Is London lonely, or is it just me?

Photo: Flickr/ Trodel

I don’t need to tell you that London is a busy place, around 7 million people live here. Even in the more sparsely populated areas on the outskirts of London it’s constantly active, with someone always driving around outside the window at 3 in the morning. I came here to embark on an exciting internship, live away from my family for a while and gain some much-needed independence. However, with that has come an unnerving inkling – it is just me or is London a bit lonely?

London is ridiculously big, on a scale I’ve never experienced before. It’s easy to get off the train at Euston and shrug off the tube. “I’ll walk instead,” I think. “It can’t be that far.” The reality is that it will take me a good few hours, I’ll have to stop off to get plasters for my aching feet, and I will probably get lost. Throw in the Olympics, with Boris repeatedly telling me sternly to “get ahead of the games” and plan alternative routes, and it’s no wonder I’m struggling to stay afloat.

The sheer amount of people around is quite terrifying to me. It’s easy to get lost in the crowds, become invisible and slip away, whether it’s getting caught up among the bustle of commuters on the tube, along Oxford Street with Saturday shoppers, or at Euston station with the tourists. On most public transport, people don’t even talk to each other. Just stopping for five minutes to have a coffee and look out the window, you watch hundreds of people fly by.

Even when I’m having a drink with friends, or curled up in bed watching How I Met Your Mother, I find it impossible to relax here. Everyone’s constantly in a rush to get somewhere, which makes me feel like I should be too. Before I know it, I’m pacing down the left of the escalator, until I realise I’ve got nowhere to hurry to. Everything is quick – or aims to be – from getting served in Starbucks to crossing at traffic lights. The rolls of eyes and tuts when your Oyster card doesn’t work in the alloted time of half a second make me panic more than stalling a car at a roundabout.

The weather also might play a part in why London can feel a bit lonely at times. Right now, the sun is shining across the city, old men are stretching out in parks with so little clothing that your eyes are forced to face forwards, and those of us with uniquely pale complexions are made to slap on suncream for the ten minute stroll to the office. However, when the dark clouds and drizzle inevitably set back in within a matter of days, the grumpy faces and impatient business folk in suits will be out again in full force, made stronger in force by the Olympicsceptics, bringing the mood down again.

London at night is just as hectic, a completely different scene to during the day. Wandering through Leicester Square last Friday I saw more people around at midnight than during the day, many of them drunk, in fights, injured or loudly shouting. But it’s still easy to slip by unnoticed.

Maybe it’s me – I’m a country girl through and through. Are all cities like this? Perhaps I’m just not used to how people do things around here. I’m obviously not from London and thus I stand out a million miles away, often embarrassing myself in public places and staring at landmarks I’ve only seen in pictures. I don’t know the area, or the culture. I don’t have a community support group of friends and family to rely on, just lots of people spread out across the city, and as I’m sofa-hopping, I’m only ever in one place for a few days. I’m generally only able to communicate with other people Facebook or Twitter, where most people only flock to when they want to shout about how great their lives are, or on the phone, where I’ve racked up a £70 phone bill in the last month alone in a desperate attempt to talk to people.

To me, that’s the most lonely thing about London – most people are completely absorbed in themselves and their own lives, whether that’s a book on the train, or on the phone in a restaurant. The sense of unity in London, for me, is extremely limited on a day-to-day basis. Everyone knows that in a crisis such as 7/7 we can all pull together, but those instances are rare. If it wasn’t for the Metro’s ‘Good Deed Feed’ I’d be feeling quite sorry for myself on the tube in the mornings. I can only hope that when I move down here for myself and experience life in the City as a true Londoner that’s not living out of a suitcase, I can learn to fit in and adapt to life in the capital without feeling so isolated.

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28 Comments

Filed under Britain, Culture

28 responses to “Is London lonely, or is it just me?

