There is an old song by Neil Sedaka called Solitare. I hadn’t thought about it for years, but the other day, as loneliness invaded me, it came to my mind.
I remember listening to this song at a time when I knew nothing about being lonely. I was young, surrounded by people. Too surrounded in fact. As a teenager, I had very little freedom, I was controlled all the time and I so wanted to fly with my own wings. I lived with my family, grandparents and brother, my mother came often, and there were relatives and friends who filled my life. But the song somehow touched me, the story of a lonely man, and I often heard it, thinking how sad it must be to be so solitary while ignoring all about it.
Life went on, and there was always someone around me, nearby. Life was a whirlwind of people, emotions, happenings, and I was rarely by myself. Either at home, at school or university, later at work, the world was filled with people, they came and went, some lingering, others not – but there was always someone to keep me company.
Then I had my own family. My sons. From the moment they were born, all my spare time (meaning not working) was spent with them, so I was never lonely. I had absolutely no time for myself, but I didn’t crave it, I was happy as I was. My life was full of love, laughter, their childish voices and hugs and kisses and they filled my days and nights; I felt whole, complete. Even if, in time, I realised I did not have a happy marriage, and my husband was not the companion I had dreamed of, all the spaces in my life were filled. When, after we separated, I saw my boys leave to be with their father for the first time, it was a bit of a shock, as I realised they would not be with me 24 hours seven days a week as they used to before, but even so it was something I accepted well, as I firmly believed in joint custody. So, even if I was alone for some time, I was never lonely. For starters, because I knew they would always come back to me; their absence was only temporary.
When I found another love, even if we never lived together, I always felt his presence with me, and if I needed a loving voice I’d just have to reach out for the phone and there he would be. We were happy for a time, and again, I might be by myself, but was never invaded by a feeling of loneliness – there were just so many people in my life who loved me, who cared for me, who would come to me if I wanted them to. My world was still full of people, and possibilities.
Inevitably, as you grow older you start getting fewer people in your life. I don’t know why, maybe it’s just fate, maybe it’s because you no longer have the appeal of youth. Things change at work, as they change at home. Your children grow older, more independent, and where before you had to take them everywhere, organise children’s programmes which would fill your time, now they go out with their friends – but still I never felt lonely, I had much to occupy me and they would still be back by the end of the day, boisterous, noisy, hungry, filling up your life. The man I loved was also there often, we spent weekends together in comfortable companionship and to know you are important to someone is half the way to not feeling lonely.
The problem begins when there’s no one else around you anymore, and you realise you’re not really that meaningful to anyone in your life. When you suddenly realise you’re by yourself, that all the people who used to be around you are gone, one way or another.
Just the other day I was talking to a friend who’s feeling this utter loneliness, this empty void around her. A few years over sixty, but still a youthful looking, charming woman, she saw her career abruptly end with the pandemic. The company she used to work for was highly impacted by the lockdowns and she accepted a proposal to leave, going from busy days travelling all the time to seeing herself inside four walls, with nothing much to do. With a married son living out of the city, she has recently seen her younger daughter decide to leave home all of a sudden and move in with friends. In a very short period, she goes from a hectic, busy life, where she had many people around her, to days without prospects, without any company but that of her dog. In the evening she still waits to hear the key in the lock but as dusk falls, she realises her daughter, her last company, will not be coming back, because now she calls a different place home.
As we talked, I could hear my own words, feel my own loneliness in her voice. Even if I still work (part-time) and it helps fill my days, I’ve seen my children spread their wings and fly away, and I feel the same anguish when dusk falls and there’s no one to come back home, no cheerful voice to open the front door and say “Hi, Mom, I’m home! What’s for dinner?” Just because there’s no one to come for dinner or to sleep over or simply to fill in the void that your life has become. No one to take away the loneliness, to brighten up the gloomy, cold, house that you used to find spacious and comfortable but has suddenly become too huge for you. As my friend’s has.
And so it happened that the song came to my mind, thinking, not only of myself, but of my friend as well, and so many people out there that will be feeling the same as we do; because, somehow, people have disappeared from their lives, some lost forever, some going their own way, and that’s the harsh, cruel reality we’ll have to come to terms with, as much as we still don’t know how.
Loneliness is something we’ll have to get used to because nothing will ever be the same. Doors have been closing behind us – gone are our loves, fallen victims of routine or selfishness; our children have left the nests and are living their lives, as they should; and our friends – God bless them – are always there for us but not inside our home.
Oh yes, as the song goes, these days solitare is the only game in town. And it hurts so much, it’s almost unbearable.
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