When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart, she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves.
I am loathe to credit the truly dreadful Sheryl Sandberg with anything. But I don’t think we really used the phrase 'lean in' before she felt the need to write a book informing women that, actually, what they need to do, is do more. Where they’re getting it wrong is by not doing enough.
This, from a woman who can afford to hire a team to do all the home stuff. Collective eye roll, please.
So we’ll just ignore Sheryl. But the phrase is a good one. Sometimes, it’s all you can do. Lean in. Because ignoring, denying, avoiding? You’re not going to get past it. Whatever it is.
Loneliness has come up in a lot of interviews I have done with various women recently. The loneliness of being a single mother. The loneliness of being really ill, and being, ultimately, beyond the love and support of family and friends, of having to go through it on your own, in the end. The loneliness of being a mother to a tiny baby who is awake for four hours in the dead of night.
It’s hard to talk about loneliness and I admire these women so much for doing so. I didn’t think I related. As a single mother, my daughter and I have been subsumed back into my family of origin for all the important events, from big celebrations to holidays, to Sunday strolls in the park.
So I don’t feel lonely, I thought. And then I realised oh. Yeah.
I do not live with another adult. There is no changing that. There will be no changing that. My home is mine and my daughter’s. And mostly, I’m fine with that. I love our afternoons or evenings where it’s just the two of us, pottering, doing her bath, eating dinner, having an impromptu dance-off, or her playing whilst I do laundry. Saturday mornings, where we can relish the absence of rush. It’s very peaceful, the fundamental twoness of us.
Friday nights. Not every Friday night. But occasionally. You know those Friday nights, where you’re too tired to socialise, but not quite tired enough to have an early night?
Where the end of the week needs more of a punctuation. TV and couch. A come down after the stress of the Monday to Friday hamster wheel. A lull, a pause, between the working week and being in the midst of the weekend, which as early as Saturday afternoon can feel like.
When you don’t want to host anyone, even the closest friend, or most familiar family member. You want someone whose home this is too. Except that only other person is up in bed.
Leaning into loneliness
So yes, I did find, that occasionally on those evenings, I would feel lonely. Now, I handle these evenings in a variety of ways. All, I consider, in their own ways, are leaning in. By which I mean accepting the circumstance, and not trying to mask it.
If I’m really out of sorts, I just go to bed with Herself, my four year old. It’s not fun — in fact, there can be something particularly dispiriting about going to bed at eight o'clock on Friday night. Something particularly everyone-else-is-having-the-time-of-their-lives-ish.
But I’m leaning into the reality that sometimes things are really exhausting right now, and I have to put the need for sleep before anything else. Because I will feel so much the better for it the next day.
Second, I sit on the couch, and I watch the TV. Without another person. And usually, I enjoy myself. The thought, rather than the reality, generally being worse.
Third, I go off-piste. No lounging on the couch tuning out to TV. I get into bed, enjoy the peace, calm and silence of my house echoing around me, and read. This is by no means a particularly remarkable example of striking out bravely on a path of one’s own, granted. But it feels slightly like it. No distractions from the situation of living on one’s own. In fact, the opposite. Embracing it. Relishing it even. The calmness of home. The peace and quiet of one’s own company.