|Greta Garbo. Hollywood icon; professional loner.|
Being a newbie in a city where I don’t know anyone except the people I live with suits me down to the ground – despite what I’ve been telling DB. He’s not been here very much as yet, due to work commitments and car trouble, and I haven’t let him get away with it. Sample quote from most of our recent conversations: “I moved here so we could live together. If I wanted to live on my own, I would be living on my own.” Poor boy. It’s strange, really – the idea of being on my own does not appeal to me in the slightest, but when it actually happens, I can’t deny that I’m in my element.
I just like doing stuff alone. Shopping’s a great example; I’ve never been able to shop with anyone else. When I was 12 or 13, and going into town with your mates was about the only thing to do on a Saturday afternoon, I never managed to actually purchase anything. My friends would happily try on things in Tammy Girl and buy make-up in Claire’s, but I would struggle. “Why don’t we pick outfits for each other to try on?” was an utterance that put the fear of God into me. Invariably, I’d drag my quietest, most tolerant friend into Waterstones, lose her, and resurface forty minutes later. These days, the idea of clothes shopping with Drummer Boy is just as painful. If he’s buying clothes, it goes on for hours, and I become the bored, whiny child who needs a boost of sugar to prevent a full-on tantrum: “Oh God, really? We’re going back to TopMan? Can’t you just come and find me in Costa when you’re done?”
And if it’s me trying to buy clothes, well, he’s no help. “Try on that hideous dress!” he’ll suggest gleefully. “And you have to let me see it on you!” Oh, what fun! Usually, I don’t have the heart to tell him that shopping is not fun – it is a serious and often self-esteem-shredding exercise in disappointment, and there is no time for frolics – so off I trot to the H&M fitting room, meek as a lamb, to try on something neon or pleather or made entirely of sequins.
My loner tendencies extend to exercise too. I’m not a team player, and haven’t been since Year 9 hockey. My activity of choice is usually running, chosen almost entirely because it involves “not being around other people” (and a little bit because once you own trainers, you don’t have to spend any more money if you don’t fancy it). I am currently in love with running along the seafront down here – there are loads of people around, but you’re all kind of on your own together. It’s like a big, silent running club. We pound the promenade and barely make eye contact, but we’re all there for the same reason.
A conversation with my brother a few months ago left me perplexed. I’d mentioned going swimming after work, and he asked who I was going with. “Erm… no-one…?”
“You’re going swimming on your own? Why would you do that?”
“Why would I go with anyone? I’m going to swim. You know, for exercise. Not fun.”
“No-one goes swimming on their own. No-one.”
“I think most people go swimming on their own, actually…”
I gave up on the exchange very quickly, as he wouldn’t be convinced that swimming was a solo activity and I wouldn’t be convinced he wasn’t talking utter nonsense.
This article made me so happy – it was quite the relief to have someone else articulate that need for solitude, and the peace that comes with it. DB was absolutely aghast a few weeks ago when I rejected a phone call from a friend, purely because I wasn’t in the mood to chat (I’m sorry! I don’t make a habit of this!) and only half-understood when I tried to explain it to him. Maybe it’s because I spend all day in an office surrounded by other people (who are all lovely, I might add), maybe it’s because I’m naturally quite introverted*. Maybe it’s that writer thing of always being an observer. I’m just really precious about my ‘alone’ time. I need it to be able to function the rest of the time. My head clears of petty clutter, and good ideas and plan start to form and rise to the surface, like Champagne bubbles.
There are still two things I’ve yet to do on my own that I’d like to: go to the cinema solo, and eat dinner in a restaurant alone. I don’t have a problem with doing either of these things, I’ve just not got around to them yet. Seeing a film alone sounds like heaven – I wouldn’t have to share the Minstrels! I’m not sure I can justify dining alone, as it seems rather decadent, but also conjures images of a melancholy woman in a black-and-white French film, tears falling one by one into her bouillabaisse.
Which isn’t really the vibe I’m going for, to be honest.
*I’m not sure I’d describe myself as wholly introverted. It depends entirely upon who I’m with and how comfortable I am with them. If I’m with someone outgoing and super-confident, I let them ‘lead’. If I’m with someone quieter/shyer than me, I become the loud one.
Don’t get me wrong, I do need other people; of course I do. I love my friends dearly and never find it a chore to spend time with them. An evening of wine and cheese and getting steadily more opinionated as the night wears on, gathered at someone’s kitchen table, is one of my favourite things. You can’t beat the camaraderie that comes when you work in an all-female office and shit gets manic. Dinner with friends from Way Back is a joy, as warm and soothing as candle-light. But sometimes, I’m going to channel my inner Greta Garbo – it’s not personal.
On the Bambi bookshelf
I’ve just finished the brilliant Americanah and would definitely recommend it, if you’re in the mood for beautifully-written characters and subject material that a) really matters, and b) is sensitively dealt with. It’s a love story – the ending had me in in tears at Gatwick station – but more importantly, it’s a discussion of race and its complexities (the protagonist’s reaction to Obama becoming president may also jerk a tear or two).