The Office of National Statistics helpfully advises that 13% of the UK population live alone and 53% of those living solo are women. According to the last national census (2011) as women get older, the chances are that they will find themselves living on their own. I would like to suggest another category: those who are alone. Like me.
As I cooked my evening meal last night it struck me that I have become a master of oneness. I cook for one, I enjoy solitary walks for hours with my hound, none of my hobbies can be shared: painting, writing, reading, photography and my thoughts seem to have a singular thread of aloneness and solitude. I have arrived at a stage in my life where I expect the worst from others and therefore I conduct a type of selective mental exclusion where I literally do not expend energy trying to figure others out anymore. I have concluded that people are unfathomable performers on the stage of life who come, see and leave. No more, no less. None of this means that I am a reclusive depressive- not at all but to arrive at a point where I shrug my shoulders says more about detachment and a lack of expectation. Needy people expect a lot. I, on the other hand, expect nothing.
There is a distinct difference between being lonely and being alone. Our fast-food society often confounds the two (like the article on disposable income in the press recently - many thought 'disposable' meant 'spare' and could not grasp what the difference was). Being lonely conjures up images of dejection and a self-imposed solitary confinement. Very often lonely people don't want to see anyone and reject approaches from friends and family to stay in touch. Eventually the contact is lost for good and the loneliness becomes embittered- lonely people can blame others' insensitivity and thoughtlessness for their predicament. The truth is, human beings are social animals and unless they feel that maintaining contact is too much hard graft, they are likely to disappear for good.
I'm not lonely but I am alone. A fifty-something divorcé who has gotten used to her own company. This makes me as attractive as Lucrezia Borgia to men who ultimately don't want too much of a challenge in their romantic life. The strange thing about life is how rapidly time careers away from us once youth has passed. When we are young we consider time to be our slave, to do as we wish and we do not have an awareness of the repercussions of what we do in the present on the future. As we get older, time seems to accelerate past us and there is a real sense of it running out altogether. And suddenly, there are no options left- amends can no longer be made because they are hidden away in the recesses of a distant past, the lovers we should have kept have long ago created a new life for themselves and the connection has been lost forever.
Age brings a startling and painfully obvious awareness that we only have the present in all its ephemeral glory. The present is more fragile than the daintiest spider's web incapable of standing up to a hurricane. Our present is the sum of everything we ought to do but put off for a nebulous tomorrow. I look back at the 'aloneness' I have known all of my life and fully understand why I am who I am. Could it be any other way?
The Romans had a saying about one's disposition as being an unchangeable thing. I think quite frankly, I was born this way. Not lonely but alone. One primary school report to my parents written by the Principal opined that 'Samantha doesn't want to play with the other children.' Nothing has changed over fifty years, then. I abhor the idea of following fashion or trends. But I like dreaming and my imagination keeps me company from all the shabbiness of life. Had I not been alone I would not have had the impetus to create: artistic expression comes from a solitary inner core, from a place to where one must retreat completely. It is no surprise that many artists are single and egocentric in the extreme.
Life goes on whether we are by ourselves or with someone else. The crevices in our existence are largely of our own making. The important question is this: is everything not as it should be?
My advice for how to be alone is this: be yourself with all its flaws and imperfections. Find joy in the inevitability of the cycle of life. Retain a sense of wonder. Marvel at the stars in the sky and hope one day you get to be one.
Photo copyright S. van Dalen