‘Never been lonelier than in my marriage’
Dirty hair in a top bun, the same leggings I've had on all week and a screaming hungry toddler tugging at my leg while I unload the dishwasher.
It's the usual midweek witching hour and I'm looking at the clock, focused on my cooking efforts, My husband is due home from work and I'm craving some adult conversation.
A little late in, he goes straight to my son and says he already got a bite for himself on the way home. After my son is in bed, I reheat my dinner and sit down for a chat but there's no eye contact, the laptop is out and the cricket on. He says he's got important work to catch up on so I take my dinner and a glass of wine into the bedroom and watch TV. Solo.
People assumed from the outside that I had it all. The house, the family, the pets, the financial ability not to rush back to work. They couldn't really be blamed because it did look lovely. But it certainly didn't FEEL lovely. These kind of nights were not a one-off and as years went on, the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach became only too familiar.
Loneliness. It's an epidemic that people seem to be just starting to recognise. We see people at work, with friends, in relationships, flaunting their best selves on social media and assume they have it all. They couldn't possibly be lonely, could they? But when you look at the stats, it's frightening.
A study done by Swinburne University and the Australian Psychological Society last year found that 25% of the Australian population feel lonely at least three days per week. That means one in four of us spend nearly half our time feeling profoundly alone. The lead researcher, Dr Michelle Lim, noted that you don't have to be alone to feel lonely: it happens in friendships and, in my case, in my relationship with my husband. It can happen to anyone.
How is it possible that in our culture, where so many people are in a rush to be constantly 'busy' and on to the next thing, anyone has time to be lonely? At the same time as we have constant access to social media, we are no longer living or bringing our kids up in the traditional 'village'. Is it that we are settling for real-world relationships that aren't as deep or loving, or are we working too hard and forgetting to invest in the relationships that bring us connection? Maybe that is the very problem: we are so busy trying to keep loneliness at bay that we don't even realise we are actually lonely.
Is this striking a chord for you? Read this woman's heartbreaking letter about leaving her marriage, or check out the bizarre change that saved this sexless marriage from doom.
Ironically, deciding to be on my own made me realise just how lonely I had been, and that became the first step to my long-term happiness. That's not to say it's been easy: filling the void that emerges with being a single mum is an ongoing challenge.
When my son is home it's hard, but fulfilling work. We have a close bond and our time together is always quality time. But I don't have a partner to run things past or tag out with. I miss my son like crazy when the house is quiet and the feeling of loneliness is waiting to creep in like a not-so-welcome old friend.
Meaningful connection is what cures the feeling of lack for me. Last year I signed up to become a youth mentor and have been hanging out with a lovely young girl, who needed some extra care and attention herself, every week.
Even though we can spend as little as an hour a week together, I find being able to redirect my time and energy into something positive - something outside of myself - has been so fulfilling.
I try my best to connect my son and I with our local community, I know and love my neighbours and take the time to invest in meaningful relationships whatever shape or form they come in. It's hard to feel lonely when you're accepted, respected and appreciated by people with similar values.
Regardless, some times of the year are more difficult than others. Last Christmas was going to be another opportunity for old mate "lonely" to creep in, as I didn't have my son. The lead-up was hell, an anxious time anticipating the slap of loneliness that would hit me on the day.
I would see all the happy families being -festive and I felt that feeling building in the pit of my stomach. But instead of being defeatist, along with my mum and grandma I signed up to volunteer to help feed 400 disadvantaged families Christmas lunch through a local charity, and it was honestly one of the best experiences I have had.
I have realised over time that, for me, giving is a form of self-care. I get out of my own head, gain perspective and feel like I'm contributing.
Whether or not people are surrounded by others, in what seems to be the 'perfect' marriage or job, or social circle, it's dangerous to assume they don't feel alone.
We need to keep reaching out to each other, asking, listening and also, saying what we need. It's ironic that I've never felt more connected since being on my own, but its my new way of being and I plan on nurturing that.
- Isabelle Silbery is a freelance writer and star of 'Gogglebox'
- This story originally appeared on whimn.com.au and is reproduced here with permission