Bristol: Lonely Boy

Cast Away 2

How do you meet people?

I am lonely and it’s getting on my tits. It’s been nine months in Bristol, and I don’t have any friends here. I don’t mean colleagues and whatnot – of course relationships have formed in the workplace, but they are revolve around work, and as my job is stressful and difficult, spending time outside the office with the same people I work with would be a constant reminder of it. The people you spend 40 hours a week sitting in tense meetings with are not really the people you want to unwind with on your time off. I want to spend weekends thinking of other things.

I feel a bit grey right now. It’s the same feeling I had in 2016, before I left for Berlin. Back then it was the same, mostly, except I had one or two friends rather than zero. I have Jeanne here, of course, but relying on your partner for everything that would normally be spread around a large friendship group feels unhealthy. Besides, she’s made friends here – a couple of like-minded French girls she works with make up her little gang, and they go out and are happy together. She’s fine; it’s me that’s the moping blob.

I have friends in other cities – London and Leeds – but that requires a three or four hour journey each way every time I want to see them. This, combined with the fact that Labour lost another election and rail prices will remain obscene, means making that journey is only possible once a month.

Every weekend it’s the same: I work damn hard Monday to Friday, and as I finally leave the office on a Friday night I can’t help but get giddy with anticipation for a few days off. In Sheffield, in Berlin, in Leeds, even in Melbourne, this anticipation was proved correct: there were adventures to be had. In Bristol, however, it’s different – the anticipation goes nowhere. I leave work and walk home, maybe grab a beer for the road, and I look through the contacts on my phone for people I might hit up for the evening. It’s like opening the fridge looking for food when you know there’s nothing in it.

That anticipation inevitably gives way to an awful hollow feeling when I realise, once again, that there’s nobody around, and my weekend will pass in the same way the week does: at home, waiting and hoping. It’s sunny out today and I feel like a dog trapped inside watching a butterfly bob around the garden. I want to go out, but I don’t know where to go, and I’ve nobody to go with.

I’m trying to be proactive about it: using the website Meetup I’ve browsed local events, but they’re invariably whack. Today there’s a fucking barn dance going down at 7pm, and the thirty or so attendees are almost exclusively middle-aged white women. Just… meh. There’s a group called something like ‘Young and Wild and Free! 18-30 Drinks!’ which is populated solely by horny boys. There’s an event called ‘Lonely Souls’ which is happening tomorrow over a pub lunch which, Christ on a fucking bicycle, sounds like the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard of. And there’s an astral projection event going down at 8pm somewhere in which you can learn to lucid dream or whatever.

I don’t want to project my soul into another realm, you bastards. I don’t want to do-si-fucking-do around a chilly community hall with Ethel and Maureen. And I don’t want to sit eating a lumpen plate of bangers and mash listening to Kev tell me about how his eldest son won’t talk to him anymore. I want to sit with somebody my own age, who likes the same things I do, and chat over a beer or two, and maybe later watch a film or go to a gig. Why is that so hard to find?

It wasn’t like this in Berlin – the young community there is made up of miscreants from all over the globe, and so making friends is easy. Everybody moves there alone and everybody is keen to chat. Granted, it’s tough to make deeper, supportive friendships there, but at least it’s something.

Jeanne says that I should just go out to bars and talk to people. In Berlin, sure. In England, the only people that go to bars alone are aged alcoholics, wobbling atop barstools, lager suds dripping from their enormous red noses. If I go out to a bar or club alone, I will be That Guy Over There By Himself, Ha Ha, What Is He Doing. What – I’m going to just approach a table of students and ask to sit with them? “Hey guys, what you talking about?” Absolutely fuckin nicht.

I contemplated volunteering. Seems like a good way to meet some nice people. The options aren’t great, however. In Berlin volunteering was simple – you sign up online and head down to the soup kitchen, and that’s it. I can’t find any similar resource here. If you want to volunteer here you need to fill out a job application and list your skills. My lone skill is copywriting, and I do it constantly for my career. Sitting at yet another desk, out of hours, bathed in the blue light of Microsoft Word does not seem like it will solve my problem. I’m looking into volunteering anyway, because I want to help out and be a good person, but it’s a bummer to know that it’s not going to be the big happy helpy-outy bonding experience I’d hoped for.

