During lockdown, opportunities to make new friends have been limited. However, I did encounter one special person who caused me to rethink the way I see everything. Yes: I finally met myself.
2020 has been a wonderful training in mindful self-acceptance, the realistic surrender of hope and total subjugation to one’s circumstances. I celebrated turning 42 in late July by doing nothing, and with no psychological kickback. Three cups of tea, lunch and dinner, 12 hours of internet surfing that left no impression, a workout and bed. Same as every day since mid-March.
I call this “radical abjection”. It’s a kind of home-based nihilistic feminist Buddhism in which nothing means anything and you embrace the death of the self, on the sofa. I used to be committed to the goal of being a fabulous spinster: travelling the world, lunching, going to galleries, wearing big jewellery and fabulous scarves. Now I am happy to be a common or garden spinster. The domestic variety, rather than a wild jungle crone.
At first, I resisted this. When lockdown began, we all went through the stages of coming to terms with it. There was the pasta bake stage, the neighbourhood vigilante stage, the terrible craft projects stage, the Zoom cocktails stage, which segued into the domestic alcoholism stage. Each one a step down to the cosy basement of ennui, where nothing changes and the only light comes from our screen.
I fully accept the psychological stripping-down we’re all undergoing.. Maybe life is not about striving. Maybe it’s about resisting the weird nouveau-riche yuppie impulse to have a big lockdown makeover and boast about it. Maybe we need to learn how to sit with discomfort and stop thinking that life is meant to be some kind of perpetually unfolding adventure, a scintillating journey where we’re always asking: “What next?” Why do we have to turn our psyches inside out to find our transformed, improved, optimised and actualised best selves? The current versions are fine enough to be getting along with, surely, given the circumstances.
Since we’re finally face to face with ourselves we have an opportunity not to lament, but to count our blessings. By my tally, at (hopefully) the halfway point of my life, I am doing better than many people on this planet. I have health, domestic stability, family support and no debt. I’m choosing to celebrate that, since how I live now may well be how I live for ever. I have never had a relationship and it’s not likely that I will have one. I’m not interested in children, and in any case it’s probably too late. I feel about romance and children the same way I do about aquariums and historical re-enactments: I think about them occasionally but I wouldn’t pay to see one. At this stage of my life, imagining some future love affair pains and humiliates me much more than embracing reality.
I’m ready to celebrate being a spinster who is settled, sanguine and resigned. During one of the heatwave-breaking showers last week I looked out at the suburban street where I’ve lived all my life and realised I would be fine just pottering about at my desk with the lamp on, seeing the same view and writing the odd thing, for the rest of my days. In a situation such as a global pandemic, clinging to elaborate fantasies about what life might be like when it’s all over is much less practical than looking at what you have and deciding it’s OK.
The same goes for career fantasies or travel fantasies: given the global recession to come, the idea of “making it” seems both impossible and selfish. Our drive and careerism and work ethic clearly got us nowhere – look at the state of the world. I accept my own professional obsolescence. In fact, the only people I want to hear from right now are doctors, teachers and carers, environmentalists, social justice activists, charity workers and human rights lawyers, not pundits from a bygone era. We need to stop thinking – if you’re guilty of this as I am – that we’re stars in our own aspirational romcom, heading for fame and happiness. Aren’t we just lucky to be alive and in an environment that isn’t an actual war zone?