Some people are naturally hermit-like, but that’s fairly unusual and most of us rely on our relationships with our fellow humans. Since the time of the industrial revolution, if not before, people have been attracted to towns and cities, to live with other people: even before the industrial revolution meeting up with others, for example for markets or festivals, was part of the fabric of human interaction.
Lockdown enforced a solitariness, to a greater or lesser extent, on all of us: we have all been restricted in some way. For some people it has been far worse than for others, but it’s made most of us think about our relationships. It’s made us value the good ones and perhaps, if possible, cast off the bad ones. One thing which is certain is that the emotional and mental health consequences are not yet clear.
I thought I had coped fairly well with lockdown, although I was delighted to be able to meet up with friends again and for the number of people I saw gently to grow as restrictions grew lighter. However, spending a lot of time on my own – even with others at the end of the phone or a zoom call or in a what’sapp group – has inevitably made me more thoughtful and introspective than I would have been if I was still rushing around trying to make sure I caught the train to work, or got to meetings on time (although the not rushing has also made me more relaxed, and my work-life balance has improved considerably). The times I have been with a group of like-minded people has been few and far between. To start with that didn’t matter but I found by the end of August/beginning of September that I was becoming convinced that some people didn’t like me any longer; that they weren’t that bothered about my friendship, or that I had annoyed them in some way. It seemed that people didn’t really want to meet up.
My birthday weekend in particular demonstrated to me that it wasn’t the case. Friends do still want to get together in (small) groups, to see each other and including me. I guess as an ‘extroverted’ personality (I’m not a wild extrovert or exhibitionist, but I definitely relish the feedback of group situations) I am happiest when able to meet up with groups on a fairly regular basis, and that then sustains me and helps me appreciate the times on my own. Since finally having the occasional group situation again – WastFest in particular – life has felt more sociable, in a similar way to pre-lockdown but with face masks and social distancing as accessories. And yes, it’s a bit peculiar and still feels a bit odd, but at the same time it’s also becoming normal.
On Friday I finished work and went for a run with two friends before fetching Edward from school. When I got back home one friend was still at my house (in my garden), talking to Bella and to a neighbour – who is a friend as well – who then stayed for a cup of tea. Later I met a friend at the station who came to stay for the weekend: we talked a lot, did yoga, ran, and she played the piano while I sang. We went into Carlisle for dinner: I felt fine at Pizza Express (who had emailed me with the offer of a bottle of prosecco for my birthday if I bought two main courses), which I hadn’t particularly the first time when I’d taken Bella to their branch at Gretna. However I have to admit sitting outside a bar for a pre-dinner drink with a lot of people milling around in their Saturday night ‘finery’ and being seemingly completely oblivious to any sort of social distancing, did not feel so great (at least we were outside though).
On Sunday afternoon I then met another friend for tea and cake at Cakes and Ale, the cafe adjoining Bookends/Bookcase book shop in Carlisle. Again, we sat outside and it was great to catch up in the afternoon sun – and then have a wander round the fantastic Aladdin’s Cave of a bookshop (it’s in a beautiful building, and is literally floor to ceiling books: from cellar to attic).
There was nothing overly expensive or even wildly exciting about anything I did: but everything was done with friends, and I felt grateful and happy.
And it struck me that perhaps none of us ever gets the perfect balance between time alone; time with a partner (or partner and children); and time with friends. People who constantly have other people around feel they don’t have enough time to themselves; people who live alone sometimes feel the lack of other people. But so long as we have friends, and people in our life who care about us, we’ll be OK.