I crave company, another voice in the house, pots in the sink and a smile over the dinner table.
BEFORE I even start, I know that this is going to be the hardest column I have ever written. As always, I am where I usually am on a Tuesday morning, in The Watermark Café on the Marine Drive in Scarborough. As I type, the lifeboat is far out at sea lazily pulling a broken down fishing boat back to harbour. The sky is overcast and the grey waves break on the beach.
I am here for one reason – loneliness. I am single in my mid-fifties and I live alone. I come here to be amongst people. Not that I talk to many. To them I am just the man in the corner banging away on his laptop, but this for me is the place where I feel I am not alone.
I have friends but don’t see them as often as I would like. They have busy lives, relationships and it’s often hard to meet up. My closest friend is a man in the same boat as me. Over the last two years we have been a help to each other.
My loneliness – an issue highlighted by The Yorkshire Post with its Loneliness: The Hidden Epidemic campaign – is compounded by eating and sleeping alone. I crave company, another voice in the house, pots in the sink and a smile over the dinner table.
Instead I look out of the window at the street as I slowly chew on reluctantly cooked food that I wish someone else would share with me. I leave a radio on constantly so there is at least some other sound in the house. Yesterday, I had my first conversation at 6pm when a friend rang. I hadn’t spoken to another person for a whole day.
I know that I am not alone. It is estimated that there are 2.6 million people in Britain just like me. We are living in an epidemic of loneliness. As more and more relationships break down through the pressure of modern life, ill health and now social media, that figure is likely to increase. It is something that affects men more than women.
During a marriage, a man tends to concentrate on his family and work and pays little attention to maintaining good friendships. If that relationship ends, the man is often left very alone. Children usually stay with the mother and access is restricted. The woman carries on with a fairly normal family life just minus the husband. He’s like an old red deer left in the wilderness of life.
But women can feel the pain of loneliness as well. A friend of mine said to me that there were many aspects of loneliness, but one of the strangest was living alone for the first time in her life. “It may feel small,” she said, “but it was the fact that when I returned home after a day’s work, if I had left the curtains drawn, or a light on, it was still like that when I returned. The rooms felt untouched, static, empty and uncared for. This echoed how I felt about my life. The little things are apparently sometimes not so little.”
Mid-life loneliness is a very serious condition, one that and can lead to a lowered life expectancy. It can also lead to depression and anxiety. A recent study found that loneliness increases the chance of an early death by 14 per cent and is as dangerous as being chronically obese.
The University of Chicago found a direct link between the decline of physical and mental health and people who felt they were isolated and lonely.
Society has changed and for me my loneliness has been compounded by social media. I dread reading people’s posts on Facebook. The ongoing mutual affirmation and all those pictures of people having a great time emphasise my despondency.
They enforce a feeling within me that I have a past of deep regret and a future with no hope. There is no real love in online communication. It is boastful and heightens my despair.
I have had no one there to ring at the end of a hard day and no arms to fall into late at night. Being single for two years has left me with the feeling that I will never find anyone to fill the gap in my life. The self-help books tell you to join clubs, go for walks or get a dog, but they don’t tell you that for some, finding a companion is the hardest thing of all.
What has helped me with my loneliness is writing poetry. I use it to express all the feelings I cannot communicate with others. Hence my new book Watermark – Stories from the Darker Side of Love. A book of feelings written in this place where I write to you now – The Watermark Café, where even surrounded by people, the pangs of loneliness are never far away.
GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @GPTaylorauthor.