London feels like a lonely city.
I’ve been living here for 2 months non-consecutively with my girlfriend.
Here, in London, everyone is kind of on their own.
The streets of London are at the same time crowded and deserted.
From what I have observed dogs are royalty and kids are an anomaly.
London is probably no more lonely than any other metropolitan city yet it feels lonely. London is a place where people come to be alone together. The size of the city makes that loneliness feel more apparent.
People always appear to be travelling on their own—heads down, no eye contact and certainly no acknowledgement of each other. In short, they keep themselves to themselves. Compulsory mask-wearing on public transport has only added to feelings of impersonal strandedness.
Now, I understand I’m only seeing these strangers for not even a percentage of their day. There’s a chance that I’m projecting onto these people. The travellers I meet on my way are, for the most part, grand. There is however a sadness in the eyes that is impossible not to notice.
Is this just me?
Whilst in London during lockdown I have been fortunate enough to be with my girlfriend the whole time. To put it mildly, she is fantastic company. There are times when she has to go out and do her thing. It is then when she’s away and I’m left to explore that I feel most isolated and alone. I don’t know anyone in London. It feels like with COVID and all it is that bit harder to reach out to people and make a connection.
Now, I’m from Belfast. It’s not that Belfast is all that great it is just that for me, it is home. All my friends, family and things are there.
Belfast also has the, depending on your opinion, advantage/disadvantage of being compact. Everything is only roughly twenty minutes away. Be it friends, family, or just to get out of the city to somewhere more scenic.
London, on the other hand, from where I am based, everywhere is at least an hour away. So if you have any kind of excursion or day trip planned factor in an additional two hours to your day.
Essentially I’m an American tourist:“I knew things would be different, I didn’t know they would be that different.”
What follows are my observations on London as an outsider wanting to get in.
It’s called rubbernecking baby
Northern Irish people, or maybe it’s my father and me, at best, are a curious people. At worst we’re downright nosey and intrusive. Without trying to rose tint the past, I grew up in the tail end of The Troubles. If a bomb goes off, you are going to want to see the damage done. If the police are hauling someone off, you’re going to want to see who is getting moved. Belfast is so small there’s a chance you knew who it was.
Now, I have found out in London you do not do this. When it comes to curiosity, it is best to think of yourself as a cat on their final life.
One night walking home, a Police armed response unit had some unlucky chap out in the middle of the street. He was lying face down, telling him to keep his hands behind his head.
Now, me being me, walked towards the rumpus. I wanted to see what was going on. It was no business of mine, I wanted to stick my beak in, the disturbance wasn’t on our route home. My girlfriend was less than impressed.
“Look away, if someone thinks you’re a witness, they’ll come for you,” she said or words to that effect.
Anytime you see or hear trouble, don’t acknowledge.
I had to catch my self on just this weekend when walking down the street I saw a man opposite flipping off the sky. I tried to work out what it was directly above him that had offended him when my London instinct kicked in, “Look away”.
You have to do as Odysseus does, hear the sirens but for the love of mercy don’t go towards them.
When in doubt, eyes down.
While we’re on eyes.
The eyes have it
In London, you are better off not looking at people.
You have to navigate the hustle and bustle of the footpaths and underground. Do this without looking at anyone.
You have to work your way around using your peripheral vision.
I found out about the pitfalls of eye contact in London the hard way.
I was leaving the flat and happened to lock eyes with a man leaving his flat. We held each other’s gaze for a moment before I naturally looked away. Out of the corner of my eye, I could feel that he was still looking at me. He walked in front of me. He kept looking back at me, a scowl adorned his face. I realised I had offended this man to his core. It was too late. He kept turning around as he awkwardly walked in front of me for what felt like hours. He then got into an uber, phew, it was over. Kidding, no, it wasn’t.
He proceeded to wind down the window and shout what I could insults at me as the car drove off.
Was it mistaken identity? Did I do something? It will remain a mystery. I understand that I may have a punchable face but usually, that only happens once you get to know me. Only joking, I actually get more lovely the more you get to know me.
Another time I was walking through the park with my girlfriend. A passing cyclist (it’s always the cyclists) spat at us landing right in front of us. Was it a genuine error? No.
How do I know this? Well, when I turned around, he was staring back at us. He then proceeded to ride his bike around and follow us for a couple of minutes. I didn’t say anything or confront the guy. I felt a little less masculine for not doing so. To be honest with you, you don’t know people. My girlfriend worried. “He’s getting something out of his backpack. We’re going to get macheted, or acid attacked. Or he’s going to dip the machete in the acid so the wound can’t close,” you know just girly things. Was he anti-miscegenist? You’ll never know.
