London - Goodness knows, January is a depressing month. Short damp days, the hangover from overspending at Christmas, newspapers and magazines full of pictures of the rich sunning themselves in sunny climes.
For many, the next few weeks are all about nesting, but if, like me, you have no one to nest with, the new year can loom ominously. Having just endured two weeks of being alone — giftless, friendless, family-less — January is even more dispiriting.
Picture me, on New Year’s Eve: in bed with three cats and Bridget Jones on TV. I fell asleep at 11pm and, when I awoke, eagerly activating my BlackBerry, there were zero text messages, not even one from Orange.
I still have an untouched box of posh Christmas crackers because I had no one to grasp the other end with. I received two Christmas cards — one from my agent and one from my editor.
And I kept thinking about Nigella Lawson: I bet she isn’t alone at this time of year. Why am I not only divorced, but utterly friendless? Aren’t friends supposed to be there for you, always, like the women in Sex And The City?
Feeling maudlin, I got out my wedding photos. I realised that of the 50 guests, I’m still in touch with only one friend. The rest have simply vanished.
There is Kerry, once my devoted PA, laughing in one photo with Michelle and Robi. Kerry was my maid of honour, and pretty damn near came on the honeymoon. It’s no underestimation to say I loved Kerry, but I have not seen her since 2011.
We tried to meet for dinner last November, but as she has two young children and a career, it just never happened. In the end, after yet another unreplied to text, I phoned her work colleague to ask whether Kerry was OK, as I hadn’t heard from her. “Oh yes”, she said. “She’s fine.”
Michelle was my deputy editor on a magazine, a feisty, funny blonde with a rock-star boyfriend whose company I always enjoyed. She lent me her villa in Spain for my honeymoon. Then she had twin girls, moved out of London — I think! — and I’ve not heard from her since 2003.
I used to work with Robi, we used to hunt men together and we were always in fits of giggles. We met for a drink during fashion week I would say three years ago. Since? Not a peep.
Of course, I am partly to blame. Take Robi. I wrote a column saying she had upped and left after our drink at a swanky hotel without even offering to pay (my tendency with friends is to have always been the one to pick up the tab).
I wrote that Michelle, when pregnant, measured 4ft around her waist. But still. Beverley, another wedding guest, a friend since 1989, didn’t reply to an invitation to my book launch in 2005, and I haven’t been able to track her down since.
Whenever I spy another guest, Allegra, at the rare fashion parties I go to, she blanks me. Allegra had been a friend since the mid-Nineties. We went to Tuscany on holiday together.
Apparently, she was annoyed with me after I went to her flat for dinner one New Year’s Eve and spat the food out on to my plate, swilling my mouth out with water then spitting it back into the glass. In my defence, however, she’d put bacon in the supposedly vegetarian lentils.
I’ve only made one new friend in the past seven years: Isobel, who lives in the Yorkshire Dales. My age, single and child-free, Isobel and I met when I went to interview her about her fashion business. We stayed in touch due to our mutual love of animals. I asked her to suggest somewhere we could meet for dinner.
“I’ve no idea,” she said. “I’ve not been out to dinner since I moved here six years ago. I’ve not made a single female friend, so tend to stay in.”
This happened to me, too, when I moved to Somerset. My detractors accused me of never going to the pub or joining in, but socialising is exposing when you have no husband or children.
The most hurtful falling out with a friend happened last year. I say falling out, but I wasn’t aware it had even happened until I read a gossip page in the London Evening Standard newspaper. I had been friends with a young man called Jeremy since 1989, when I gave him a job. I found him clever, bright and kind.
I am almost completely deaf, so at work he’d sit next to me, and translate what other people were saying. When he married, I befriended his wife, too, a woman called India. I lent her money, and gave her an expensive Azzedine Alaia skirt.
I employed her to write interviews on my magazine, and later promoted her new book in my newspaper (when I was features editor of the Evening Standard), expressly against my editor’s wishes. She gave a reading at my wedding, while Jeremy was my best man. They had children, and I moved to the country, but still, I would occasionally think about Jeremy, even dream about him, and missed his friendship dreadfully.
