HEY, LET’S MEET! NO, LET’S NOT

So­calise? Ac­tu­ally, I’d pre­fer to be scratch­ing my cat’s ears, says Eilis O’Han­lon, who will be stay­ing in. Alone

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - FIRST PERSON -

Be­ing anti-so­cial is hard work. You’re con­stantly hav­ing to come up with new rea­sons for not do­ing things that other peo­ple want to do. Trust me, “I’d love to, but the cat’s not feel­ing well” only goes so far.

I should get a T-shirt printed with a vari­a­tion of those signs about credit that used to hang in shops back in the day. It could say, “Please do not ask me to go any­where with you, as a re­fusal of­ten of­fends”. What peo­ple don’t seem to un­der­stand is that go­ing some­where would mean leav­ing the house, and why would you want to do that, ex­cept to go for a quiet walk (by your­self ) or a long cy­cle (also by your­self )?

And don’t think that means I want you com­ing to my house in­stead. Be­cause, just to be clear, I don’t. Some peo­ple have an open-door pol­icy when it comes to their homes. They love to fill ev­ery nook and cranny of the place with friends and fam­ily. I have more of a ‘close the door and then lock it to be ex­tra sure’ pol­icy. If I had a draw­bridge, I’d have it per­ma­nently raised.

The whole idea of a house is that it’s a refuge from the world. If you don’t make a distinc­tion between your house and the world, then every­thing just be­comes another pub­lic place, and where would you re­treat to when all those peo­ple out there, with their noisy chat­ter and space-in­vad­ing pres­ence, get too much to bear?

I’m not even sure I like the idea of peo­ple know­ing where I live at all. I’d rather we just com­mu­ni­cated by text mes­sage or email, then, on the few oc­ca­sions when I did agree to meet another per­son in the flesh, I’d just mys­te­ri­ously ap­pear, like the man who owns the cos­tume shop in the an­i­mated se­ries (“as if by magic, the shop­keeper ap­peared”), be­fore van­ish­ing again the mo­ment we’d drunk our cof­fee.

I’ve cer­tainly never hosted a din­ner party, though I en­joy cook­ing. Cook­ing for my­self, that is to say. Cook­ing for other peo­ple is a nui­sance. Plus, I’d have to talk to them, and there’d be no guar­an­tee when they’d leave again.

Mr Benn

They’d still be sit­ting there at mid­night, dron­ing on, while I’d be mourn­ing all the pages of the book I’m read­ing that I could have got through in­stead.

I ad­mit it’s prob­a­bly a bit weird. Some peo­ple tell me it’s a North­ern Ir­ish thing. We’re sup­posed to be more ret­i­cent and aloof than our south­ern neigh­bours. “What­ever you say, say noth­ing,” and all that.

I’m sus­pi­cious of ge­o­graph­i­cal ex­pla­na­tions for be­hav­iour I know plenty of strange North­ern­ers who open up their homes to all-com­ers, too but it’s as good an ex­cuse as any. “Don’t mind me, I’m from Belfast” that could be another T-shirt.

Though, to be hon­est, know­ing I’m from Belfast is still more in­for­ma­tion than I’d rather di­vulge. I don’t un­der­stand this need for con­fid­ing. For telling peo­ple about your pri­vate life. Surely that’s why it’s called a pri­vate life? If it was for gen­eral con­sump­tion, it would be called a pub­lic life.

I used to be­long to a book club. It all went pear-shaped. Long story. But what re­ally both­ered me was that point in the evening when every­one had said all they wanted to say about that month’s book and the women in the group would start talk­ing about their lives. This usu­ally hap­pened af­ter about ten min­utes. Silly me thought a book club was for dis­cussing books. Turns out, it’s re­ally about telling every­one how the book made you feel about your own life.

I wanted to bolt ev­ery time. First, be­cause I’m not com­fort­able with this ‘touchy-feely, let it all hang out, Too Much In­for­ma­tion’ vibe; and sec­ond, be­cause there’s an ex­pec­ta­tion that, hav­ing been on the re­ceiv­ing end of their con­fi­dences, you should share some­thing of your­self in re­turn. “But I never asked for your life story in the first place,” I’d silently cringe.

Or else they’d bore on about their chil­dren, which is sec­ond only to other peo­ple’s dreams for max­i­mum te­dium.

This is why it’s far bet­ter to stay in. Read a book, watch a film, lis­ten to music, scratch the cat’s ears, any­thing. A full so­cial life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. What are you miss­ing, re­ally?

‘If my pri­vate life was for gen­eral con­sump­tion, it would be called my pub­lic life’

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