It’s clear to me that I’ve been spending more and more of my life alone over the years, and frankly I don’t think it’s healthy, hence my recent attempts to get out and socialise more. ‘Twas not always this way, though… it took a while for me to be driven into my shell.
At playschool, and then at infant school, I had friends; I even had them over for my birthday parties and just generally. This continued through to middle school (school years were a bit funny when I were a lad — it wasn’t until around later that everything was standardised into primary and secondary school), when it was quite normal for me to have a friend over, or go over to a friend’s house, more or less every Friday after school (on one occasion sending my grandfather home when he’d come to pick me up from school, because I’d forgotten to arrange with him!). I also had a couple friends who would often come over to visit during the holidays (especially summer), possibly unannounced, so it was lucky I had two joysticks for my Amstrad!
But even with all that going on, I didn’t go to any after-school events (apart from a brief flirtation with my middle school’s cricket club in 1987 — yes, I can remember the year!), and being an only child, I spent much of my time alone. I wasn’t lonely, though, as I had toys (Transformers, M.A.S.K., Action Force, Real Ghostbusters etc. etc.) and computer games to entertain me, and my home life consisted of effectively three parents (my mother and maternal grandparents) and one crazy Jack Russell terrier, so there was always someone around to keep me company if I needed it.
At secondary school I began to have a little more of a solitary existence, as I very seldom interacted (except by phone, due to homework issues!) with my classmates outside school hours, which was unusual because, as a young teenager, I was expected to be “doing things” most nights a week, and more especially at the weekend. But it didn’t bother me, and I was happy to occasionally meet with a group of friends, to visit a theme park or go dry-skiing (at which I inevitably sucked), and I still had a couple of friends visiting me during the holidays. It was also during the summer of 1991 that I began walking the dog by myself, which I found gave me the chance to think (and get some exercise). I was spending much of my life engaged in fantasies (no, not sexual… at least, not during the day!), and I was becoming increasingly introverted, but I didn’t feel lonely…
And then in 1992 we moved to Worthing, and my life went down the toilet. It’s a dull town at the best of times, and I wasn’t happy at my school (certainly not for my first year there, the academic year I turned 15 — which we Brits called “Year 10” from that point onwards), where even the girls were bullying me, and I found it very hard to make friends. Hey, it was the Christmas holidays before I even went over someone’s house! It got a little better in later years, but by this point, with a few exceptions, I was really only socialising at school, not in my spare time. However, I still had my family (and dog), and TV and video games to entertain me, so even though my mother thought I was spending too much time “in front of one screen or the other” (as she said at the time), I wasn’t lonely — even if I spent most breaktimes during that first year all alone, and was glad of lunchtime Latin classes…
University was a mixed bag: I didn’t exactly have a lot of girlfriends, but surprisingly I found having a group of male friends in my first year (or at least the first term of the first year) to be excellent! Until our little ka-tet broke apart, I was able to play cards (or, yay, video games) with my mates most of the time, or just have interesting conversations, and I really felt like I was socialising and part of something. 1997 was a bad year for me overall, and I was lucky to hold on to the friends (and sanity!) I had, and 1998 was actually a bit worse, though when I was partnered for a 5-week geological mapping trip with two guys I’d thought were drunken yobs, I found out that they liked Beavis and Butt-head too, and so we actually had a pretty good time in the Scottish highlands doing Cornholio impressions and chuckling about innuendo!
As for my 8-month student exchange in America, well, I would have been even lonelier if not for having a roommate (which is normal at US universities, even though it’s almost unheard-of here), as I just didn’t have the confidence to interact or do many interesting things, and preferred to “stay at home” most nights (which is probably why I only dated a couple of girls instead of half the female population of the continental United States, eh?). My mother was lonely at this time too, and I think we kept each other going with our e-mail conversations, and I kept her company when I got back, as she was living away from her folks at this time (looking after a friend’s house in an area that actually paid half-decent wages). This continued in my final year back at my own university, where — especially in 2000 — I could spend days without really interacting with other warm bodies, and often found myself craving social contact. Moving back to live with my folks in Worthing made things even worse, but fortunately I still had a couple of local friends (from both school and university days — I’d gone to a place beloved of people who live on the south coast!), and I could also hang out with the oldsters at the local astronomy society, where I helped out most Fridays.
