The point of ... loneliness
Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton is a philosopher, writer and television presenter. His books include Essays in Love (published when he was only 23), How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), Status Anxiety (2004) and Religion for Atheists (2012)
Sunday 25 July 1999
Daydreams that arise in such deserted moments could hardly be termed mature, in so far as one associates the word with an awareness of the dangers of idealisation and romantic excess. On a train to Edinburgh, I am assigned a seat across from a young woman reading what may be a company report, sucking her way through canned apple juice. As we shuttle northwards, I feign a concern for the scenery (parched fields, industrial debris), while remaining glued to the angel. Short brown hair, blue-grey eyes, a set of freckles on the nose, a striped sailor top with a small but undeniable splash of what might have been lunch's macaroni. After Manchester, Juliet puts away the company report and takes out a cookbook. The Food of the Middle East. Concentration across her brow. Stuffed aubergines. Also, falafel, tabouleh, and something that looks like guruko which requires much spinach. Notes taken in curled, concentrated handwriting.
How little it takes for the lonely to fall in love. Or at least into the kind of heightened enthusiasm for another person that might be called love, but also crush, sickness or illusion depending on temperament. By the time the train is past Newcastle, I have thoughts of marriage, a house in a cherry-tree-lined street, Sunday evenings where she will lay her head beside me and my hand will comb her chestnut strands and we will quietly digest the Middle Eastern something-or-other that she made and I will at long last, and forever more and with infinite gratitude, feel that I have a place in the world.
Such moments punctuate the life of lonely people, unfolding without any outward sign, on the Edinburgh train, the lunchtime sandwich line or airport concourse. Pathetic no doubt, but vital to the institution of the couple.
We should be grateful for the despair of lonely people, for it is the foundation of future loyalty and selflessness - a reason, perhaps, to be suspicious of the romantically successful, whose charms have left them unacquainted with the tragi-comic process of aching for days for someone they were too shy to address and who stepped off at the next station.
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