I’ve often been alone in a city, not knowing a soul. I didn’t move for university, or relocate for love, nor was I transferred for work. I was shifting my entire life to a new world, full of strangers.
If this sounds daunting, then I won’t deceive you; it’s even worse than it sounds. Initially though, the experience was liberating. I wandered round never having to duck into a doorway to avoid tedious former colleagues, or psychotic ex flatmates, but it was also odd never hearing my name called out in town, never bumping into an old friend. I began to wonder what would happen if something went seriously wrong, such as a fire, or being locked out of my flat.
Anyway, first stop for me: the gym and the library. This isn’t as smug as it sounds: the library for the internet, and the gym, ok, it’s for being smug. The Glasgow gym is full of burly, square jawed blokes who look on indulgently at the feeble weight of my bicep curls, as they ooze sweat and testosterone onto the floor. Quite intimidating, and not very friendly.
I began to value kind words, casually offered, from the woman in Tesco who asked about my day, and the wry librarians willing to chat. It’ll be fine, my friends say. But being female means that certain people - that is strange men in bars - do approach me, but not always in the way that I want.
Loneliness is the last taboo. Confess to being gay, dying or mad, and you should ideally expect empathy, and kindness, but never confess to being lonely; people will edge slowly away, as you are now a sad, pathetic loser, with just an inaccurate internet persona, a deluded to do list, and thirty filthy cats for company.
But in Glasgow I’d done enough sitting in a bar reading a carefully chosen book, being pitied for seeming to be stood up and desolate. I’d seen films alone, gone to gigs. I was talking to myself, and worse than that – answering my own questions (badly). I sent emails asking if anyone knew people in my new city who might be sociable enough to maybe…see a band, meet for a coffee, or anything really. Apparently though, borrowing friends is tantamount to asking to borrow a friend's underwear.
Most daunting of all is that difficult moment when an acquaintance seems to drift towards a potential friendship, where you broach the subject of maybe, meeting up. To misjudge that moment is very awkward. Maybe there is a code for ‘I don’t fancy you, and I am not a stalker collecting your knickers from the laundry basket, I just want to have a coffee, and maybe a bit of a chat about our respective days, or maybe, see a film, or something…?’
So, what then? I appreciated the lovely ‘barrista’ who would slip me the odd free coffee and stamp my card loads, or the barman who would return my desperate, clumsy attempts at small talk. People can be kind.
But here are my two most important hints: there are people who say that there is no such thing as a stranger, only a friend you haven’t met. They must be punched hard, and later, when your arms begin to ache, they must be kicked.
Above all else remember this. You can tell strangers on the bus about your gory gynaecological complaints, or inform neighbours about the oozing pustules that could erupt any time soon. But never, ever no matter how desperate you may be, must you admit to being lonely.