Friday, 4 March 2011


Abstract Crowds

My life is spent in perpetual alternation between two rhythms, the rhythm of attracting people for fear I may be lonely and the rhythm of trying to get rid of them because I know I am bored.
C.E.M. Joad

In the midst of a big crowd, I felt very lonely last night.

A coach party left Valley's End at 6.30 pm to attend a performance of the Russian State Ballet of Siberia's Romeo and Juliet. I have mentioned me and coach parties before; this trip was relatively pleasant because I sat next to another woman on her own who was as happy to be silent for most of the journey as I was. We exchanged pleasantries at relaxed intervals, but most of the time were content to think our own thoughts and look out at the gathering gloom.

The rather bizarre performance was not one I would highly recommend; I felt no emotion apart from a slight irritation at the overly energetic dancing and the poor playing.

But it’s not the ballet itself I want to talk about.

Several bloggers have used the oxymoron ‘gregarious loner’ which is what I would say describes me too, although the term doesn’t really exist, of course. The theatre was sold out, there were other coach parties present as well as audience members who still manage to go to such venues under their own steam. The place was heaving, animated groups standing around, queuing three deep at the two bars, a happy bustling hum in the air. All the things I love about theatres.

And then there was me.

I knew most of my fellow coach party travellers and could easily have joined one of their little groups; except I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I had been listening to the subdued chatter around me on the coach; I lack the gossip gene, I would have been unable to make any contribution or pretend an interest in what was being said. When I am on my own, I adopt the observer mode. Normally, I would have stood somewhere on the fringes of the milling crowd, glass in hand, and watched, picked up a snippet here and there and felt only very mildly conspicuous by my obvious air of being an outsider.

Last night I felt decidedly lonely. It was not a good feeling. The crowds were too dense for moving about easily. For a few minutes I joined the husband of a couple both of whom I know well and like; when she returned from the bar they were quickly recognised by former acquaintances, and there I was, alone again. In the end I fled back to my seat.

Beloved more and more opts to stay at home. His arthritis makes walking, standing around for a long time or sitting in a cramped seat very painful; to get him to accompany me, the occasion has to be worth the effort. He’s played Romeo and Juliet so many times himself that he’d have been very cross about the ‘squawking and honking’ of the orchestra.

For twenty five very happy years we have thrown ourselves into a busy cultural and social life as a couple. Before I knew him, solitude was a reasonably happy state of being; besides, bringing up children and working for a living left little time for anything else.  I enjoy solitude, which means that loneliness should be easily conquerable. But this intense feeling of loneliness is very  different.

My social graces are well developed, in spite of difficulty with mundane gossip. I know I am a popular guest and enjoy having people at my house too. So what makes crowds so different?

How am I going to overcome this inability to join in? Should I bother? Is it worth it? For weeks now there has been this black cloud of depression hanging over me. It is as if I am mourning something indefinable, something that hasn’t happened yet.

Soon I will have to go to many more places on my own, including going on holiday. The prospect is anything but cheering.


  1. I'm sure this post will be backlogged with comments. Much of what you've written, I've thought or spoken - not as well as you have.
    Loneliness and solitude are, of course, completely different things. The difficulty comes when the love for solitude edges on over into the sad condition of loneliness. I like nothing better than a cancellation - it's strange, but even the cancellation of an invitation to something lovely makes me sigh in pleasure at the thought of an evening with a book or needle and thread. My sister calls it my "Come here, come here - go away go away" disease. I work with people, love conversation, love travel and meeting new people but can't wait to be away from people.
    Oh - and if you're wanting to travel, come on over here, if you dare, after reading the above, because I quite like having house guests who are independent.

  2. Well, in a small gathering with friends and family, it's quite a different thing, isn't it, than holding your own in a crowd.

    I understand what you mean about going to the theatre or the ballet or the opera by yourself. The 'loneliness' is two-fold: firstly, everyone else seems to be 'with someone'; secondly, these are occasions when it seems so right and natural to share the experience with another like-minded companion. I think many of us have felt that ultra-sensitivity of being on one's own in the intermission bar when everyone else seems to be gossiping to each other animatedly.
    I don't know the answer except to say some waffle about 'embracing your loneliness'.

