created by Alex Taylor
Examining the concept of loneliness in a million-strong metropolis.
Making friends isn’t as easy as it’s made out to be. Hollywood, TV and popular culture have us believing that you’ve got to be out every weekend, taking pictures of your good times to carefully curate an online presence and look real popular.
It’s easy to look cynically at that kind of person, justifying it as a kind of rampant shithousery; the calling card of an entire misguided generation. Maybe they’re just posturing for the Likes, maybe that’s just what they like doing. It isn’t our place to judge. But this revolves around friendship, whether real or fictitious. Friends doing friend things. What if you don’t have that?
Last year, Britain’s men were taking their own lives at a rate three times higher than women. London had the lowest suicide rate per 100,000 male deaths, but the loneliness that this city can bring drives even the most resilient down a dark path.
Expressing yourself emotionally while watching a procession of smiling faces through your phone screen doesn’t come naturally to a lot of men. That goes doubly when you haven’t got any friends to talk to. The city doesn’t care that you’re alone. The dominant social structures don’t care. Past university, the notion of making mutual adult friends between males can come across as a peculiar idea. After a solid conversation, well-intentioned proposals of further drinking can be misconstrued.
In school, making friends is naturally encouraged. The same goes for university. After that? Sure, for the majority it’s not a problem. Moving to a city of 8.5m people should make it a breeze to strike up conversation and develop friends. But, it’s got a way of closing people off, trapping them where they live, where they work, in the friendship groups they’ve established.
For guys, this is especially true. Asking for help can feel like weakness. We all want to think that we’re the prototype of modern man. In touch with our sensitivity enough to ask for help when we need it. That’s just not the case.
Those first six months in London can be the worst. Friends back home assume you’re having the best time and you’ll assure your parents that everything’s going better than it’s ever gone for anyone ever. In the meantime, the walls contract as your phone stays silent. Netflix binge-watching becomes the norm and justifies staying in bed with the curtains closed until three in the afternoon. It’s gross and cliche, but getting the curtains open and looking London in the eyes is more than half the battle.
After more than two years here, I know a ton of different people of various ethnicities, creeds and identities. It doesn’t stop the loneliness and isolation coming back. Nagging concerns of popularity creep in and I find myself thinking is it me? Am I just a bit of a dick? Partly, yes, of course I am. Everyone is. But the city’s full of people who are way more interesting than myself, by contrast, I always manage to convince myself that I can’t match up to them. It’s silly, but I think why would people want to hang out with me when they can spend their time with more interesting humans?
I’m getting better at not thinking that. It’s just the intimidation that comes from living in one of the greatest cities on earth. I ain’t no big fish, I’m cool with that. It’s not been easy to make friends when those thoughts keep bouncing around, but battling through for meaningful relationships is a reward fighting for.
Just try not to let it get you down.
Alex Taylor is no relation to Tom Taylor, who also writes for Smoke & Tales. Funnily enough, he is a relation to one of S&T's editors. That's nepotism for you.
Follow him: @alexcomealexgo