Well there’s a thing. Those who know me are aware that a lot of my time working as a client, in my counselling, has been spent trying to recover from a deeply ingrained sense of isolation. It seems that I now have that in common with many others.
However, while many are literally stuck home alone, I am locked down with my wife, my stepson and his four year old daughter. This is an entirely new learning curve for all of us. I can’t speak for the other three, (although I’m quite good at observation so maybe more of them later), but I can try to lay down what I’m going through at the moment.
I lived on my own for quite a few years, and being a practical person I managed very well. But the one thing I found myself craving was human contact. Curiously, it wasn’t a need for physical contact. No, it was a need to be in the middle of a crowd. They didn’t need to be people I knew. I just needed the comfort of people milling around me going about their daily business. There was a time when I would walk regularly from my home into the city centre. Not because I had anything to shop for but just because I knew it would be a hive of activity. I would sit for ages in a cafe nursing a tea or coffee and just soak up what was going on around me. Believe me, if there is such a thing as forest bathing, then there’s also such a thing as crowd bathing.
Fast forward to today and lockdown Britain. What a contrast, empty streets, empty shops, cafes closed. Even when people do go out there is no hustle bustle, just a purposeful focused trip to the supermarket, grab what’s needed and straight back home. Most people are friendly enough, but a polite nod and a smile from a couple of metres away is all we allow each other. Then it’s move on quickly to the next item on the list. We’re all learning to be afraid of each other. It’s a bit like some bizarre form of Russian Roulette; is this the shopping trip when I catch the Covid 19 bullet?
I’m not sure how much longer this voluntary distancing from others of our species can be maintained; before it begins to badly affect people’s mental stability. That we are a social species is written into our DNA. Yes we have our hermits, but they are quite rare, and the sanity of many of them is questionable. Even our closest relatives, the great apes, monkeys and lemurs, live in clans or troupes. To take one individual out of their group causes that individual great distress. They don’t just need to be around each other either. They have a strong drive to touch, hug and groom each other. All of this activity reinforces their sense of security and belonging.
We’re really not much different from them. We might like to think of ourselves as independent and self sufficient and we strive towards that apparent ideal. At our core though, we need other people. So what about people who are locked down and isolating together, so to speak. Well, talk to any two people who have been living together as married partners for any length of time and I’m willing to bet that, as much as they still (hopefully) love each other, they have learned of certain aspects of each other’s personality and behaviour that they cannot stand.
There’s a good reason that married couples urge their offspring not to rush into marriage. Experience has taught them that the first flush of romance, that being in love stage, eventually mellows down. Then the real time consuming bit of getting to know each other begins. Hopefully, much of this is positive. But with the best will in the world, no two people can be everything to each other. As the quote goes, “you are never one, you are always two”.
We know that, if we’ve been with our partners for any length of time, that there are areas where even angels fear to tread. We’ve learned that we just don’t go there. That this person is never going to see things our way. That they are never going to see how irritating that little habit or mannerism is, that they just don’t appear to even notice in themselves. So we adapt and learn to accommodate each other’s peculiarities.
We are all individuals, and we all want and need different things. No two people can be everything to each other. So we all need to find the fulfilment of some of our needs outside of our familial group. And let’s get this straight right now, I’m not talking about anything carnal here; that’s for another writing. No, I’m talking about the things that we have learned over time that our nearest and dearest just don’t get about us. But we know that outside of this small familial circle are other people who do get us. This group of people are going to be more important than ever during lockdown.