So: I dunno.

It’s a work in progress, I suppose.

If I were to preempt the thoughts of anyone reading this, it would be: stop feeling sorry for yourself, you mug, be more pro-active about it and get out there. Go volunteer, stop being such a snob about Meetups, and bite the bullet and ask your colleagues to hang out. I know, I know.

Some days I just wish it was a little easier than that. Moving place to place so often over the past four years, I’ve used exactly the above formula, time and time again, constantly. It just wears thin after a while – dozens of times over the years I have tried these tactics, and they work sometimes, but more often than not it’s like a bad date – you meet up, you strain to find common ground, and within about 5 minutes you realise the whole thing was a disastrous idea and you never see each other again.

It’s so rare that those sparks truly fly for me. I don’t know what it is – maybe I’m too fussy. I remember meeting Annie for the first time in Berlin; it was so natural. I was in a lonely place then, just like now. I was out with Dave at a local radio station to support our friend Kike who was playing a set there. Annie played the set before, and she hung around after. She wanted to buy beers but didn’t know where the shop was, and I offered to take her.

We walked along and I asked about her t shirt, some weird black garment adorned with what looked like finger paint, covered in phrases like ‘aluminium is used for making cans’. She told me she’d got it in a charity shop and she supposed it was some kid’s old science project. She was free-spirited and driven, clumsy, self-deprecating, smart, nervous and sincere. I sensed a contrast in her – a little bit of confusion, like she wasn’t entirely comfortable in herself – and I dug that because I’m not either. We spent the day talking about music and books and the city and our lives. Within a few weeks we were hanging out every day, putting the world to rights.

Annie’s far away now. I’m sure there are those kinds of people still out there – there must be a thousand people in Bristol I could call a best friend, given the chance. I just don’t know where they are, or how to find them. All I can do is keep searching.

But I tell you what, I’m not off to a fucking barn dance.


5 thoughts on “Bristol: Lonely Boy

  1. I remember walking down the Neukoelln streets and meeting the most extraordinary strangers – subsequently spending the following days in random cafés and clubs across the city. I remember how much I learnt from all these people, everything and everyone was moving so fast that it felt like all of us would accelerate indefinitely. You’d lose a friend and find three new ones the next minute.

    Half a year in Zurich and it feels as if I’ve experienced and learnt less than I did in a Berlin week. Stagnant and rigid, with plenty of young people around that could potentially, possibly, be fun and interesting – but every interaction ends up shallow and forced.

    Have you ever thought about going back to Berlin? I know you wrote you never go back once you leave, and I share that rule, but (apart from Tel Aviv, which is a little hot for my taste) I find no other place that excites me as much. At the same time, I’m afraid of simply trying to recreate the experiences I had, moments that I know can never be repeated.

    • I had very similar experiences: the best friends I made in Berlin were people I bumped into randomly – a chat in a hostel lounge, somebody asking for a lighter in a bar, a quick ask for directions, a slurred chat round the giant campfire out the back of Chalet (RIP).

      I definitely miss that magic – sitting on the pavement with a bunch of brand-new friends at 4am discussing bizarre concepts. It’s almost as if everybody has that lust for life inside them, but it’s only certain places and circumstances that draw it out of people.

      I have considered going back – and I hesitate for the reason you mention, haha. I don’t want to chase a high and attempt to recreate old memories; I’ve done that in other aspects of my life and although it can be cosy and nice in the short term, after a while it feels like regression – you realise that you’ve been looking back with rose-tinted vision, etc.

      I’d like to find a new city with a similar energy. I’ve never been to Tel Aviv, but after your recommendation I’ll add it to the list! I’m sure there are more out there – when I find them I’ll be sure to let you know 🙂

      • I’m curious what you’ll find. For now, I’m going back to Berlin. Perhaps going back into an existing network of friends (instead into the complete unknown) is sufficiently different to make it a new experience…

  2. Giving Ethel and Maureen more shit than they deserve here old boy.
    But also, if you do find yourself straying east again, hit me up will ya.

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