    Myself, I think the term 'gregarious loner' fits me to a tee. I want the best of both worlds, want my cake and eat it. But social life and beautiful isolation, community and individuality, gossip and one's own pure thoughts - always necessitate compromise. Nevertheless, I like to adjust and shift between both these worlds as best I can.

  3. Friko, Lonliness is a type of suffering. Being alone is meditation. I think in the alone moment of thoughts you hooked a deep feeling. And I think you know what it is. I feel,(and please forgive me if I am out of bounds here) I feel the recognition of being without your companion let an anxiety rise... Anticipation.. that this will only happen more.. change..and none of us likes change. I heard on the radio last night that our personalities are 40% DNA
    We are born with a temperment. But the soul is a very powerful entity within us..our true being. And yours is longing to risk. Put on your spectacles of joy...look for it everywhere
    and soon you will notice a shift inside of you.. that you what to share this joy...for it is bursting out of you. Joy attracts. You are a very fascinating woman and excellent story teller...there is much for you to share with is the joy. seek it in the mundane, the ordinary and with it comes gratitude
    Love where you are right now...for your being is reaching...
    Joy! ps...sorry to be that gabby person next to you, but I like you..that's why I sat here,
    you bring me joy

  4. Friko, I understand this completely. Or I think i do, given my own similar circumstances. My husband ceased to attend events during his last years, so I was thrust into the social scene alone. Now he has died, and I still find myself alone a lot.

    Being alone in a crowd is not an easy thing for me either. I'm friendly, love to visit with others, enjoy "going and doing," but when I attend an event with a large attendance, I sometimes find myself feeling as if I don't fit in. Perhaps it is that so many are in couples, whether husband and wife or friends who came together. It's not easy being the odd person.

    Like you, I continue to attend events. And I enjoy them. However, there are times I wish I could gracefully slip out and just go home. Thankfully, it is not every time.

    Don't stop going. I know you don't plan to do so, but keep going. I will, too. Blessings. :)

  5. Friko, I have been catching up on your blogs. As I have told you before, I do not like to rush my reading of your writing. This past week I have been under the weather, and definitely have been at home alone. It's been wonderful to be quiet, and in recovery mode without any buzz from any surrounding crowds.

    See how I slip into my comment? My work requires me to be jolly in a public place, day after day, thinking of the comfort, organization, advancement, motivation of others. My thoughts of myself must wait until I do reach the sanctuary of my home. (This is much more pleasant when I don't have a bad cold and a fever.)

    In the 1950's there was an American tv show called "I Lead Two Lives," which I think had to do with a spy. I was then too young to really get its drift. Often I think many of us lead more than one life, several variations on the internal and external possibilities.

    I have never been married, and so have never had that opportunity to blend my life so closely with another. I have never had children and missed that opportunity as well.

    However, I have had all sorts of other adventures and met many, many people, some of whom have become dear friends over the years. I know many folks whose lives have pretty much been tied up by family considerations. I am lucky to have no dependents. Lucky also that I do enjoy my own company.

    Do I ever feel lonely? Oh, yes indeed. Can this feeling arise in the midst of a crowd? Yes, again. Do I enjoy a lengthy organized group bus ride? No indeed!

    Do I wish I did not have to go to work right now? Yes. I would much prefer to continue this message to you. Let's keep the conversation going when we both can manage it. xo

  6. I think Pondside has put nicely what I would comment and how I feel. I think we like to know that there are others just within reach if we need them...but do we ever really need them? We like blogging because it allows us to respond at our pace and time. We don't have to hear that unexpected knock or phone jangle. And don't even get me started on small talk.

