No matter what I’m doing, where I am, or who I’m with, I’m always conscious of the next time that I’ll get to be on my own. It doesn’t matter how much fun I’m having, the knowledge is always there, like a security blanket I never thought I’d need.
For me, solitude is as important as breakfast. I need a strong dose of it everyday to help me stay upright. Partly because I have social anxiety, so get-togethers can be a bit exhausting, but also because I’m 30 years old and this is what it’s like to be a grown up – we love other people’s company but we enjoy our own just as much.
Sometimes I wonder if I look forward to a social interaction being over as much as I do the event itself. I feel a great sense of achievement when I’ve been out and had a great time – when I’ve been to a party and stopped noticing whether I’m enjoying it or not because I just am. I love coming home knowing I’ve done some seriously good socialising and then feeling free to enjoy a spot of solitude because I’ve earnt it.
Time alone hasn’t always felt so precious, though. I’ve written before about how we all have to learn to love our own company. When I was at university, my friend Emma and I would hang out – sometimes in lectures, often at her house, mostly in Primark – and then she’d disappear off for an afternoon nap to prepare for whatever evening activity we had planned. She needed a rest and some shut-eye before further fun could commence.
But I didn’t need this break. We still laugh now about how I’d say “If you need me, I’ll be at home, lying down with my eyes shut,” because I wanted to join in but I just couldn’t nap. (I still can’t, actually, unless I’ve had an alcoholic drink, in which case NIGHT NIGHT.) I didn’t know what to do with the time. I was bored on my own, I’d have to go and buy a magazine to entertain myself. I’d will the time away until somebody was free to come and play with me.
And yet now I crave that time. Modern life demands a lot from us. We work, we go out, and we’re all constantly in touch with each other via phones and emails and apps I sometimes wish had never been invented. If a colleague says they have no plans for the weekend, you can hear the office groan with envy at their freedom, everybody else’s diaries gasping for a gap to pop a wash on, do the weeding, or just lie down.
It’s hard to keep going non-stop for days on end. We need time when we don’t have to think about making the right facial expression or saying the right thing. A bit of space to think it all over, or to think about nothing; to be alive but hardly moving. I like to have a bath and do a face mask. I like to watch Friends episodes I’ve seen so many times that it feels like some of the storylines actually happened to me. And I like to go to bed without having to set an alarm because – for once – nobody is expecting me to be anywhere the next day.
I say all of this mindful that I can enjoy occasional solitude because it’s a treat, not a constant. I’m not lonely. Leon will be home again in a few hours, all being well. I have dates in the diary to see my friends and family soon which I’m looking forward to. Without these things it would be a different story. It is for so many people. The joy of solitude is not to be taken for granted because it’s only a pleasure when it’s a break from the norm.
The realisation hit me hard after we got married that even forever has an end point, that we’d signed up to be each other’s world and that we were relying on each other for company for the rest of our lives. I’ve had to force myself not to worry about it all the time, but I try to hold this knowledge close when I’m frustrated to find the fridge door has been left ajar, or that a world of grated cheese has mysteriously appeared on the kitchen worktop after somebody has come home from the pub. I try to think – what does it even matter? A love of cheese was all I ever wanted in a man. We can buy more. I’m just glad you’re home.
Like everything in life, it’s all about balance. I’ve spent today alone. I made a bacon sandwich and set the smoke alarm off. I listened to Hugh Bonneville’s Desert Island Discs and cried twice, as is standard for an episode of D.I.D. I saw for myself what it means when a cat starts digging a small hole in your back garden (no, it is not treasure they’re planning to bury). And I sat outside and wrote this.
But tomorrow I’ll be in company again and I wouldn’t have it any other way. What’s important is to know yourself well enough to build in what you need, and to try not to budge if anyone suggests that you do otherwise. You can feel it in your bones when you need a rest. Look in the mirror and your eyes will beg you not to leave the house, to stop just for a little while.
I am grateful for a life that is busy enough for a spot of alone time to feel like a treat. Like all luxuries, a life filled with solitude just wouldn’t be right, but a regular dose will do wonders for your health.