One thing I noticed about my socialising since coming to London is that even when I’ve had friends and housemates whose company I enjoy — from my postgrad days through to living with former classmates, and making new friends through my Japanese studies — I’ve still often preferred my own company, to the point of “playing to lose” in household board games so I could excuse myself and go back to my room, where I’d play (inevitably) video games or interact with weird people on wacky online forums. Was I withdrawing from the real world into a fantasy realm? Should I have enjoyed my close friends more in the time I had left with them, as they themselves moved on to other places?
Well, I think I made the most of “female best friend” before she moved up north for her PhD, exposing her to various anime shows including Space Battleship Yamato (a “cool thing” in these hallowed pages, as you may remember), but once she’d gone, I began finding it a little hard to make new friends, and eventually I wasn’t able to befriend Japanese girls at the monthly meetup events in Leicester Square as much as I could. I also had an ultimately-futile flirtation with online and speed-dating in 2010 and 2011, and even today it’s quite normal for me to go places (especially shopping) all by myself, which sometimes can really get to me. For a long time work represented my main “social interaction” — which isn’t healthy, and certainly didn’t help in 2009-10, when I was adjusting to a new office (and the annoying woman), and had a very difficult time fitting in. I had a good time on my holiday in the western USA earlier this year, but even there I felt lonely and withdrawn at times (having a bad cold in ‘Frisco didn’t help), and only a couple of people from that trip are my Facebook friends now, making me worry that I didn’t get on as well with the rest of the group as I thought I did…
But one thing I need to remember is that other people in the world have it far worse than me, especially now I’m “back on the horse” and going out to Meetup.com events semi-regularly. My poor mother, for one, reckons I’ve got a lot more friends than her — perhaps based on the massive response I had on Facebook (I know, serious busi… no, wait, Facebook actually matters to people in 2013!) when I had that breakdown in November 2011 — and I’m going to continue trying to enjoy my life and making new friends so she can live vicariously through me. Plus, of course, I’ll visit her and my grandmother as often as I can, because even though it’s Worthing, they’re really all I’ve got family-wise, since I’ve lost my grandfather, my (cool) uncle, and even the crazy dog I grew up with, over the years (bereavement is another emotion I’ll explore, if I ever get around to writing about it). And obviously, I’ll keep climbing with Mumsy, because we both enjoy it, and she never gets to go unless I’m there, which makes me sad.
Yes, even though most of the people I’ve known in my life have moved on and got their own lives (and families), today I can still see and interact with real, living people. Not only “best mate”, with whom I go climbing and to the cinema, but someone I shall refer to as “crazy Asian broad” (older than me, but being Oriental means she looks younger), who might just represent the next step in breaking my period of increasing loneliness. I won’t say too much in case my mother reading this automatically jinxes things…
I guess it comes down to this: we’re a social animal, and we need contact with our own kind — or at least the possibility of contact, even if we prefer solitude at times. But we need to put effort into maintaining social contact, and not just treat it as something we can take or leave as we see fit. Above all else, we need to be comfortable with ourselves, and not worry too much about socialising “the right amount”, as a quasi-psychologist named Hayley Quinn (who I met via “Shy London” — and yes, she based her stage name on a Batman character!) told me yesterday, in a therapeutic session that helped me get things in perspective.
On that basis, after having gone climbing today and made acquaintances, both old and new, at “the Session”, I’m going to relax and have a night in tonight, all right? Leave me alone and stop bothering me with demands for more blog entries, you clinging parasi… I mean, good night and $DEITY bless!
(And hey, even though I mentioned climbing a hell of a lot, I didn’t refer to Gwar even once… oh, damn!)