Two lonelinesses in parallel may be an odd way to describe marriage and yet it’s an accurate description of mine, the most puzzling description of all.
To conflate marriage and loneliness is unusual; at first glance, those terms seem mutually exclusive. By definition, a marriage contains two people while loneliness is the burden of the isolated self. The two aren’t supposed or expected to coexist.
For years, I’ve sought to understand this. If only I could pinpoint where I have failed or what I’m lacking then I would come up with a solution, a fix. While major depressive disorder has corroded my self-confidence and made me feel inadequate, it isn’t the whole story.
The illness did disappear me as a person, as a professional, and as a wife, but only because it felled me almost as soon as I got married and immigrated.
As a result, I didn’t have the chance to build a new network of my own in a new country on a new continent. This isn’t surprising.
What I hadn’t realized at the time was that my husband was similarly untethered despite having lived in the same country and region his entire teenage and adult life.
In other words, here was a grown man without friends, for reasons that are still a mystery to me. To have gone through life up to that point without the hallmarks of friendship — closeness, unconditional love, devotion — baffles me.
What’s more, it breaks my heart as I can’t imagine what my own life would have been like without the friend I will forever refer to as my North Star.
Anthony and I had known each other since the mid-90s and cancer claimed him at the end of September. No matter where I was in the world, he was only ever a phone call away. For over 20 years, we were each other’s confidants and shared everything, including family and friends.
When he died, my parents reacted as if they had lost a son.
Then again, I’m well aware that my human experience isn’t the only one there is.
What if having the opportunity to forge deep, long-lasting friendships were a privilege rather than the norm? Meeting my husband has forced me to reconsider how I approach human relationships and accept that some of us may prefer their own company.
Loneliness can be a choice rather than the inevitable result of a disconnectedness epidemic.
But the alienation I’ve experienced in the last five years feels like an aberration. Something is missing. While being each other’s best friend is often the basis of a happy marriage, I do not believe one person can be everything to another as this precludes any kind of critical distance. In my mind, this would make for a claustrophobic relationship.
While both my husband and I enjoy and treasure our own company and quality time alone, I didn’t expect to ever feel lonely in my marriage.
After a first marriage when I was 19 promptly followed by a divorce three years later, I spent most of my 20s and 30s alone.
I had several long-term relationships but we mostly maintained separate homes.
While I’ve always been perfectly content with books and meandering solo walks in nature, I also longed for someone to share things with.
I yearned for an accomplice, a steadfast cheerleader, someone who’d bring out the best in me and for whom I’d do the same. I was after symbiosis and shared aspirations that went beyond the mundane to encompass a gentler, kinder world.
Because I’m not just an idealist but also an incurable romantic who’s only able to fully enjoy something if I can share it. We all want a witness.
This, to me, is what marriage is all about: a union based on love, commitment, mutual curiosity, and the desire to learn and grow together.
And what better mix for interestingness than two people from different cultures and continents? I figured we’d never run out of questions to ask and things to discover but either depression fucked it all up or I was wrong, I don’t know which.
Maybe it was both.
All I know is that whatever cultural assets I brought failed to elicit much interest beyond the initial getting-to-know-you stage. Meanwhile, I absorbed all I could about America — my new home — and its idiosyncrasies, and I’m still absorbing. It’ll likely be a lifelong process, not an entirely painless one at that.
Regrettably, there hasn’t been much of a cultural exchange in my household.
Despite having an enthusiastic French teacher on demand, my husband yet has to show any interest. He’d also be hard-pressed to name a French-speaking author or film director if asked, probably because I’ve failed to make France, Belgium, Switzerland, or Quebec attractive to him. It’s not through lack of trying (he does like poutine though).
We French folks are so proud of our language and cultural heritage that we see both as irresistible as our cuisine. What’s more, francophones are a worldwide family present on all continents so you don’t even have to be into France to take an interest in the lingo.
My husband and I live in the Pacific Northwest and there’s a country just up the road where French is an official language… (Yes, there are native French speakers in British Columbia!)
Because we’ve never not been struggling on every front, there’s never been enough mental bandwidth left over for anything other than survival.
Instead of sharing, we’ve tended to isolate to cope, me with major depressive disorder, him with trying to keep this household afloat.
A former colleague used to say I’d socialize with a lawnmower.
I’ve always loved meeting new people and finding out how other humans deal with life. And despite depression, I still do even though I seldom get out.
This being sick and unable to access therapy as well as mostly housebound has exacerbated loneliness. Back when we still lived in the city, I could never afford a bus pass so remained within a 5-mile radius — wherever I could walk to — on the rare occasions I left the apartment.
Never having any money for a coffee or an outing meant meeting new people was rare.
For the last year, we’ve been living in a house up a steep hill in a tiny rural town where mass transit is more of a concept than a reality. Everyone drives everywhere; I do not. I have neither a license nor access to a vehicle. We only have the one car, which my husband uses to get to the ferry terminal when he doesn’t actually drive all the way to work.
The internet and two library cards are my lifelines.
After five years, most of what I know of the Pacific Northwest I have either read about or seen on Instagram rather than in person.
To me, a social occasion means going to the doctor’s for my yearly physical (which I hadn’t done since 2016), or going to the dentist’s for a check-up.
About twice a year, I also try and get my hair done and this counts as extreme socialization. Those days are almost normal, I interact with other humans, I start coming back to life.
At home, I can never get away from loneliness and isolation, not even when my husband is here. Our two rescue cats provide priceless comfort and support. When I’m not working, I speak to them, play with them, and tell them about what’s going on in my head and heart.
I am the cat lady cliché made manifest, which only means I’m aptly named.
To my husband, we are the three kitties.
Depression has a lot to answer for, but so does the absence of mutual friends.
Lest you should think I’m a troglodyte with limited social skills, let me reassure you: I come from friendly people.
My father is the most affable person you could ever wish to meet, a happy-go-lucky guy always up for a laugh. My beloved stepmom is his perfect match, similar in almost every way but for one notable difference: She’s tactful whereas Dad has no filter.
My mother is more guarded, doesn’t trust people easily yet still manages to make new friends at 73 despite suffering from depression too.
Besides my husband, I do have one other friend in America, whom I have known since I was an angsty French teenager and she a ballet teacher. She, her husband and son are practically family but they live in the Midwest therefore we haven’t seen one another for four years. Much as we’d love to, it’s not all that easy to grab a coffee.
Friends are people you can call upon in a crisis, but the few folks my husband knows are best described as vague acquaintances, co-workers.
Chipping away at the loneliness that threatens to swallow everything falls to me as he doesn’t seem to mind. I know that keeping people at arm’s length is his choice, but it never was — and never will be — mine.
Finally being able to articulate this in print despite the searing shame that sets my face ablaze is the first step toward remedying the situation.
Admitting you’re lonely despite being married is a healthy move toward a more balanced, more sociable life, at least for the person who craves it. But it’s also embarrassing, something I can’t help but equate with a personal failure of sorts.
Nevertheless, marriage — a partnership, a committed relationship, love — doesn’t necessarily mean both parties have the same needs, or that one party’s needs should override the other’s.
While I kept worrying about major depressive disorder destroying my appetite for life, I failed to consider all that might have led to it.
In the absence of a therapist to help me sort through my mental mess, I owe it to myself to look at everything with as much honesty as I can muster.
Could this marriage have had a hand in the advent of depression?