  1. Sophie

    As a Londoner who had to split school years between the country and city, I see where you’re coming from. They’re different worlds. After spending long periods in the country I often asked similar questions to you when I returned home.

    I’d say London is probably the best city to start in, the pace of life is not as fast as say New York. All cities are daunting at first, but as you get used to them, the pace begins to slow – indicating an initiation to city life. Don’t worry you’ll adapt, I’m certain London will grow on you 🙂

  2. st

    Totally agree with this, I spent 7 years in London, and have never felt more lonely. it’s amazing how lonely you can be when surrounded by so many people. Ive felt so down i ended up crying in the tube many times, because i felt it didn’t matter, noone pays attention to yout there. I feel like this city ate me up alive… So depressing, yet there’s a part of me that misses the anonymity of such a big city.

    • I agree with both of you, to be honest. As it turns out, I was in a bad place and it wasn’t the best time in my life. But I do look back with some fond memories. It was good, and bad, and in very different ways. An interesting city, but when I return to live there permanently, I expect it will be much different.

    • SM

      st I agree. I have felt I could cry anywhere, have a breakdown and it would not matter. no one would pay attention. not that it was done for attention but from being sad and fed up. and in that sadness you could walk from end to end of london and feeling so lonely amongst the 1000s of people around you.

  3. Carlos Fernandes

    I was reading and feeling everything the same as you. I would never imagine this. It’s 5:30am and I can’t sleep! It’s unbearable.

  4. Whoa! I thought many times about writing a similar post, but I’ve never managed to. I’ve been in London for 11 years and I’ve to admit that, in my case (at least), time didn’t help to heal the wound. At the same time, I seem not to be able to leave London. Aaargh! I’m Italian and I truly miss the simplicity to meet and talk to people, have the opportunity to ‘pop around’ a friend’s house (distance and busy-ness being the major factors here) and just feel some ‘loving care’. It’s hard though, as I love all the opportunities that London offers and my life here is not bad at all, but at the same time when this feeling struck … it’s just really hard! I’m not really good at expressing my feeling though, which is something that is fundamental in London. If you wait for people to notice it’s the end; you just need to be extra direct and your friends will even go the extra miles to help, I’m sure. I just hate begging for help/attention. In the past few months, I’ve found that keeping myself busy with activities (run, cycling, rock climbing) really gives a bust to my mind and the lonely feeling gets to me more rarely now.

    • Estate_fiore

      Wow, Natasha thank you for writing this article. I’ve lived in London for a long time and I feel very lonely here too. Funnily enough ytulauratambien, I feel differently when I travel abroad (especially to Italy) where people are much friendlier, happier and willing to smile and perhaps chat. I will definitely move abroad in future but in the mean time I’m keeping busy like you. Swimming, walking, meditation, travelling to nature reserves, villages and towns near London on the weekends. I also love music and I’m dedicating more time to that now. Your comment struck a cord with me, ff you want to chat, let me know. All the best to everyone who is visiting this comments section. It’s good to hear so many different experiences.

  5. Alice

    Sometimes i feel like London is here to test you. Can you cope? Will you be strong enough to make it? Can you succeed? In my eight years in London there have been many challenges and some truly terrible times but i never felt like quitting it. Yes it is hard but it is also truly great, you get what you put in and as i am truly a stubborn person i refused to fail at it. There are some true gems of people in this city and i have been lucky enough to meet many of them, I’m not a person who struggles to meet people and as another move approaches I’m anxious of how i will adapt to a new city. The only advice i can offer people is don’t give up, London is a tough cookie but she is worth breaking. Join a club, get a random job in an events space, rock up to networking events solo… it will be worth it. Good luck

    • Thanks Alice, I really agree with you! After moving back home and getting my thoughts together, I think I’m ready to move to London permanently and feeling excited about the challenge. Thank you for the advice, I definitely think I’ll join a club/sports club – that’d be fun!