  7. I do feel for you Friko, and reading this has actually made me feel better ... to know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Hugs x

  8. I am an extroverted person married to an extreme introvert. We married at fifty and are now going on twenty years together. He doesn't like to go out to social events and we never ever entertain at home. If there is a couple or a person to interact with, we meet at a predetermined place. Before I met him, I was always entertaining.

    But it's interesting that over the years I have gravitated towards his style of quiet contemplation. I now knit, read, and blog, which takes up huge amounts of my day. I also exercise almost every day when I am home.

    He is never lonely but sometimes I am. I've made a friend whose husband also doesn't go to social events, and we go together, seeing plays and movies together. When I read your post, the first thing that came to me is that your current worldview is being colored by depression, and I know exactly how that feels. Getting out doesn't help because I take the depression along with me. Staying home, same story. Once my depression lifts, for whatever reason, everything that seemed heavy and hopeless begins to look different. The only thing that changed was me.

    I love blogging because I've met some of the most brilliant writers and storytellers here. I love having your blog to follow.

  9. I'm pretty much of a loner myself. I married a gregarious fellow and so learned how to talk to strangers but when on my own, I have a hard time approaching someone I don't know just to make 'small talk'. Sometimes I'm better at it than others. But I don't like crowds, don't like going places by myself. I know how you felt as I have found myself feeling that all too often. alone in a crowd, lonely in a crowd where everyone but you seems to have so many people chatting them up. I don't want a crowd of people. One person to chat with or just stand with is all I need. My newly widowed sister is coming to terms with being alone.

  10. Pondside said it well, "Loneliness and solitude are, of course, completely different things." Solitude is often a choice, physically and mentally, whereas loneliness is an ache in the soul that wells up, often in the midst of a crowd.

    Your writing almost always leaves me with a thought to ponder. Thank you. I hope the coming spring will emerge in your soul as well as in the landscape, lifting the darkness in the light of hope.

  11. How well I know that lonely feeling! Loneliness at home with take-out Chinese and Gone With the Wind in the DVD player is one thing, but being alone in a crowd is altogether different. And what's worse - being completely unnoticed, or being so alone that everyone else is aware of your discomfiture and whispering behind your back? Of course, they're probably not, but I've imagined that scenario more than once.

    I recognize that your situation is different, though, and I ache for you. That day will come for most of us.

    I've tried the dining alone thing, and I just can't do it. But I love going to the movies alone...I'm sitting in the dark and don't FEEL that loneliness. No one else is aware that the person sitting beside me is only my coat and bucket of popcorn.

    Going on holiday alone? I have three female friends who absolutely adore doing just that! They actually PREFER going to Disney World without their spouses. But they are very outgoing and easily make friends, so I guess they never really feel alone.

    The Carpenters' song, Superstar, came to mind immediately when I saw your title. Remember? "Loneliness is such a sad affair..." And now that we know more of poor Karen's life, I wonder how many times she felt that loneliness...alone, and in those crowds.

  12. You are not alone in this loneliness or thinking forward about what it portends. I never feel so alone as in a crowd. I am generally seen as sociable and outgoing, but, like you, I am no good at the cocktail talk required in a crowd. (I'm compelled by my work to attend client galas, and, like my clients though I do, I find these events generally excruciating.)

    I had this experience again just last night, also at a concert I went to on my own. The concert was wonderful, but during the intermission I felt overwhelmingly alone setting foot in the crowded lobby. I spotted a young musician I know just slightly, also on his own. While awkward at first, we found our way to comfortable conversation by sharing our thoughts on what we'd heard. I discovered in that moment how easily the loneliness that had settled over me lifted, but I well recognize this isn't easily achieved.

  13. Yes , I hate the expectation .... one is expected to be able to make small talk and to enjoy it .
    I'm hopeless at both and am seriously delighted to wander about the edges of these occasions , people-watching . Probably why I love a day out in a strange town .
    In a work-setting I don't mind and I , like you , love meeting a few sympathetic friends but don't understand the need to chatter for chattering's sake .

  14. I like what Suz said .

    I feel very much that I am here to listen to this in a sense.
    I don't have answers.
    Be gentle with your soul.

