Megan Nicol Reed is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

Megan Nicol Reed: The world is full of lonely people

Each week Megan Nicol Reed talks through what’s on all of our minds.
It rest6s upon society to accept you, not you to bend. Photo / iStock
It rest6s upon society to accept you, not you to bend. Photo / iStock

She signs off "Home Alone".

And begins: "Dear Megan, why do people assume you are lonely just because you live alone (and yes, with the prerequisite three cats)? Why do they feel the need to set you up, organise your daily schedule, entertain you or introduce you to men who seem more interested in the sudden revival of turntables and vinyl, and artisan beer than in you?"

Dear Home Alone, before I dig deep in the trenches of my psyche for any light I might shed, may I preface my reply thus: as a happily married mother of two, I neither assume you are lonely nor pity you. Standing behind an elderly woman- at the Whitcoulls' counter last week, I tapped my foot and grew irritated as she wittered on about this and that. Just as I feared I might pop with the force of my impatience, she tottered off. "Sorry about that," said the shop assistant when I thrust down my purchase, "I don't like to rush her. She lives by herself, you see, and no one visits." And I did see. And I was ashamed, for the world is full of lonely people.

But while loneliness is not confined to those who live alone, a loveless relationship can be the loneliest place in the world - nor is living alone necessarily lonely. I have lived alone twice in my life and I count both among my happiest of times. I loved that I could arrange my fruit bowl just so, and that's how it would stay until I selected the ripest peach. I loved that when I desired company I could seek it out, but it was not a constant background thrum. And so, Home Alone, I actually envy you a little.

You write that when friends introduce you, they highlight your single-woman-with-cats status and neglect to mention that you "draw, paint, garden, are involved with local community happenings, can quote Leonard Cohen lyrics and play the guitar". I can understand how this must irk, but I do not think this dismissiveness of all the parts of your sum is either particular to you or intentional. When I am introduced it is usually as the wife of my husband, the mother of my children, or the daughter of my parents. And I do the same to others. It is ancient and instinctive, a way of placing a person, giving them roots.

"Do they mean well?" you ask of all those who "feel the need to invite you to every play (ugh), opera (ugh), or the zoo with their 12 screaming grandkids in case you have never seen a monkey lick its butt before?" Or, you ponder, "Are they fulfilling some latent need in them to be single again?"

I said earlier I envy you, and so I put the question to myself. On occasion I have tried to match-make friends. Have I done so because deep down I want them to experience the compromise and exhaustion that often colour my life? The answer is no. No, because although sometimes I crave the respite of solitude, I do not, ultimately, choose it. We are expected to pair off. It is considered normal, natural. As a single adult you present a challenge. Like all who choose to live their life differently, yours can be a harder row to hoe, but it rests upon society to accept you, not you to bend. "I want to be alone," you write. "I am alone and I'm okay with that." I believe you. Be firm with your friends, consistent with your stance, and they, too, will believe you. Do be thankful, though. For
alone or not, you are clearly loved.

In reply ... A week ago I wrote of a friend, an overwhelmed friend. Dorothy felt my advice was unhelpful, was particularly displeased with my observation that having nothing much to do at 12.33pm on a weekday is a sign of a less than full life. "Sounds like a lunch break to me and a very sensible way of spending half an hour or so." Andrew would have given my friend a copy of The 7 Aha!s of Highly Enlightened Souls.

A high school teacher, he had been feeling exhausted after a long term and extra workload but after re-reading this book he has "calm and control back".

Write. With a problem or a pleasure.


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Megan Nicol Reed is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

There were many things Megan Nicol Reed imagined she would do in her journalism career. She ticked off feature writer, editor and columnist. She never envisaged agony aunt. Now, when she isn't trying to sort out her own life, she's trying to sort yours. And when she's not doing that she is writing her first novel. In her downtime you'll find her mothering, cooking, running, cleaning and reading. Needless to say she spends much of her life in activewear.

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