      Laura, thank you, it’s really great to hear from someone with similar feelings. I know the feeling though, it’s difficult not being able to just ‘pop around’ someone’s house isn’t it? I can’t wait to have some flat mates to live with again. Don’t feel like you’re begging for attention, London is a huge place and it’s natural to feel a bit lost at times I think. Keeping busy is definitely the way to go!

  6. Diep Gem

    Thank you Natasha for this wonderful post. Im in my third week in London and feel lonely just now.. Trying to pull my thoughts together. I have been dreaming of living here for too long. And now im here, stuck in my room and the sun outside doesnt appeal me anymore.. But its a waste of time right? I miss “pop around” with my buddies.. Better figure this out, get a job and keep myself busy. Thanks again for the same thoughts, and thanks to other commenters as well.

  7. Dave

    Not quite sure why I’m posting except to say I’m in the same boat (does “You’re not alone” help?)

    I moved to London properly last December but moved in with my girlfriend and we’ve just broken up. What friends I have are mostly at home, many miles away across the sea and insecurity stops me from making new friends easily. Add to that, most of those I’d started to make in London will now be split between me and my ex.

    I need to meet some new people, but work away all week so only really have the weekends when everyone seems to be with their existing friends. It feels so hopeless. At the weekend I started having such morbid thoughts, thoughts I haven’t had since I was a teenager. I had to force myself outside to the park (amidst all the happy couples and friends) and for a walk just to get some fresh air and exercise to try and lift my mood. It helped for a bit, but was only really a sticky-plaster.

    Also I hope I’m not just feeling sorry for myself when I say I think it’s even worse for guys than it is for girls. If you’re a girl, random guys (and girls?) will come up and talk to you. Make the most of that. I just wish I had the balls to be one of those guys!

    Gotta keep positive (yes, do as I say, not as I do!! 🙂 )

    • Oh Dave, I’m sorry to hear about your ex. I really understand though, having just been dumped myself! It is hard enough in a new city without having to deal with relationship troubles too. I think it’s also really difficult to make friends when you’re working.

      You’re alone alone too though! Of course, we’ll get through all this. I am moving back to London in 3 weeks, and have plans to join some sports clubs to try and make friends and see people, that might be an idea for you? Or asking your work mates out for a drink perhaps. The walking is good, I’m finding exercise really helpful lately – keep at it.

      Keep positive, yes! The internet friends are here for you Dave 🙂

      P.S. When it’s very creepy men in clubs who don’t stop bothering you… sometimes I’d rather be left alone!

      • Dave

        Sorry for the slightly belated reply. Thanks for taking the time to respond though.

        I have tried asking workmates out for a drink at the weekend once or twice but like me, they work away a lot during the week, so weekends are the times to see their ‘real’ friends I guess.

        Also, I haven’t managed to keep up with the exercise unfortunately – good intentions and all that. Seeing this reminded me that I should get back at it though so fingers crossed.

        Still not sure I’m sold on the being left alone bit. I hear that from a lot of women, but oddly the ones who never get hit on are never happy that they’re always left alone!

    • Ronnie

      Thats inspiring…. even I had to force myself out of my room to avoid those morbid thoughts as well. But this weekend I could not. you are right, its much harder for a guy and an introvert like me!! I feel sick and probably would go back, its so hard to find genuin people here… everyone is so busy and self oriented..

  8. Thanks for all your lovely and supportive comments on here guys, I really appreciate them. Perhaps if we’re all lonely in London, we should all meet up and be less lonely over coffee! 🙂

  9. Nick

    As a continental European, it was the first thing I noticed arriving in London.
    I think it has to do with the way the city is structured, not its inhabitants who are IMO actually more friendly than the rest of Europe.

    It comes down to having an infrastructure that favors socialism vs individualism to me. London is the essence of the individualist city where everybody is just out for himself. Also the sense of community is lost because everybody comes from somewhere else.