    I very often feel like an outsider, although I imagine there isn't anyone who would ever think that of me.

  15. Solitude is lovely. Loneliness hurts! I suppose it's that feeling of being on the perimeter. I think every one of us feels lonely at some point in our lives. Thank you for another brilliant post Friko xx

  16. i hear you...and feel what you are saying at times...crowds, peripheral relationships do little really for the need of connection, someone to really know you..

  17. Being alone, solitude, is so very different from loneliness. I experience both. I love solitude but not loneliness.

  18. Blushed reading that quote! That's me...

    Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral



  19. I suppose most of us has felt like this often enough. There is indeed a huge difference between solitude and loneliness. To feel alone in a crowd is overwhelming. I'm sorry you're feeling this way and I hope it doesn't deter you from future opportunities to get out and enjoy from time to time.

  20. Having been "required" to attend functions while my husband was in the military, being in a crowd was, is and never will be my favorite thing...the alone feeling is difficult, but the pain of standing around with a glass in one's hand in the midst of people who are designated "important" is unbearable. I will take being alone any day...just give me a few good friends gathered 'round the fire...

  21. It's all been said. I have no more to add. Just wanted you to know how you feel! Have a grand weekend! Cathy

  22. Your final paragraph goes straight to the heart of the matter. There are times when being a grown-up just plain sucks, and yet the alternative is no better.

  23. I agree with DJan – I think you are going through a bit of depression - I think there is a word for it – you know the winter feeling when you have not seen the sun for a long time. OK Friko – I found it. It is called “SAD” Seasonal Affective Disorder. It affects women more than men and one of the symptoms is “Avoidance of social situations.” Also “The most common type of SAD is called winter-onset depression.” Could that be it?

    But I also understand what you mean. I tried to think of the last time I felt lonely and I can’t remember. For over 28 years (from 1974 when my father died till 2002 when my mother died) I went to Paris, alone, to see my mom. She had Parkinson’s disease and could not leave her house. I would go to Paris alone, to plays, to museums, to restaurants, to many things and that for 28 years!. What I missed was someone to speak with in French since I never speak it here in the US – I missed the language not the companionship. But then when I was back with my mum she spoke – a lot.

    You have received some wonderful comments on this subject and I enjoyed reading them.

  24. Friko, your post touches me in a very deep place. I think I have always been a loner. I've always felt a longing which I don't know if that is like loneliness. I am unable to be in large groups of people, even that I know well, large being anything above 4. I realized early on I have no ability to speak about mundane things as you put it. I am in awe of people I watch talking animatedly with another one or two people. I always wonder, what the heck do they find to talk about? I believe it is hard and difficult to keep yourself active at social gatherings while soon your husband won't be able to accompany you.
    I admire that you are able to go alone to social functions.
    It took me years to enjoy eating in a restaurant alone or a film or theater. Somehow the anonymity feels very safe for me. My husband enjoys and needs to be out with friends and being active. But it breaks my heart for him that so often my depression and love of solitude deprive him of something he loves. I am learning to take baby steps into large gatherings.

  25. How refreshing, Friko! I love your honesty. I don't know the answer to the dilemma; I suppose we are all a bit schizophrenic, needing companionship while simultaneously needing refuge from our companions. If it's any comfort, rest assured that you are not alone in your loneliness, especially on this particular evening. Perhaps this is just part of the human condition, always sad that the reality of social life seldom measures up to the ideal that is imprinted upon our brains.

  26. My husband has a mistress ---his job. He loves her so much he moved to another city to be with her. So without being one, I know what it feels like to be a widow. And whereas I enjoy my own company it feels lonely to always go places by myself.......I sympathize!

  27. I have the same problem, Friko. My husband is not so well anymore and really doesn't get out much. We sometimes get into arguments about this, but basically he's pretty good about my doinng things alone. The Scraper sounds really good about not holding you back. We just need one or two girlfriends or relatives to go with us. Love ♥

  28. Dear Friko,
    I just popped in to say "hi" and wish you well. You have a lot of comments of your post to consider. I'm not going to add mine because I know you'll figure it out. The answer will come to you in a swoosh, you know, like when your hot water heater kicks in.
    I send you love and keep warm.

