In a Lonely Place


For most of my life I’ve felt alone. Not Ancient Mariner alone, but pretty lonely nonetheless. My reliable companions have been waking dreams, fantasies and a thousand slimy things. But all too often the tangible connection with other human beings that settles the mind and gladdens the heart has not been there. Oh no, you’re thinking, a woe piece. Well, get comfy, there’s a working reservoir of self-pity to walk around and we’ve barely reached the first water turbine.

From the age of 16 to 29, for 11 of those 13 years, I was involved in what are sometimes called “serious relationships” with people I now know to be women. These were the kind of unions where you’re asked questions like, “where is this going?” and “what are you thinking?” Back then, without Siri’s help, there were no good answers. I never felt anything other than insecure, frightened, inadequate, ill-equipped and misunderstood.

But on the plus side, at least there was a dug to suck.

Did those girlfriends notice? I can’t ask them, they live in the past. I recall them interpreting any statement that encroached on honesty and soul baring as excuses; the kind of thing men say when, reduced to an abstraction, “men”, they’re labelled as shit. Misandry has its own self-sustaining logic. But these were only excuses the way a man with no legs is being lazy when he says he can’t wiggle his toes.

If you rally against cookie cutter expectations you’re a deviant, an oddball; you deserve to be the object of ridicule and pity, left alone to become the kind of poor bastard that decades hence is labelled a loner by a tabloid journalist in connection with a brutal homicide. But no one I generously shared those precious months and years of my life with was ever interested in me as I was.

By that I mean, they benchmarked me against an archetype, of the kind drawn in Disney studios and played in old weepies, and found me wanting. Curiously, I don’t share the outlook or values of a gender construct. That’s the boon that comes with being a real person. It’s a sure fire bet that anyone who does identify with a set of clichés has never had an original thought in their lives.

I could never get excited about playing a role so a woman brought up on fairy tales could regress to childhood and enjoy that fantasy, feeling the false security that comes with it. Fantasies are wonderful; I know, because as an aforementioned real, three dimensional human being, not just the wang to someone’s fouf, I’ve enjoyed a few treasured scenarios of my own. But reality, problematic though it is, can be even better, not least when it takes the form of two people who understand and complement one another.

Ten years ago this weekend, figurative loneliness became real, perhaps permanent. I went from having the emotional and physical intimacy that comes with a long-term relationship to having nothing at all, not even the comfort of the concept, or the belief that for all my shortcomings, which are considerable, someone out there could see past them, as perhaps someone looks past yours.

I ask all the happy and loved amongst you to believe (wherever you place yourself on that northern hemisphere sized spectrum) that being told you are not loved by that special someone is like being downgraded to a person of no consequence. This is knowing cruelty, vested on you by the custodian of your self-worth. It’s brutal, like bear baiting and ITV2.

Your constituent stuff – your soul, your mind, your heart, whatever you call the abstruse elements that make you Ingeborg Kristiansen (if that’s your name), struggles to recover. This is your own personal 9/11, it’s Brexit of the brain. Every day is President Trump’s inauguration. Maybe you’ll love again, perhaps others will take a fleeting interest, but the good times, if they ever existed, are over. Never again will you believe that affection doesn’t come priced up. You intuit it’s a loan not a gift, and one administered by those usurers at Wonga.

I’ve always taken the lion’s share of the blame for my losses; after all, the entirety must be doled out, takers or no. Guilt, inadequacy and a brief glimpse at your caricature, as imagined by the other party, allow masochism to thrive. Just don’t talk about the truth. The truth’s a great leveller.

Wounded by past struggles, and desolate at how little of what I shared in a bid to manage expectations was absorbed or understood, I’ve made no attempt this past decade to find a new companion. But I take a small crumb of comfort from knowing that I won’t be patronised when I get home tonight, or dragged into an argument about nothing, or forced to show an interest in something I don’t care about, or told to get my glad rags on (bought for me, naturally) because Torben and Lucy are coming round for drinks. Yes Torben, with his boorish car obsession and tendency to stare at my other half’s breasts, and Lucy who I know tells her she can do better when I’m safely out of earshot. There’s worse things than being single, you see. Like being alone in a relationship.

By chance and association I’ve met wonderful women who’ve tickled my brain and shaken my loins (not literally), but I know, because I’m one of these awful people sensitive to psychological cues, that they think less of me than I do of them. Some just haven’t found me attractive (the blind, the insane, the terminally ill), whereas others have judged me as remote, boring, cold, damaged, wrongheaded and weird. I’m not fishing for compliments; I don’t need plastic reassurance, and I‘ll pass on the comedic (or indeed, sincere) undercutting of the same too, e.g. “I agree, you’re a CUNT”. It’s what others think, it’s not what I know. But they think it anyway, and the effect is the same as it being true – a gulf opens, then widens. It’s a rum do.

It’s hard to be indifferent to this stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever been indifferent about anything, bar Galactica 1980. Knowing you’re judged makes you withdraw. You feel unable to reach out to people. And whereas I used to take some comfort from knowing that most peripherals remained so because we were temperamentally mismatched, even ideologically opposed – just too different, I’ve since lost purchase on people I fancied as kindred spirits. But then one of life’s cruel ironies is that even if you recognise yourself in others, they don’t always recognise themselves in you (or don’t want to).

As I lumber toward this unfortunate anniversary, my decade on the shelf next to old 8mm snuff movies in dusty cans, I feel regret at having not taken more chances to enjoy being myself, free of others’ expectations. There’s still time of course; time enough to embrace Satanic worship, gangsterism and living under a tree. I just have to push myself.

For years I’ve been prone to bouts of what I now recognise as depression, as well as health scares, family worries and acute anxiety about the future. I’ve by and large kept these things to myself, occasionally sharing with a trusted few. It’s crowded out headspace that might otherwise have been reserved for more desirous things like going to a Harvester and breaking bread and all-you-can-eat salad with a loved up lovely.

Will the lonely decade become two? It’s not a bad bet. But then, Andy Burnham as Labour Leader, Remain winning the EU vote, President Hilary Clinton, and a second series of John Gordon Sinclair sitcom Nelson’s Column – all were certainties once. Fancy a punt?

Published in: on November 25, 2016 at 15:47  Leave a Comment  
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