    It is a great city, don’t get me wrong, it has some kind of action you can only find in large cities. That said I would never live there permanently. I think the only people who would live here real happily are born and bred londoners with their entire family and large friend circle there.

  10. Angie

    what about you got to book an appointment a month in advance to meet a friend?
    Has been almost 4 years, I remember how excited I was when I first came.. dreaming at all the opportunity I could have here… well I guess you need to be really a strong person to live in london, or you need to be in a relationship…
    I’m thinking to quit London, the city is not for me.

  11. Dave

    Angie I feel your pain on that one. When I was back home I liked being able to speak to someone in work on Friday afternoon and suggest a drink afterwards, or to text my mate on Saturday and suggest something for Saturday night. In London it’s like everybody is booked up for the next 6 weeks!!

    I hope you don’t give up on London. I just refuse to believe that in a city of 8 million people there aren’t a handful of others out there in the same boat as me, and that I have to bump into them eventually!

  12. vicki

    hi everyone
    im reading this as im about to embark on moving to London in 20 days and am not quite sure how to feel!!!
    can anybody suggest the best ways that they have managed to finally meet people easily? im going to be living around London bridge so feel im less likely to get a sense of community than if I was living in a smaller commuter area, so any help will be amazing!!

  13. Jo

    I moved here one year ago. I moved in with my boyfriend almost immediately and was working the second day I arrived so I was really busy at first. I think the momentum of everything swept me along for a little while, I felt like I was moving forwards and being “good at London”. At Christmas, I went back to Australia for Christmas for three weeks. I think thats when I noticed it…that difference, you know. Like having friends everywhere, and being able to walk to their houses or get out of the grey city and hang out in the suburbs and just that sense of people who really know you being there.
    I completely agree with everyone who writes that you have to ‘book in’ coffee or a drink with people like a month in advance because of the sheer size and bustle of London. You spend so much time on the tube you cant navigate the city at all. It took me months to realise how close Kings Cross was to my house near old street! Im a teacher, so I’m lucky that I have a nice workplace. And I live with my boyfriend which is great too. But I get so lonely all the time thinking of living here long term….it makes me miserable because I feel like Im in this big social place but I dont know anybody.
    xxxxx

  14. Hayley

    Hi everyone,
    I’ve just moved to London (2 weeks ago). Although I have moved in with my partner and housemates, I’m already starting to experience twinges of loneliness. I’m currently looking for a job, which means that although it has only been two weeks, I have been alone for the majority of it as my partner and his housemates are at work most of the day and my partner has been away most weekends! Although I love my partner dearly, I don’t want to revolve my whole life around him… that would probably do his head in too!
    I’m used to living in friendly and outgoing Bristol, in the West Country where life is at a slower pace and people regularly strike up conversations with people they have just met. Im already starting to miss the simple things like being able to just pop inside my friends houses for a cup of tea and chat and am hoping to build that kind of relationship with people in London but London feels quite a cold place and without the opportunity of building relationships through being in a work environment, I get the feeling that making solid friendships here is going to require time and work.
    There are websites like ‘city socialiser’ for people wanting to make friendships. The users of the site host or attend events/ activities and if you like doing those activities you go to the event and meet like minded people. However, this comes at a premium of £17 per month and with using savings to survive until I find a job, that is a hefty premium to pay. However, I would like to propose setting up a group on Facebook which does the same thing, but for free? Would anybody be interested in joining?

    • vicki

      Hey sweetie!
      I know it must be so hard for you and you must feel quite isolated especially as you don’t have a work gang to build with but… I moved here from wales 4 weeks ago and I find that even with a works gang it is still the same so don’t worry about the whole work thing… that will come with time!
      city socialiser is costing but if you go to meet ups.co.uk that is free and obviously if its a meet up that you need tickets you obviously have to pay for that but nothing else.. no subscription fees or anything.
      alternatively, I have just moved here so if you want to grab a coffee, or go for a walk etc etc give me a shout!!!!