  29. just a hug from me. I was going to mention the human condition but someone's already done it. Be happy with your Beloved at home and a few friends outside. nothing is required.

  30. weisst Du, dass ich fast so bin wie Du, ich sehe soviel in Dir, was ich selbst bin.
    Während der Konzerte drücke ich mich immer vor der Gesellschaft, ausser wenn ich jemanden wirklich mag. Die Leute sind nett, die ich kenne, doch ich weiss oft nicht, was ich sagen soll, weil ich entweder etwas Sinnvolles rede(n möchte) oder am liebsten gar nicht rede. Und mich verbindet auch nicht viel mit den meisten Menschen. Alltägliches zu reden finde ich äusserst anstrengend... Wir sollten beide mal zusammen ins Konzert gehen, ich würde mich freuen, Friko!!!! :-)
    Die schwarze Wolke... mach Dir keine Gedanken darüber. Es kommt eine neue Zeit, der Frühling, in der neues Leben ensteht. Und damit ein neues Leben beginnt, muss ein altes sterben. Es geht vorbei, das Gefühl der Dunkelheit...!
    Bis bald! Ein Lächeln schicke ich Dir!


  31. Hi Friko, what a wonderful group of comments. Quite a discussion of likeminded folks chiming in. Keep going to those affairs as long as you enjoy them. e-mail sent also.

  32. I'm with you on this, Friko. I'm typically happiest by myself but crowds do me in. I think it reminds me too much of high school where I thought everyone else was part of some in-crowd they decided not to tell me about.

  33. friko - obviously you've spoken for the experience of many. the compulsion to have a social experience is such a driving force and then too, i value the silence, the opportunity for internal dialogue, life experienced on my own terms. i don't feel as comfortable in large social circumstances as in very small or even internal social experiences. what to do what to do. steven

  34. Catching up with you Friko. We are soul-sisters.
    I was debating an attendance alone at Beethoven's Choral Fantasia this coming Friday, my most favourite piece of all time, and I cry within knowing what I would have to face.
    Oh it is so good to hear all the twin souls out there!!!!

  35. Your first commenter summed it up so well. You know I have never understood how people in crowds seem to be having so much fun. I bet most of them are just pretending, and I like to fancy them jealous of me, off in the corner reading the book I brought along to keep me company.

  36. This post touched many of us deeply, Friko. I have nothing to add that hasn't been said already - either by you or by one of your readers. Just add me to the list of "feelings shared!"

  37. A crowd can certainly be a lonely place. Why is that? Aren't we pre-programmed to it when we feel down? I hope that after reading comments from the many of us who know well the feelings you are expressing will lighten your heart.

  38. I'm hopeless in a crowd -- mostly because its hard for me to follow conversations when there's a lot of other chatter. God knows what I've agreed to, nodding blithely away as someone rambles on.

  39. Wow, the outpouring from well wishers
    is a joy to behold, kind of compensating
    for the memory of your dark time at the\
    theater. I know everyone says that the
    trick is to be alone without being lonely.
    But that's solitude. Most of we contemplative
    types, who write, read, blog, and watch old
    films on our own, only become "lonely" when
    we find ourself in the hydra-faced monster
    called crowd, and the faces are not familiar.
    I am gregarious, but when I attend a party
    and I know no one, it conjures up some kind
    of psychic pain. I see you clearly there in that
    throng, shoulder to shoulder, being jostled
    this way and that, and my heart reaches out.
    We all have our senior crosses to bear.
    I am disabled myself, so when the wife and
    i travel, most museums are beyond my capacity
    for walking, and city strolls are not possible.
    My wife is an introvert. I am not, but when it
    comes to the long haul, till death do us part,
    accommodation is the word of decade.

