Loneliness. It is an interesting, deeply moving, evocative word. It slides off the tongue with ease. It holds such power. Loneliness arrives at anytime. Sitting surrounded by people. That moment in a relationship when you look at your partner and feel hit in the heart with an invisible force. It is not the same as ‘being alone’. Loneliness is an ache, deep within you. A physical presence, a mental veil that suffocates. It can become so intense you curl into a ball and weep. It can be so subtle you don’t realise that it is the melancholy of your day.
Loneliness isn’t weakness, it isn’t being afraid of sitting with yourself and just listening. People who cherish time on their own can still feel the sting of loneliness. I am one of those. I adore being social but I really crave space and being on my own to sit with my thoughts, reflect and just be. Yet I felt lonely just last week.
I had an experience which was meant to broaden my social network, get me meeting more ‘friends’. Letting our children play. I came away feeling desperate. Feeling the need to escape. Feeling the gaping wound that festers in my heart now, more than ever before. Tears were prickling my eyes, threatening to give me away.
Moving to a new country it is important to force yourself out there to meet your new tribe. The social isolation, in addition to navigating your new world can send you in a downward spiral. I need to meet more people and I was finally invited along to a friend’s regular catchup with ‘her’ friends, with kids. The children play while the adults chat about what it is that needs to be said.
We arrived at the home of the hostess and she was kind enough, welcoming enough. We had met once before on an evening out. I remember then that I felt we would conflict. Not through anyone’s fault, just through personality.
The hospitality this day was warm, generous. An abundance of food was brought out and I was given drink after drink. I felt uneasy that alcohol was being consumed so early, and with so many small children around. I am not a prude, and I do like to drink – a lot actually. I just have rules about when and where I will do this, especially being around my children. I was ‘told’ to keep drinking, it was what they usually did, as if just stopping was some sort of offense. I felt like I was causing a rip in this group’s fabric by being ‘different’.
A few more women arrived and soon enough I found myself sitting at the table listening to this tribe talk, making that lovely ‘loud happiness sound’ with their shared history. Exchanging advice and tidbits. I would try to get involved but it just fell flat. Every time. I felt like I was invisible.
I felt like this was one of those ‘all talk’ situations, with the false surface generosity of time and spirit. Where there was a sense of obligation. It was like they were thinking ‘this is what we do in the expat world, we be friendly and welcoming but we really can’t be arsed, we have our tribe and wish she would just fuck off’. I remember distinctly the dissonance I felt as I conversed with my friend, who I care about. Who I have some history with, who has been so generous, kind and amazing to me and my family since we arrived. I felt connected to her in this room full of strangers. I felt bad for her, if she could sense this meeting was just not right, and I did not want her to feel that way. This was not her fault.
I am sure this perspective of mine isn’t accurate. It is just how I felt. It was getting late and my driver headed off to pick SB up from work, I thought we’d be leaving soon anyway and I’d get a lift with the friend who invited me. Time ticked on and I wanted to get the children home, it was getting close to bed time. The hostess announced she would cook dinner for the children. I bristled. By now the other guests had left, it was just my friend and me with our children playing happily. I offered to help and the hostess tried to involve me but she could not deal with me and told me to ‘just go and sit down so you are not under my feet’. Yes it was harsh, but not unexpected from this person. Normally I would have laughed it off because I know how it is when a stranger is in your space and I am no stranger to being direct, and I really do not believe she said it in malice. This day however, I had spent the last three hours feeling like an intruder so her words stung. Once again the tears threatened to give me away. I went off to play with my children quietly until I was called to sit up at the table.
Dinner was served and I found we were sitting at their table sharing their evening meal. My husband was going home early to see the children before bed and I was trapped here with our children, far away and unable to get home anytime soon. Our family meal was in the refrigerator, waiting for us. I felt so guilty.
Finally it was time to leave and the turmoil I was feeling would not subside. I remembered I had my monthly girl’s night by Skype and I was late for that. My stomach lurched. I just wanted my girls in that moment. My girls who I know are true friends, who know me, who accept me, who I don’t have to try too hard to be around. I know their scent, their sound, their laughter. I know what makes them laugh. That was when it hit me. The loneliness.
It does not matter how easy it is to press a button and talk on your phone, computer, text and instant message. When you don’t have the sensory experience to go with the social connection, it is so very, well, lonely.
You know what though. I am okay to sit with my loneliness, let it engulf me, feel it and connect with it. It keeps me grounded, it keeps me mindful that there are other people out there, not just expats starting their journey. Loneliness does not discriminate. People and children feel lonely every day, in every corner of this world. If I can reach out my genuine hand of friendship, of kindness, and help someone feel a little less lonely, then I will. I certainly appreciate the genuine friends I have made here, who have made my new life pretty great.