In consequence I've spent much of the fortnight alone . . . Alone, that is, apart from my colleagues on the paper, the people with whom I work out in the gym, the shoppers in Sainsbury's . . . Not really alone at all.
But alone enough, all the same, to have passed melancholy evenings with a half-read book, a half-watched television, and an overstroked cat; with a cobbled- up supper on my lap accompanied by just one, all right, two, oh well, I admit it, three glasses of wine. No wonder people who live alone take to drink: a drink is the next best thing to company. Or rather, one imagines it is; in fact, there is something terribly depressing about solitary drinking. Self-pity deepens with every glass. At this rate I'd be an alcoholic in a year.
What exactly, I have asked myself, does this loneliness consist of? It certainly isn't isolation: only last week I was bewailing the excess of people who surround me. It isn't lack of conversation, either: I can ring people up and chat on the phone for hours. I don't feel abandoned; I have had lunch with four different sets of friends, and caught up on their news. I have had two - no, three - different people to supper. It isn't boredom: I've seen a play and a film and watched 10 times as much television as usual; read Chesterton's poems (in a marvellous new edition edited by Stephen Medcalf) as well as Bill Bryson's wonderful Made in America; and I'm halfway through Nicholas Mosley's autobiography, Efforts at Truth.
What I mean by loneliness - this present loneliness; there are many forms - is lack of intimacy. There is nobody to whom I can relate the small soap opera of my daily life. The trivial anecdotes, ('Do you know what I saw on the Tube today? Well . . .'); the office jokes, fragments of conversation or gossip; the petty successes and embarrassing failures; the disappointments or surprises, in short, the whole open-ended saga of Lambertian life. Equally important, Tony isn't there at the end of the day to tell me his. I don't lack deep conversation; I lack - who would have thought it mattered so much? - the shallow, ephemeral, but immensely reassuring validation of who I am and what I have done.
Ten years ago, when I imagined I would be on my own for the rest of my life, I laid plans, made various sensible adjustments, stopped depending on the imminent appearance of the hoped-for He and settled down to confront life as a solitary woman. I joined a couple of clubs - the excellent Institut Francais, just down the road from my flat, which had a full programme of events both social and cultural; and English PEN, a national organisation for writers, which filled most Wednesday evenings very enjoyably.
Then, out of the blue, just when I least expected anyone, along came Tony - and for the first time in 25 years I was one of a couple again. In the last eight years I've got used to that highly satisfactory state and seem to have lost the ability to be serene in my own company.
I know plenty of people who are, and I admire their dignity and discipline. An old friend of mine, a Hungarian lady of 87, has been on her own for 30 years yet lives with as much vigour as if she were at the centre of a salon. She is always perfectly dressed, she always cooks herself proper meals and doesn't just gobble a snack (while I have eaten more bowls of cornflakes in the past fortnight than I care to admit) and she keeps up with the news as well as with the latest books. This seems to me to demonstrate a high degree of self-respect, and I deplore its absence in my present self.
I have thought over and again, how do people bear it? Yet one person in four in Great Britain lives alone, and the percentage is rising. I realise this does not automatically mean that they are all lonely; many no doubt choose to live like that. My younger daughter has preferred to live by herself since she was 18, which she says is selfishness though I think it shows a remarkable strength of character.
In the end I have been compelled to realise that when I say I am missing intimacy, this is fudging the issue. Intimacy is a way of avoiding the real word for what I have been missing, which is love. For all the cheerful companionship of the office, the generous affection of friends, the lively chatter of my children on the telephone, I have come to the conclusion that I have been lonely because for these past two weeks I have been living without love. It seems that I cannot do it. Francis Bacon said the same in 1607: 'For a crowd is not company and faces are but a gallery of pictures and talk but a tinkling cymbal where there is no love.'
He gets back tomorrow. Welcome home.Reuse content