Once upon a time I began travelling and lived like a hermit for 8 months.
On a French hilltop, with no car.
After relishing the solitude for the first two months, I began feeling lonely.
The kind of lonely that doesn’t fade easily.
The kind that slowly eats away at you and creates a strange, hollow feeling in your chest.
When I moved to my next destination, Lisbon — colourful capital of Portugal, I resolved not to let it happen again.
I was now living close to a major city, five minutes from train stations and wasn’t as isolated as before.
Yet in the first few weeks I noticed similar patterns creeping in.
- Not meeting many new people
- Spending alot of time by myself
- Feeling lonely
So I went miles out of my comfort zone and attended a Meetup event.
I was so nervous I couldn’t say my name properly and it came out as
But I was so happy I went.
I began attending events pretty regularly and hugely enjoying them.
The very first group I stumbled on turned out to be a precious mix of interesting events and interesting, often kind, people.
Yet one night as I came home, I felt oddly sad.
I’d just spent the evening at a dinner with twenty+ people and I realised “I still feel lonely”.
“How that can be?” I thought.
“I’m seeing people again and have made friends!”
And to my shame I went to Google and typed this:
I couldn’t believe I was asking Google for help with loneliness but there you have it.
So at 1am on a Saturday morning I stumbled on this blog post from Introvert Spring.
One paragraph stood out more than anything else:
As I read it tears began rolling down my face.
It was exactly how I felt.
I’d had fun conversations and joked with people.
But something was weirdly missing.
That night I asked the powers that be for help in fixing it.
I obviously wasn’t getting there myself.
I asked, in a notebook I keep specifically for difficult moments (got that idea from Liz Gilbert);
How can I make a good friend or friends here in Lisbon, with whom I can have that kind of bond?
(Interestingly enough I didn’t see a romantic partner as the solution to this. I knew that aside from that, I wanted deeper friendship connections, in a way I’ve struggled to find since leaving my hometown London five years ago).
And here is the beautiful thing friends.
Shortly afterwards, I received a random message one day on Facebook.
From someone called Ania with (what I thought was) a vaguely Portuguese sounding name.
She said we were both living in the same town and did I want to meet?
I didn’t know how I knew this person or how she knew me, but I was intrigued. I had an unexplainable feeling I should meet her.
At the time I wasn’t seeing her as good friend material. I just thought “oh….why not?”.
So we met.
And from that first meeting, I knew I’d met a kindred spirit.
After our next meeting I remember writing in my happiness sock (I write down one thing I’m grateful for each day, and stuff it in a sock)
“Going to Lisbon and laughing with Ania on the way home”.
It sounds simple but I can’t tell you how much I treasured that laughter.
I truly believe laughter is one of the most wonderful things in the world. For that reason I always notice (and appreciate) people who genuinely make me laugh.
It turned out we’d met years before at a French holiday house. Somehow we’d become Facebook friends and Ania noticed a video of mine in her newsfeed.
As the weeks passed we began to meet more often because it turned out we lived in the same village (thank you powers that be).
In fact, we’ve now become good friends and I feel like I’ve met a new old friend. I’ve also become better friends with other ‘new old friends’ too.
It’s a precious feeling.
And I can’t help but marvel at the magic of it all.
From one sad night, trying to understand why I felt lonely,
…to meeting new old friends.
And having something to put in my happiness sock.
We just never quite know what is around the corner, and even though we may feel alone in the quiet of the night…
…something is always watching.
And when we’d like a change deeply enough,
…it will move mountains (or make us move off a mountain) to help make it happen.
PS. The funny thing is that at our first meeting, I didn’t speak to Ania very much. She was on a summer job in the house that holiday. I’m ashamed to say she was therefore mostly ‘invisible’ to me, as a member of staff.
It just goes to show we should never make anyone invisible — because precious gems are all around us.