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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.
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.