You are hereI'm lonely. Is that really so odd?

I'm lonely. Is that really so odd?


The phone doesn't ring. The house is empty. There's nobody to wait up for. These aren't things many people admit to, says Marion McGilvary
The phone doesn't ring. The house is empty. There's nobody to wait up for. These aren't things many people admit to, says Marion McGilvaryI come home from work.
The lamp on a timer that has welcomed me back through the gloom of the last few months burns, unnecessarily, in the sunny kitchen. I'm reading a thriller, which is living up to its name. I sit down with my coat still on 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, beeped or throbbed, 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 answerphone, because the landline hasn't rung since December, except people in call centres who can't pronounce my name.
All these methods of communication, and yet nobody's communicating with me.
There was a time when coming back to an empty house would fill me with pleasure -- like a snowy day at school.
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 kids 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 we tweet.
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 to have no friends, real or virtual, no followers, not to be linked-in to everyone you ever met for five minutes at a party -- once -- 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 nobody 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?
In my case, I have four kids 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.
Children need their parents, even grown-up children -- 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.
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. I myself 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 -- alone in this club -- too.
It's not as though I am an unfulfilled shut-in. I'm a novelist with a convivial job in a publishing company. My colleagues are sociable and fun.
"So, can't you call someone from work?" Mr Ex 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 for help.
But no, of course 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 may spend more time with my deskmate "office wife" than I ever did with my home 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.
Only sad losers get lonely. And none of us are sad -- we're successful, we're posting on Facebook, Flickring our holiday snaps, 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. 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.
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.
I miss the noise of footsteps followed by an ominous crash overhead. 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, death and divorce, everything has contracted. The table has only one leaf, and dinner is often just me eating salami on Ryvita, standing by the fridge. 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. But as Margaret Mead said: "One of the oldest human needs is having someone to wonder when you are coming home at night."
Of course, I do have friends. Some. A few. The ones who aren't too busy seeing plays that haven't opened yet and the last people to leave the party after my marriage broke up.
But despite my evening classes and my 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. I'm a substitute. No dinner invitations come from couples we used to see. 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. So what to do?
It's too late to suddenly turn myself into the most popular girl in high school at 54. 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.
Okay, I don't know where the bars are that my 40-something American sitcom sister frequents in her little black cocktail dress when she wants to pick up a man. 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 BFF. If only there were a match.com for friendship. But as nobody admits to needing any friends, who would join?
And who wants to meet another lonely loser like yourself? If you were halfway interesting, then you'd be Dorothy bloody Parker and Truman Capote would be inviting you for the weekend.
You wouldn't be spending it with a box set of Grey's Anatomy. Your dry goods wouldn't all be labelled in glass jars in your pantry.
But I'm lucky. I'm not old. Yet. I am ambulatory again and 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 -- I have many. I just get lonely. But it's not a character defect. It just is what it 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.
- Marion McGilvary
Irish Independent
 

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