So this is the deal. I’m 55 years old and I have no idea what my life is about. I’m sure I’m not alone. The weird thing is, I should know by now – I spend enough time thinking about it but I just keep on drawing blanks. Am I happy? Mainly. Am I sad? Sometimes. Am I lonely? Pretty much every day. But here’s the thing – I’m happily married. I have three children who are all functioning adults. I love my family. I love my dogs. I love my hens, sometimes obsessively. I’m good at baking but I really suck at cooking anything that involves more than one pot. I loathe housework but I do it because I hate living in muck. So the house stays relatively clean and tidy, people get fed (usually). My dogs get walked and loved and pampered. My hens … well, they’re my girls and I have a strange other-worldly empathy for them, especially when they are trying to find some quiet time to lay an egg. Imagine what laying an egg actually entails. You’d want quiet time, too.
Anyway … today I’m writing because I guess I’ve reached tipping point. I no longer have any excuse not to because this is my last resort really. The loneliness has become unbearable. Yes, yes, my husband is unbelievably, almost impossibly perfect – we are the best of friends but he has a whole big shiny life away from me, he’s busy … and, well, I’m not. My life has become something of a blank page.
We’ve moved from one country to another for years and years; it’s the nature of my husband’s job, you see. We are always transient, never really belonging anywhere, like Gypsies but without the benefit of having a whole group of people who move along with you. A couple of years ago, we moved to the U.K. It was our 50th move as a couple … I cringe at that number because it seems so … suspicious, as if we’re on the run. Our children are a blend of different cultures and at the same time, almost no culture at all. They feel attached to certain places we have lived but they really have no sense of where they want to settle. I’m the same … for years I’ve dreamed of going home to New Zealand to retire but it looks less and less likely with each passing year and that frightens me. Time flies and suddenly you see very clearly that your runway is getting shorter.
We have lived in many places but we do own a house. A big old house, in France. I’m there now, sitting by the window of our bedroom watching a pair of storks parading majestically through the wheat fields. It’s a beautiful view and it’s a beautiful house. It was my husband’s family home and now it’s our home, sort of. We have owned it for a long time now but we’ve never really lived here. I’ve spent extended periods of time here with the children during times when Baccalaureates beckoned and my husband’s job entailed too much moving around for exams to be practical. We holiday here frequently and it is the only house my children have known throughout their lives, so it’s an anchor of sorts. They come for weekends from Paris or Switzerland or wherever they happen to be and we take our time sitting around the table after lunch and we make sure everyone feels loved because that’s the point of family, isn’t it? Then they go away again and sometimes I travel with my husband to wherever he is working and sometimes I stay alone in this big old house with my dogs and my hens and the little owl that calls me early in the morning and the bats that come out, swooping low over my head on summer evenings and the frogs who sing me to sleep from the pond at the end of the lawn.
I’m unafraid here although there are certain members of our family who would not sleep here alone. The house is 600 years old, give or take a few years and if there are ghosts, then they are benevolent because the house always feels quiet and still and peaceful. It’s full of shadows and strangeness at night but it’s fine by me. The house is protective and it is the only place outside New Zealand where I’ve ever felt truly at ease with myself. However, if I walk the 400 metres to the front gate and it’s another story … our little corner of France is not known for it’s unbridled love of foreigners. I first came here 25 years ago and I have yet to be on first name basis with anyone. I don’t know what they make of me around here. I’m an oddity. My terrible French is made more terrible by my drawn-out Kiwi vowel sounds, my overly apologetic, self-deprecating ways just don’t make sense to our hard-working, no-nonsense farming neighbours. I’m used to it now but for a very long time, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I realise now it’s just being different that doesn’t really fly around here.
And where does being different actually work? Because let me tell you, I’ve been the odd one out in a host of different places around the world and it’s no joy-ride. I’ve come to the point where I look forward to the cashier at the supermarket asking me if I have a loyalty card because it’s basically the only conversation I’ll have all day. You see, I’m not a joiner … I don’t do book clubs or play tennis or even enjoy walking my dogs with anyone else in tow. I love movies but I struggle to share that pleasure with anyone outside my immediate family … why? Maybe there are just too many variables in going to the movies … too many choices, too many ways that the outing might be spoiled and I would always feel responsible for that. I always do.
However, there is hope for me because there are few things I enjoy more than a girls’ lunch or catching up over coffee or a G&T … it’s not that I’m anti-social, I just don’t like doing the things women my age do when they want to meet people and make friends. I just can’t. I can’t commit to a group. I’m terribly afraid of letting people down by being late or saying the wrong thing or of being annoyed by someone that I just don’t bother joining in at all. I spent years ‘joining’, paying up for classes, lessons of all kinds, gym memberships and then promptly leaving until I finally cottoned on to the fact that it’s just not me.
I know on the outside, I don’t appear to be lonely. I have a life that is blessed with so much but believe me … the days can be long and empty when there’s nobody there to exchange stories with. I’m good at sharing what I feel, think, believe … it’s what makes me who I am. I need other women in my life to act as a kind of mirror. I have a lovely group of friends back home … old friends, tried and true. But they’re not physically present in my everyday European life and I need to fill that gap. I just don’t know how. My last volunteering venture was a dismal failure … my heart was there but my brain screamed ‘misfit’ in every group meeting. It’s no surprise that my sport of choice is swimming … I swim for hours, in pools, lakes, oceans, off rocky shores on icy days and sandy stretches under tropical sun … I swim and I swim and I swim and I can’t let anybody down but myself. It’s easier like that.
But don’t misunderstand me – I do love to talk. I really truly do. I love to hear people’s stories. I love to share secrets and fears and I love the solutions that only women friends can bring to life’s problems. So – am I truly alone in this? Am I the only ‘lonely but terribly sociable’ woman of a certain age out there? Please tell me I’m not because otherwise I’m destined to talk to my dogs and my hens and the bats and the frogs and the little owl … and my husband when he’s not busy and my children, of course. I know I’m blessed to have them because they all keep me sane … so far.