I was living in a city with a population of eight million.
I had caring friends who gave me a place to live for as long as I needed, helped me move my belongings out of the Jack’s flat and now I lived on my own, who I still met up with about once a week.
I had a partner who loved me, who I saw each day at work, whose house I stayed at every weekend, being domestic, pottering with him and the kids.
And yet I was very lonely.
Loneliness isn’t company or how many people you know. I have felt more alone in the middle of a city than I do in absolute wilderness. It’s a reflection of how understood you feel.
My friends who I had known since pre-teens had all ably demonstrated that they cared about me. They also showed me that they worried about me.
‘But you are happy,’ they repeated as a refrain.
They thought the set up was weird. Which it was. But they saw that as a bad thing. I don’t mean that they judged me. They just couldn’t understand why I would settle for sharing ‘my’ man.
Our ideas of relationships as we grew up were based around strong heroines busting balls in the corporate world and taking no crap from any man or the counterpoint, subservient, dutiful Stand-by-your-Man Tammy Wynettes. It was the 80s. We’d all watched a lot of Dallas and Dynasty. None of us wanted to be Krystle Carrington when you could be Alexis Colby.
They saw relationships with men as an arena in which the woman had to stand up for her rights. She had to respect herself enough to accept only what was her due which was complete commitment, adoration and a promise to get married to you. The fact that I was in a relationship with someone who was not leaving his wife for me and already had three children seemed to them to be a serious retrograde step.
They wanted the white picket fence, the good man as a husband. They wanted the security and the commitment. Apparently, I no longer did.
We’d known each other since we were about 8 years old. We’d gone through adolescence together. We’d fretted over boys, worries about our changing bodies and whether periods would hurt. We’d earnestly talked about morality. We’d never sleep with a friend’s man. We’d always respect her territory where boyfriends were concerned. We’d never sleep with a married man. That was wrong. But largely we had contempt for him for not keeping is vows, he should know better.
It was simple and black and white. Real life is lived in shades of grey.
I had embarked down a path they didn’t want to follow me on. When we talked now, they would listen to my point of view, interested but without the slightest hint they would ever want to do what I was doing. I couldn’t explain the concept that I was trying to adjust to that your boyfriend wasn’t YOUR boyfriend but was a person with whom you chose to spend time, who you loved and who was free to go wherever he wished. They thought I should expect promises. Together forever. Forsaking all others until death do you part. I was struggling myself with the idea that in this relationship there weren’t comforting certainties. I was brought up to expect those things too and I was making a big break from them in favour of freedom, the idea of open horizons, endless possibilities, living without limits.
I had assumed I would always stay conventional, provincial and uncontroversial. I hadn’t been happy with that idea. Now the very last thing I was was uncontroversial. But in being so, I had very few people who understood my choice. Eadmund did. Cloe did. Joe did. Everyone else tolerated it and my unease at being able to explain these newly forming ideas and share them with my friends made them uneasy about approaching the subject. And so we talked less and I cut myself off more.
Guilt. Feeling misunderstood and having to explain myself. Feeling I had no right to the friendship of my colleagues who might have been more likely to understand. Fear of insomnia. Self destructive cutting and drinking that then needed to be hidden from everyone.
It snowballed. I was surrounded by people. I had friends and family who loved me. But no one who really understood my choices or understood how hard it was to change my life so much. I needed someone to appreciate my emotional journey, understand what I was hoping for and to support me as I struggled with it. But in order to do that, they would have had to understand it.
Yes, in the middle of eight million people, I was very alone.