Looking after Number One: If you're not half of a couple, does it have to mean that something's always missing? Celia Dodd meets five single operators. Loneliness of the solo pianist

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The Independent Online
Lucy Parham, 26, a concert pianist, has always lived on her own.

I DON'T want to look back when I'm 50 and think: I never gave it everything as far as my career goes. For that reason I'm not interested in being involved with somebody for the sake of it. It's more hassle than it's worth. If something serious comes up, that's fine. I'm not prepared to compromise, and I'm quite choosy. I can't imagine anything worse than living with somebody you don't get on with.

There are sacrifices I've got to make for my career. I'm not able to do the social things all my friends are doing, and weekends don't exist. I've had to say no to things I would have liked to do.

My lifestyle's completely unconventional. I work until late at night and I travel a lot. I have found that a problem with relationships - it's hard for the other person to understand what drives me to do what I do, and to understand that I won't be home at 7pm to cook supper.

There can't be a lonelier profession than a solo concert pianist on tour. When I'm performing I'm having to give of myself to other people; it's quite a demanding role. Being alone in your hotel room after a concert, with no one to ask how it went, is very, very solitary. Those are the times when I do miss emotional support.

You have to learn to cope on your own, because in a sense it's the survival of the fittest. If you let it get to you, you'd never get on with the next thing. But I do need somebody - I turn to my family and friends for support.

I'm never short of things to see or people to do them with. I put a lot of effort into that, and I make a lot of effort with my friends. You have to when you're on your own, because if you don't, nothing comes to you. I like the challenge of that. Sometimes it does get me down, it depends on my frame of mind. If things are going well and I'm feeling positive, I'll go all out for it. But at other times, I just want to curl up on the sofa - then I have to force myself.

People say, do you like living on your own? As if it's a really strange thing to do. I've never thought of it as strange or difficult. There is a feeling socially that you're not quite whole until you're part of something else. I don't think that's true.

I'm at an age when you start to think, is this the time I should be getting married? I have a deep-rooted belief that I will be married and have children some day. If I dwelt on the idea of being on my own in 10 or 20 years' time, it could get me down.

What I love is being able to shut my own front door. I can have who I want round, I can watch a video at 3am or have a bath at midnight. And I can pound away on the piano all evening. Until I was 17 I was at a mixed boarding school, where you don't have any space at all. When I left I was very conscious of struggling to get my own independence and my own space around me. I really value my privacy because I didn't have it for so long, and I wouldn't give it up lightly.

(Photograph omitted)