I’m 54 years old, and recently, I realised I’ve been lonely my whole life.
Somewhere along the line, I didn’t make any friends.
I have no ongoing friendships from school or university nor any of the myriads of activities a parent participates in through their children. I volunteer for all the usual kids’ things—school committees, sports teams, the local hospital.
A long time ago, I was married for a few years; more recently, ended a 23-year relationship that produced three children.
Yet despite all this life experience, there is no one I can call out of the blue and suggest we meet up for a beer. I’m envious of people, including my siblings, who have maintained relationships with their school and university comrades, and covet the casual texts and calls they exchange with their social circle. I see my now-adult children in touch on social media, shooting the breeze with school friends spread around the world.
In recent times, I’ve pondered why. In the mid-1970s, aged nine, we moved from England to Australia for my father’s work, a complete disconnect with that phase of my life. In Australia, I attended multiple schools, with my final two years at boarding school at the other end of the continent. I barely survived a year of university before returning home. I have no contact with the people I knew from school or university.
I know many, many people through my work. I can pick up the phone, or send an email, to probably a couple of hundred people if I need advice, ideas, information. But none are my friends. A professional connection defines just acquaintances whose relationship with me.
John-Paul Sartre once wrote, “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.” The strange thing is, I’ve ignored the loneliness, boxed it away, not called it out, or given it a name. I rendered myself numb to my lack of social interaction. I compartmentalised my life and retreated to the safety of child-rearing and supporting their lives, to the detriment of my own.
I’ve relied on being the alone ranger all my life, figuring out life’s challenges independently. My loneliness has become a habit, deeply entrenched, difficult to break. Somewhere along my journey, I convinced myself I didn’t need other people.
Recently, I met someone who has made me question many elements of my life, those decades-old habits. I’ve started to examine the bedrock of my life, and I’ve realised that bedrock has been an anchor, fighting the tide, preventing me from ebbing and flowing.
It’s time to cut the anchor chain, risk disappointment, risk this being a long process, but perhaps to reach out to people in my life and ask if they’d like to be my friend.