It's the modern malaise of many single women – 48 hours of acute loneliness that ends with Monday morning’s alarm. Jenny Stallard, 38, opens up about her own experience...
Friday night when you're single is all parties, late-night cabs and waking up with a stranger... isn’t it? Well, last Friday I headed home with a bag of pasta and pesto, watched TV, then went to bed alone, without speaking to a soul. Not in person, anyway. Sure, there was some commenting on Facebook and a bit of WhatsApp. Then I woke up on Saturday ready to welcome guests but, until their 3pm arrival, I was in my flat – silent, alone. But there’s one part of the situation I’m not alone in: the single 30-something epidemic of which I’m a prime example.
Saying this isn’t easy – there is a stigma
attached to admitting to being lonely. On paper – and, importantly, on screen – our lives can seem so brilliant. My job on a national newspaper is busy and engaging and, between trips to the gym, nights out for work events, drinks with colleagues or seeing friends, I can easily fill my weekday evenings. But I suffer from weekend loneliness. Badly. Yes I see friends and family, but there are still pockets of time that yawn with ‘being alone’. The peak time is Sunday evenings. Without company and conversation, Sundays bring those feelings of isolation right to the fore.
I’m not friendless, far from it. But many friends who were once my Saturday night/ Sunday morning drinking-and-regretting partners are now family women or in relationships. I don’t resent them – I just resent that I’m not in the same place. I learned years ago – I’ve been single for the best part of 10 – to arrange to do things at the weekend. But now mini-breaks and shopping trips are not so easy. Most friends need babysitters or want, understandably, to spend weekends with their families. But it can make me angry and jealous, which I hate because I love my friends. I’m jealous they have someone to share their weekend with. Some ask, why not get a flatmate? Well, I’m 38 and I don’t want to come home and find someone else on the sofa, choosing the channel. You’re not a partnership, you’re cohabitees.
Photo: Sonja Horsman
Gone is the derogatory meaning of spinster, but I am not single by choice. Stating that feels very anti-sisterhood, very uncool. Single women’s shoulders can have a lot to bear – we’re supposed to love our ‘freedom’, we’re meant to be the flag-wavers for a fun, self-indulgent, free-to-do-what-we-want life. But it shouldn’t be taboo to admit you want a boyfriend – should it? Those who are married or in relationships clearly wanted (and got) that. Why shouldn’t I?
Naturally, many people tell me I’m lucky. I have my own flat, independence and a great career as a journalist and novelist. But does having all these things mean I don’t also deserve to have a companion? I can’t hug my new novel, as great as I feel about it. I want the lot – a nice flat, good job and a boyfriend.
A recent report flagged up Britain as the ‘loneliness capital of Europe’, while Susan Quilliam, psychologist and relationship expert, agrees that weekend loneliness is a peculiarly modern affliction. ‘This goes back to shifts in society in recent years. We used to work nearer home – we could reach friends and family easily,’ she says. Just 9% of people lived alone in 1973 but by 2011 it was 16% – we might be in the middle of a housing shortage, but more of us than ever are living in single dwellings.
My friend Jane also finds weekends can be strangely empty. ‘I spend all week running around looking forward to some free time but then I wake up on Saturday morning and don’t know what to do with myself. All my friends are married and babied so they’re off at the park or doing play dates. It’s easy to feel very alone on a Sunday afternoon, and I fall into Netflix binges. There is now so much you can do to pass your time, that you’re almost not aware of the fact that you haven’t left home all weekend. Same with Facebook – it feels like you’re interacting but you feel more lonely after it.’
It can be easy to let that ache take over, and occasionally I’m filled with a deep malaise as I contemplate the time on my own. Quilliam says, ‘Being lonely centres around the feeling of being unappreciated. There’s nobody to talk to on a minute to minute basis. If you’re with a partner, even if he’s out, he’ll be coming back.’ The secret, she says, is to get comfortable with your own self. Make friends with members of the opposite sex. Not for dating, just for friendship. ‘Have a wide range of friends, that way you’re not reinforcing yourself as being in a ghetto of singles that have nowhere else to go.’
For me, the best way I’ve found to deal with it is not to see it as something I have to cure. To say, this is me for now. And the good thing is, when my Monday morning alarm sounds, I know I’ll have respite from these feelings. For five days, anyway.
There have been truly dark moments, like when I WhatsApp’d a friend to say I felt desperately lonely. She tried to phone me but, feeling foolish, I didn’t take her call. Another evening, ringing my mum and coughing through my tears that, ‘I’m just so sick of it.’ Sick of being single, of doing everything for myself – from the cooking to taking the bins out, to sorting the bills and telling myself I look good in that new dress.
As a good friend once said to me, ‘When you’re in a couple, doing nothing is doing something. But when you’re single it’s doing nothing.’ This is so very true. But I will not let this feeling define me. As
the worst moments have passed, the clarity of a new day brings hope and I strive to be in control of those feelings. To try to just accept that this can feel bad. And hope for less lonely weekends ahead.
Do you suffer from weekend loneliness? Let us know at email@example.com
Jenny is commissioning editor at Metro newspaper. Her novel, Boyfriend by Christmas, is out now.