Solitude, isolation and loneliness mean many things to many people. It was not until I became a single mother that I fully understood what they mean for me. I have experienced solitude, isolation and loneliness as a single mother.
I know that my loneliness feels most acute when I am with people who don’t or can’t really see me. Loneliness is a book that is flicked through but never read. Loneliness is like music that plays in the background but is never listened to. Loneliness feels like fading into insignificance. Loneliness took hold of me when I was in the wrong relationship.
As a single mother, I spend many an evening alone on my sofa once Cygnet has finally gone to sleep. I am alone, but I do not feel lonely. Tonight, as I sit here very much alone, tapping away on my Mac Book, I feel at liberty to enjoy being alone. I can enjoy my solitude.
For some, solitude is a respite, a room of one’s own, the ultimate luxury. There are times when I dream of being alone, like when I am in the toilet inserting a tampon. I dream of being alone in the cubicle so I don’t have to answer Cygnet’s question when he asks “What’s that mummy, what are you doing with it?” It’s okay, we’ve had the conversation now. My two year old knows that I put the tampon in my “gina”. I digress.
I love my hours of solitude when my imagination can run riot. This time is short, but it is when I am my funniest, my sexiest and my most intelligent. This is the time when I am a neuroscientist on the brink of figuring out exactly how our brains work. This is the time when I am The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton’s chief confidante. This is the time when I am a badass Feminist who has finally figured out how to secure equality and fulfilment for us all. This is the time when I am a gloriously strong gymnast causing my audience to gasp at my multiple backflips, twists and somersaults.
Pablo Picasso once said:“Without great solitude no serious work is possible.” Unfortunately, for me, the opposite is true. Great solitude means meandering day dreams and endless procrastination. No serious work is ever achieved!
Isolation is very different. There are very few single parents in my area. On sunny weekend days when families flood to the local park for picnics, frisbee, football, the sandpit and swings and slides, I feel very aware that I am a single mother. I spot parents from Cygnet’s nursery. They nod and say hello, but I am conscious that at the weekend they are in their happy family unit and Cygnet and I are just us. In these situations I feel ‘different’. I feel ‘other’. I momentarily feel socially isolated. I reassure myself that I am enough.
But I am really lucky.
I am lucky because I chose to replace my loneliness with the indulgence of solitude. I am also lucky to have an incredibly supportive and present family so my feelings of social isolation are not only momentary but also few and far between.
Not all single parents are so lucky. Many single parents are single parents due to a wicked twist of fate, due to death, due to abuse or accident. Society is not sympathetic towards all single parents and it is easy to feel isolated.
Unlike solitude, loneliness and isolation are not something a person chooses to experience. Loneliness and isolation are imposed by circumstance, by misfortune, by hardship and by loss.
Isolation and loneliness as a single mother are devastating and common. Solitude as a single mother can be heaven. Single parenthood is a dance between all three.