...what am I supposed to do with independence? You know what 'independence' is? 'Independence' is staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night with your fingernails digging into the palms of your hand. 'Independence' is realising that the only person you've spoken to all day is the man in the off-licence. 'Independence' is a value meal in the basement of Burger King on a Saturday afternoon. When Alice talks about 'independence' she means something completely different. 'Independence' is a luxury of all those people who are too confident, and busy, and popular, and attractive to be just plain old 'lonely'.That is Brian Jackson speaking and he wishes nothing more than to have a romantic relationship with Alice Harbinson, who says she hasn't got the time for that, that she values her independence too much.
And make no mistake, lonely is absolutely the worst thing to be. Tell someone that you've got a drink problem, or an eating disorder, or your dad died when you were a kid even, and you can almost see their eyes light up with the sheer fascinating drama and pathos of it all, because you've got an issue, something for them to get involved in, to talk about and analyse and discuss and maybe even cure. But tell someone you're lonely and of course they'll seem sympathetic, but look very carefully and you'll see one hand snaking behind their back, groping for the door handle, ready to make a run for it, as if loneliness itself were contagious. Because being lonely is just so banal, so shaming, so plain and dull and ugly.
The funny thing about these two fictional characters in David Nicholls's Starter for Ten is how I can relate to both of them, however different from each other they may be.