  40. An opinion from another shy soul with degrees and decades of experience with these things: You're perfectly fine, perfectly normal, and spot on for "stage of life developmental tasks." So there is nothing happening that should not be happening and nothing that requires fixing.

    Crowds are superfluous. As you note, the real challenge is finding enough contact with others to keep those mirror neurons humming. Eye contact is good, but so is soul contact...and you obviously know how well blogging provides intimacy. You really won't need to go out and develop a full blown sociability that doesn't come naturally to you. You're an introvert! A balanced society needs you, too. That narrows the task to developing companionship.

    Incidentally, you might be an HSP, a Highly Sensitive Person. On the US west coast, there are whole psychotherapy practices and social networks built around the HSP type. Elaine Aron's work might interest you.

    I like this blog very much. You commented on Hen's Teeth, my group blog, and I'm boldly visiting in my solo persona as a result. I'll be back frequently.

  41. Your description is pitch-perfect. I understand the loneliness of crowds and also lack the small-talk/gossip gene, which makes gatherings of any size awkward. So I felt every word of this. Thank you for writing it.

  42. nach so vielen Posts, bleibt nicht mehr viel zu sagen, ausser dass bei Einzelkindern diese Gefühle und Eindrücke, die man schon in der Kindheit und Jugend erlebt hat , wieder aktuell werden. Kopf hoch, es ist Zeit dass der Frühling endlich kommt und dass man sich wieder draussen aufhalten kann und die Gartenarbeiten, die Blumen und die Bäume unsere Stimmung wieder aufheitern.

  43. Well Friko, as usual you have touched a lot of people with your comments - you have a wonderful skill at verbalizing your feelings and thus connecting to so many of us (sorry for the rambling sentence). I too have good social skills and can talk to almost anyone on almost any subject but rarely really relate to people. I am happy on my own or with my truly loved ones and that includes a good book. My beloved is gregarious but fussy about who he goes out with or where he goes so I am often alone in social gatherings and thus am more ready to go home early rather than stay too long which, when all is said and done, is a good thing. Let us enjoy our solitude!!!!

  44. I've enjoyed reading the further comments on this post. Looks like you touched a nerve within the blogging community.

    Ausdauer - another great word that I'm applying along with sitzfleisch. Thanks for pointing me to it.

  45. First, thank you for visiting my blog and inviting me over to here.
    Second, I think loneliness and solitude are two different things. The first one can be devastating, the second one bliss. The feelings of being an outsider you describe here are all too familiar to me. I fail at small talk as well as on gossip. However, as much as I dislike it, it also turns you easily into an outsider. That can be depressing. I hope with the - hopefully soon - arrival of warmer and longer days, you will feel better and that dark cloud above your head will disappear.
    Again, thank you for commenting. I'm so glad I came here and I will return.

  46. I think we all feel this at some times. Maybe bring a camera, or journal to write in, or make a phone call to break up these moments? Some little tool of distraction might help.

  47. It is very possible to be lonely in a crowd; I have felt the very same way. As for travel, my mother has done so on her own but she enjoys pestering the available seatmate (and I totally understand her need to talk with another human being). Lately she has found a friend with whom she can travel. They don't hang on one another, but it is nice to have a companion. Perhaps there is another woman in your area who might share your interests?

  48. Hi Friko,
    Thank you so much for visiting my little blog and leaving a comment. It made the start to my today a good one! I've just read your article on loneliness.
    In answer to your questions: How am I going to overcome this inability to join in? Should I bother? Is it worth it? My immediate response is 1) You will, 2) Yes, you should and 3) Yes it will be. How do I know this? Because the tone of who you are glows through your words. Hope. Look after yourself. Cathie x

  49. Friko, your post and the comments that have followed are the deeper kind of conversations I've been searching for in a blog. I usually take my own car when I have to be in a crowd (more than six or eight people!) - just so I can escape when the isolation becomes too much. Please continue with your openness and transparency. You've given many of us the feeling of having a friend in you.


Comments are good, I like to know what you think of my posts. I know you'll keep it civil.