Either way, I should have followed my own advice and kept my eyes forward.
You have to be like Perseus and imagine everyone else is Medusa.
There was a documentary released back in 2011 called Dreams of a Life. It’s about a woman who dies in her bedsit. Her body wasn’t discovered for three years. When you read it, you think, that couldn’t happen. Here’s the thing, it could. When you’re in London, it’s easy to stay inside. You stay inside not because you want to. You do so because sometimes it feels better than the alternative, going outside. In fact, scrap that, staying in isn’t better than going out. The two are only marginally different.
My girlfriend went back to visit her parents, leaving me on my own. You might think that this is an opportunity to go out and explore on my own. Let me be upfront, on the first day I didn’t leave the house. In fact, I seldom left the room. I wasn’t motivated. There was part of me thinking, how am I going to offend someone today?
Also, everything is much more expensive. That’s not the problem, you have to budget yourself accordingly. If you can manage your money, you’re on a sound footing.
Me?… I need to work on that.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Thames walk, the park nearby the flat is lovely for walks. It’s been busy over the summer. I like seeing families enjoying themselves. Plus there are so many gorgeous and friendly dogs trotting about. Not to mention squirrels and foxes. I’ve seen a few yoga classes too that have piqued my curiosity. There have also been salsa classes. Salsa looks a bit lame.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is as follows. It’s understandable how someone could remain dead, unnoticed in their house.
London will forget about you if you stop reminding it you exist.
You have to push yourself to get out there.
There is an advantage to the sheer size of London and the anonymity. It means you can act a bit odd in public. What do I mean by that? My girlfriend and I were walking through the beautiful Canary Wharf. There were so many people out and about it was heartening to see. To be clear, I was feeling overwhelmed; it was pleasant to be out amongst strangers. I let it get to me, I was dancing and shouting. In general, making a nuisance of myself. That’s the beauty of London. The city and the citizens have seen it all before. They didn’t care, they ignored me. My girlfriend laughed. I love making her laugh. All in all, it was a good day.
While it is easy and at times tempting to slink into the background, you have to be like Zeus. Make your presence known to others, from time to time.
London and fear of commitment
Part of the loneliness of London is down to the fact that it is a bit of a gamble getting into a romantic relationship. Now, all relationships are gambles. London is high stakes baccarat. Everything in London is career and money-centric. Because it attracts many young people with promise and adventure. It can be easy to get sucked in by the temptations. It comes at a price, though. There is a chance that you get into the dating scene and things go OK for you. You go on dates meet people but if your single in London why settle? You have so many options.
Without being an expert in any way here is what I think happens.
You go out on dates. You meet a bunch of people who are fine but no spark. There is this part of you that is looking for that spark. You know that there is someone there who is the perfect match. They must have all the same interests in you. You keep going on more dates. Mr or Mrs Right is out there for you. You have to keep looking. You keep looking and keep looking. Before you know it, you feel like you’re running out of time if you want to start a family. Before you know it, you’ve been on so many dates that you are mentally incapable of forming a pair bond with someone. You don’t know if you’re making the right choice or not.
Here’s another reason. Everything is so focused on “Where do you see yourself in 5 years”. Time is money and money is wasting. No one wants to waste time, especially when there might be someone better around the corner.
You have to ask yourself, do you like this person?
You think to yourself:
Well they live north of the Thames. That takes a couple of tube stops to get to, but you don’t want to come out smelling of BO so you’ll grab an uber.
They’re surcharging right now. You left late too because the flatmates wanted a meeting about dishwasher duty. Do you really see a future with this person? Even if you did, your lease is up, you have to make up your mind whether or not the two of you want to move in together. You would like the place to yourself, but redundancies are coming up. You might have to cohabit with others again. If you get a joint account together, then this will be much better. You’ll ask how much is in their help to buy ISA over profiteroles. You ask yourself, is this a bit forward for a second date?
I’m not saying that these problems are unique to London. What I am saying is that in London, the issues feel more pronounced.
If I was single in London, I would remain single in London.
Sometimes you have to be like Eros and Psyche. Stay committed to each other, be devoted to one another. Make it work no matter what.
It may seem like I’m dumping on London. Look, I like London, it’s an acquired taste. London is tequila. It’s an acquired taste that I’m still trying to acquiesce.
All you need to do is
- Keep yourself to yourself
- Eyes down
- Make yourself seen and heard every once in a while
- Work on that balance between being commitmentphobic and commitmentphilic
- Listen to this absolute banger
- Never feel lonely again by signing up to my email list below
- Learn how to tell a story and have people flock to listen to you
Have a good one,
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