Stuck in the grip of London’s isolation? One writer and columnist has a solution: embrace it!
When you’re eating, sleeping, shopping, walking, drinking and living alone, London can feel like a bloody wasteland sometimes. It can even feel, to the unpractised, lonely.
And yet, until you’ve learned to appreciate London alone – to make unescorted plans and choose your own adventure – you’re basically just a tourist. Worse, you’re a pigeon, clinging to the flock, even though most of them are pitted by mange, covered in dust and pecking at a chicken bone on the lid of a bin.
In a city of 8.6 million people you might assume that isolation is hard to come by, but this is a city built for individual exploits, for do-it-yourself fun. The parks, the films, the bars, the paths, the exhibitions, the secret alleyways, the plays, the queues, the loos, the snacks, the swimming pools, the meals and the deals are all there, at your fingertips. Ditch the nonsense idea that you have to experience them with someone else and suddenly you can go wherever you want, whenever you want, in the way you want, for as long as you want. Break out of the belief that going it alone is lonely and you can start to enjoy London without compromise. If you want to go to a midnight screening of ‘Total Recall’, you can just go, no questions asked. If you want to have a pre-work outdoor swim surrounded by geese, you can do it, nothing to hold you back. If you want to eat three puddings and no main, literally nobody is going to stop you. You don’t have to text around your friends, waste three hours waiting for the replies to coalesce into a plan and then do something a bit shit. You don’t have to worry that the other person is bored, tired, pissed-off or hungry. You don’t have to visit just one show, because three is tiring. Do all of it. Do it now. Do it on your own. Solitude is not a failure, it’s an opportunity. All you need to do is grab it.
Of course, loneliness can settle in your stomach like bile. Back in 2014, the Office for National Statistics found that Britain was the loneliness capital of Europe. Nowhere is this more evident than in London, where millions of us roll alongside each other each day, unable or unwilling to slide into another’s groove. London creates a very particular fear that everyone you know is hanging out with everyone else you know behind your back, somewhere else. And you’re just not invited.
But, my friend, this is pure bullshit. London is too big, too broad, too eclectic and too hectic for there ever to be The One Thing. There is no way that all your friends are at the same bar; that everyone with your taste in music is at the same gig; that all the nice people are eating in the same café. It’s numerically impossible. So stop beating yourself up with some imagined failure and start making plans.
London is a city of studio flats, fold-down chairs, seats at the bar, meals for one and single portion snap-off yoghurts. Isolation breeds here like rats. But throw off the fear that being alone is a defeat, and you can start to conquer the city. I did. You can too.