We’re facing an ‘epidemic’ of loneliness, apparently. At least, that’s what The Guardian was trying to convince me of the other day. It’s all to do with more and more people living on their own and the socially isolating effects of modern technology and communication. Actual, face-to-face human interactions are on the decline. Conveniently, in the article I was reading, there is at least one relationship ‘guru’ on hand to tell us how we should be interacting with each other to avoid loneliness. Personally, I think that it is all a load of bollocks, this so called ‘epidemic’ dreamed up to help this guy sell his book. Leaving aside the inappropriate use of the term ‘epidemic’ – I wasn’t aware that ‘loneliness’ was catching – this is yet another instance of ‘being alone’ is confused with ‘loneliness’. It’s a common fallacy that the latter follows from the former, one perpetuated by the media and one which exasperates and infuriates me. As someone who lives alone, I frequently get asked – more often than not by people who have known me for years – ‘Oh, don’t you get lonely?’ For fuck’s sake! Why would living on my own make me lonely? If I want company, I’ll go and find it, but the fact is that I choose to live alone. I like being on my own – it provides me with total freedom.
The truth is that I don’t particularly like people. Most of them are utterly tedious to be around. I can honestly say that there are only a handful of people I’ve ever met that didn’t very quickly bore me and that I actually liked. Most of them form my limited circle of friends. If you’ve ever worked in an office for any length of time, you’ll know what I mean about people. Over time it feels like you are living through Sartre’s Huis clos, eternally trapped in a room with a group of people who constantly irritate you. The worst thing is that at the end of each working day, you see a glimmer of hope, as you go home and get away from this living hell. But the next day, the cycle starts again: the same faces, the same office gossip, the same poisonous office politics and the same conversations. That’s the worst thing – the eternally repeated conversations. After a while you realise that everyone is telling you the same stories about hilarious/horrendous things which have happened to them over and over again, You even find yourself beginning to fall into the same pattern. Then there’s the small talk. I just don’t do small talk, It is tedious and pointless. I especially hate all those rituals of people asking how you are, then walking away before you can answer. Sometimes they aren’t quick enough and the look of horror which spreads across their faces when you tell them how you really feel, is priceless.
The problem is always that I have next to nothing in common with workmates – they never want to talk about the things I’m interested. I can see their eyes glaze over when I try to engage them on any subject outside of their normal topics of conversation. That’s where the internet has been a boon to people like me – not only can you find like-minded people, but you don’t have to endure the inconvenience of physically meeting them. Far from being a socially isolating force, the web has actually made me more sociable. Don’t misunderstand me – I don’t hate the rest of the human race, I just find people easier to take in small doses. Too much exposure to them leaves me feeling exasperated, annoyed and craving solitude. I prefer my own company. It’s the best I know. But, as I said, people seem to have difficulty grasping this, assuming that there’s something wrong if someone is alone. I always hate that patronising shit you get at Christmas from the media, about how it’s a time for family and coming together. What utter bollocks! It is one of the few opportunities I get to have a rest from my family and enjoy some quality time with myself.
People seem to be afraid of being alone with themselves. Perhaps they are afraid that they’ll find that they won’t like themselves. Or perhaps they are afraid that they will be forced to actually think about things and not rely upon the received wisdom and opinions of others. Then again, it could be that they can only define themselves in relation to other people. It’s such fears which undoubtedly lead them to characterise being alone as something bad, something sinister and undesirable. Just look at the way murderers and terrorists are often characterised as ‘dangerous loners’ by the media and ‘loneliness’ becomes an ‘epidemic’. Nowadays they even try to stave off the ‘horrors’ of being alone through technology. The mobile phone now means that people can be ‘connected’ at all times. Personally, I’ve found that the mobile phone means that my privacy can be invaded and my solitude broken at any time. People think that it makes me ‘available’ all the time and get upset when I tell them to ‘bugger off’ and switch my phone off for hours at a time.
Worse, though, are those bloody ‘digital assistants’ who act like a faux friend and keep trying answer your ‘questions’ and solve your ‘problems’. I’ve been breaking in a new laptop recently and, running on Windows 10, as it does, Cortana has reared its ugly head. Even before you’ve finished the set up process, the bloody thing starts asking ‘How can I help?’ ‘By fucking off and staying fucked off!’ I replied. Which seems to have worked, for now. But it isn’t just on the laptop Cortana pisses me off – it keeps trying to butt in when I’m using my mobile phone (which is a Windows phone). Just leave me alone, can’t you? Because that’s the point: I like being on my own. There’s nothing sinister about that. Nothing weird, either. Back in the day, the solitary amongst us were treated with a certain respect by society: being a hermit was a respectable profession. Their solitude was thought to bring them closer to God. I don’t claim to be closer to God (I’m a non-believer anyway), but I am closer to myself. I am self reliant. I don’t need to lose myself in the mob in order to feel that I’m enjoying myself. I’m secure in my own sense of self and at peace with my own thoughts. Indeed, I like thinking and find I do it best on my own. I simply don’t need other people most of the time. All-in-all, I think a better person for being one of those ‘dangerous’ loners – I don’t have the desire to murder or harm anyone, or to abuse others because they are ‘different’, or simply so that I fit in with the ‘crowd’. A bit of solitude would, I think, benefit us all.