some point or another, and yet few admit to, because admitting to feeling alone seems to imply that you have no social life, no friends, no loved ones, no life, either because you yourself have brought about this state, or because you're somehow not 'worthy'. And that's not necessarily the case at all.
It's Sunday afternoon as I write this, and I hate Sundays because they're the days when couples have brunch together, families lunch together, and people do weekend things, deprived of the time to do this in the week. As a newly single writer who's only been in Venice Beach for eight months, with family scattered all around the globe, Sundays mean I have nothing to do. Sunday was 'hanging out with boyfriend' day. And it's not anymore. It's 'wander around with my pup feeling desolate and jealously eyeing families and lovers' day. Sunday is 'oh I may as well take the f***ing day off seeing as everyone else is' day -- even though, as a writer, I would hazard a guess that most of my days are 'days off'. But I don't admit to feeling lonely, because to do so may imply a weakness on my part, perhaps even suggest a lapse into mental illness if Google is to be believed. Instead I stoically smile and stomp around Venice with my little chihuahua pretending that it's exactly what I want to be doing, I have nowhere else on earth I'd rather be, and no one else with whom I'd want to share this time.
I'm lucky. I get to go spend Christmas with my siblings this year, courtesy of a new credit card. But in 2005 I was stuck in New York alone. My boyfriend had recently suffered a bereavement in the family and had flown back to England. I had no money to leave, and a slew of friends had disappeared overseas for the holidays. There was literally no one left in New York who I knew that year. And so I spent the day eating packet noodles and watching DVDs of Lost, just praying for the goddamn day to be over. My family called me from the UK, and weirdly ashamed to be so lonely, I never told them the truth: that my Christmas was one of the shittiest days of the year. In fact, I never told anyone. There was a certain curious embarrassment to my solitude, a sense of defeat, a fear that if anyone found out I'd spent Christmas alone, they'd see straight to my inner core, and it would reveal -- loser.
It was a horrendous day. And then I went to bed and woke up, and my friends came back from their vacations, and life continued as normal, as if I'd never stared into the loneliness abyss, as if it was nothing more than a bad nightmare, a chimera, a blip. But even now, thinking about that day -- the acute stab of pain, the self pity and self-loathing that isolation induced -- is enough to reduce me to tears.
This Christmas I don't have to hang out with people I don't like to fill the loneliness void. I get to hang out with my family whom I love. I don't have to pretend my shit day is great, that my loneliness doesn't exist. But for any waifs and strays left alone on this day eating packet noodles and watching TV reruns -- please don't feel alone. There's plenty of us suffering the same way. We're probably just too embarrassed to tell you.