When I read Olivia Laing's The Lonely City I started a notebook and filled it with passages that I wanted to keep forever. A newly single introvert living in London, this book really spoke to me.
When I started this book I had thought it was very much preaching to the converted. Whilst I had always had a boyfriend, we had been quite independent of each other. After the 8 year relationship ended, loneliness is not something I was a stranger to, and nor did I fear it, but others often reacted scared for me. “Will you not be lonely now?” questions of how I would now fill my time and “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone soon.” I knew I had myself and that was all I needed, but they had sewn the seeds of doubt with their shocked faces and sympathetic expressions. I needed to shake them off.
It is true that when you reach an age where the friends you live and work with all settle down into relationships, you do more often get left to do your own thing. The weekends seem much longer and the idea of going on holiday is frightening. In London, where there is often little sense of community and you barely know your neighbours, a few days left alone in the house can feel like a lifetime. Being single is something people dread and fear.
I found that I would fill my time with books and music. Scouring charity shops for obscure reads, bringing them back to my empty apartment and drinking them in, within a day snuggled between blankets.
I booked my holidays and started planning them intricately. I decided to do a tour of the North East of England. Being a southerner I had never seen Newcastle, Durham or Edinburgh. I booked the train and I went with just myself and my backpack. I explored new places but also got to know myself. I started to enjoy time with myself again and for me this was the best break up cure.
The Lonely City was a book that held my hand through this time. I have come to love being alone and I savour it. I was able to challenge the people that seemed worried for my loneliness, and explain I was actually enjoying it, making the most of it whilst I could. I would encourage them to try it, convince them that loneliness wasn't the terrible nightmare they feared. Hopefully next time they are confronted with a newly single friend, they too will bring positivity to their situation.
“Loneliness is a very special place…Loneliness is by no means a wholly worthless experience, but rather one that cuts right to the heart of what we value and what we need. Many marvellous things have emerged from the lonely city.” Olivia Laing