We’d once gone to a party given by Puff Daddy, and both found the event so ridiculous we had fallen about laughing. He’d been there for me when I had boyfriend problems.
I gave his two children knitwear. He was an ally during fashion weeks, with his wry, unimpressed humour. But then, nothing. For five years.
And then I read in the Standard that India had called me unspeakable names too vile to print in this paper on Twitter. She also said, hurtfully, that Jeremy “used to laugh at Liz . . . now loathes her”.
She was affronted by a piece I had written about mums who work part-time and live in houses worth millions of pounds.
That moment, the realisation that Jeremy and I would possibly never be friends again, was worse than when I found out my husband was cheating.
As many singletons know, married couples with families only want to be with others just like themselves. It’s a validation. Not because the women fear I will steal their husbands, but because they see me, with no children, no food in the fridge and only two plates, as odd. They have no idea what to say to me, and vice versa.
A few years ago, a couple and their new baby came to stay with me for the weekend, and I only found out later they had called my assistant in the night, asking how to turn on the heating. Their bedroom was too cold for the baby. You see, we no longer fitted — or understood — each other.
On New Year’s Day, two emails did eventually pop into my inbox, wishing me Happy New Year. One from Dawn, whom I have met twice for work, but is always available at the end of a text or an email. And a woman called Trish, who emailed to ask if I was OK. Trish and I have never met, but she emailed me once about an animal rescue problem, and we have kept in touch. But it is interesting that it’s virtual people whom I don’t know who check in with me, not real ones.
When I wrote not long ago about selling my house and having nowhere to go, an actress I have met just once emailed to offer me her land and a room in her farmhouse. When I wrote a piece stating I did not care whether or not I woke up the next day, not one of my friends called me. Eventually, my agent checked in with me. That was it.
I’m not alone in this phenomenon. An acquaintance called Kristiane invited me to dinner, which I thought was lovely, but I soon found out she wanted me to write a review for the cover of her new book. I told her how sad I was to have been dropped by Allegra, but it turns out she had been dropped by her, too: she had got an email, saying: “We have chosen different paths.”
But at least she was properly dumped, while I’ve just puzzled away for years, wondering what on earth I did wrong.
Given the only camaraderie I got over the festive season was virtual, and tired of always going to the cinema by myself (I’m pitifully grateful the Vue in Islington has an automated ticket machine, so there is no longer the shame of saying, “Just one seat, please”), I found myself wondering if I’d be better off finding friends among strangers?
I decided to join one of the burgeoning new websites that are not about finding men, but about finding new friends.
There are many such sites — rent-a-friend, newfriends4u and whosup4 — which must say something about modern society, based as it is around the nuclear family and office acquaintances.
At random I chose newfriends4U. I had to list my hobbies: I put “horses” and “cinema”. I then had to invent an event to invite fellow online friend-seekers to join: I decided on cocktails at the Sanderson Hotel later that week, from 6pm. I invited anyone of my own gender, between 35 and 60. I even started to think about what I was going to wear.
The next day, I have a new email! It says I have a message from a woman called Dominique! Ooh! I log on, and go to her message. I click. The message says, “To read Dominique’s personal message subscribe now!”
Turns out I must make an “easy payment of £49.99” to newfriends4u for six months’ membership, or I can’t actually communicate with anyone else using the site. No chance. I’m funny, kind, generous and interesting, and these sites are for losers, surely? But maybe that is what I am. One of life’s losers.
And this loneliness, friendless thing, can happen to anyone. My oldest sister Clare was once married with two kids and an active social life. When she fell over just before Christmas and broke her hip, there was no one she could call. When she got home from the hospital to her tiny flat, it was cold, without even a bottle of milk.
I know I’m going to end up like that, my only friend a vat of gin. The one confidante I have whom I talk to every day, confide in, is my personal assistant. In a way, she is paid to be my friend, as later I’m sure I will have to pay a carer to talk to me before I go mad with loneliness.
And Beverley, if you are out there, somewhere, anywhere, please contact me. Or at least tell me what I did wrong, so I can try to put it right. - Daily Mail