  15. Chinasa

    I have been in London for a year now and the loneliness is killing I must admit. Feels a bit relieve to know there are some like me as I have been wondering if I am not doing the right things. Though I haven’t got a permanent job but I hang out a lot, I go to pubs, some sports events and none ain’t helping. Just getting tired of it.

  16. Juanita Nebuoh

    Yeah I lived in London for two years. I found it very lonely.
    I even met native Londoners through social clubs that were very lonely themselves. Even so called social clubs are very fickle place for making friends as often people don’t show up or you might see them once but never again.

    I think unless you are a very very extroverted person or you already have alot of family there or you come from a society where there is a strong sense of community e.g Asian. You will find it very difficult living there.

    Alternatively I think it is best if you go there as a university student. That way you will have more opportunities to meet people that you can keep in contact with after you leave university. I think if you go there after university as a worker you will find it very difficult.

    Even at work people didn’t talk much. They pretty much stuck to themselves. Their main focus was on getting up the career ladder. I don’t recommend looking for friends at work. Or even if they are friendly it is very cliquey and superficial. If at any point you end up doing better than them/get promoted at work they will stop being your friend. I observed this with my own eyes with other people. The work environment in London is a very competitive place.

    Even though there is a lot to do in London you can still get bored. On Mondays at work people were always so depressed and moody. It was bizarre.

    I also hated the drinking culture. You can’t really get to know people while they are drunk. It is like a different personality. But yet they never want to discuss why it is as a nation they drink so much.

    If I didn’t have my husband I think I would find it very difficult living there as a single person.

    In London there is no sense of community . It is very individualistic . You should go there to work, nothing more.

    After two years I only made about 2 good friends.

    I think London is only an exciting place for native Londoners that have lived there for generations and therefore well connected.

    I also hated living in such small space for so much money. It is a total rip off.
    I hated the damp and the cold weather and the okay summers.

    Family and friends are what making anywhere worthwhile to live. I think alot of people are attracted to London because of all the buildings and pretty things to see and shopping but at the end of the day if you don’t have people to share it with it is meaningless.

    I would definitely visit London but I wouldn’t live there.

    Also the thing is that Londoners are so reserved that you will never know that they are lonely too. Trust me you are not alone. There are lots of people that feel the same way you do.

  17. It is exactly what you say. London is a mean place to live with mean snapping people who would fight over a seat in the metro yet shamelessly pretending and covering themselves with scam metro paper or a phone not to see a pregnant lady next to them. It is expensive, dirty, stressful. During the weekends if you live here for long enough there is not much to do, expect maybe spending money because everything is just so horribly expensive. The housing situation now is so terrible that to rent a single room in a shark at you must pay over 700£. I got stuck in here for six years now and I must say I hate every day in here. If not my partner and my house I would be long gone from here. Which will happen soon anyway. Good luck and you are not the only one.

    • Thanks for your comment Mika. I do feel that it’s not quite as bad as you say. And I think for every person who ignores a pregnant lady that makes me all the more likely to step up and intervene, etc. There are still lots of lovely people in London that buck the trend. And there’s loads to do in London, far more than anywhere else in the UK. While it may be expensive, stressful and dirty, it is in many places vibrant and stunning.

      Of course, if you really do feel like that maybe it would be worth moving somewhere quieter and cleaner 🙂 I certainly will when I have the chance, but after 3 years in London now I’ve come to really enjoy it. I won’t be here forever – but I have learnt to enjoy it. I’ve found that what is far more important for being happy where you live is not just the city, but the house where you live, people around you that can support you, and having a fulfilling job with time off to relax too. I hope you can find that too.

  18. Fabian

    I have created a not-for-profit website for those who feel lonely and vulnerable in London to give each-other support: http://s-o-s-lonelyinlondon.com/
    I did this because there is currently no other forum offering this service and I believe there is a great need for one.
    Please share if you feel this may be of assistance to someone.
    Thank you.

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