I’m going out on a limb here — but if being a doctor taught me anything about the human condition it’s that people mostly have the same anxieties as each other but they go through life believing themselves to be alone in feeling the way they do — and I admit I always felt a little bit like I was on the outside looking in.
I always wanted to be part of a big, happy gang but never fully felt I was. Side note: the total upside of aging is that these worries we carry all the way from childhood and adolescence get put to bed as you get older and it is a f**king joy. Yes, I took a certain pride in my ability to walk my own line — even as a teen. Yes, there is a certain satisfaction in being a bit different and not always running with the crowd.
Being an exception, not a rule, can be a blessing as much as a curse. But on some level I wanted to drop my guard and just be cheery and comfortable in part of a big crowd of people I saw as my squad.
At this point, I’d better apologise to my friends who think I am in their squad — and I am! I’m talking about deep, deep-down feelings that are decades old.
I got to thinking about gangs recently when I was feeling particularly mopey, friendless and like everyone hated me. Another side note: Jenny, the incredible girl who does my nails, told me that when you’re tired, you think everyone hates you and when you’re hungry, you think you hate everyone, and I now think this is the greatest human insight I’ve ever had.
Anyway, I was trying to combat those feelings of isolation, or loneliness, or whatever they are, when I realised that pretty much every day that week I’d met a different pal for a lovely coffee, or walk, or drink, or whatever. And that far from being friendless, I was actually very lucky to have lots of friends to call upon in times of trouble or indeed times of fun. But generally I meet them in ones or twos rather than in a big group. And it seems to be the group thing I felt was missing, not the friend thing. When it struck me...
I don’t really hang out in big gang s because — and this was a revelation to me — I actually don’t like them! I hate groupthink. I get bored by small talk and generally, in large groups, you aren’t close enough to everyone to avoid it and I always feel I’m slightly moderating myself in a gang in order to maintain some sort of consensus equilibrium that’s needed for the group to operate smoothly. (Or possibly all of that is just my interpretation of group dynamics.)
It was all a bit of a shock. I’d been feeling all my life like I was missing out somehow on squad goals when in fact the truth was I was actually just being myself because I don’t actually like them.
No longer did I have to feel bad that I wasn’t in a gang of 10 who meet monthly to drink cocktails and gossip. No more did I need to pursue some kind of self-improvement path that might result in me ending up in a cool clique. No, I could actually admit to myself that I hate that stuff and I much prefer to meet my pals in ones, twos and threes and actually chat and laugh with them. I’m just not that sociable. Christ, the relief.
It turns out I’ve been living my life exactly as I wanted to in a way that completely suited me — while feeling bad that I wasn’t somehow different. And if that isn’t the human condition in a nutshell, I don’t know what is. And to paraphrase Oasis, I don’t believe that anybody feels (other than) the way I do, about yous now.
I’m not entirely sure why I love this idea but DogTV has launched in the UK — a television network aimed specifically at dogs and their owners, which airs programmes scientifically tested to “alleviate separation anxiety, loneliness and stress in our canine loved ones”, no less!
Apparently it’s been developed after much research into dogs’ physiological and psychological needs and has been formulated in a way that will help stimulate our pooches whilst also making them relax and sleep better.
I’ve so many thoughts. But a few things on this. Firstly, if dogs sleep any better than they already do, it’s unlikely they’ll ever be awake. But secondly, and more importantly, if they can do this for dogs — why don’t they do it for humans? Who among us wouldn’t like to be able to watch TV and feel stimulated while simultaneously less anxious, lonely or stressed? We’d all be addicted.
The main thing I’m secretly wondering though is: if this works for dogs, might it also just work for us anyway? I do share a lot of characteristics with a Labrador... not least the love of biscuits.