Essays & Confessions

5 Thoughts On Being Alone, In No Particular Order

By | Tuesday, April 18, 2017

1. On Saturday, I took myself out for a long, lazy day of activities. It was the first day in longer than I can remember in which I didn’t just end up by myself, or complete one isolated errand on my own out of efficiency, but rather set out with the explicit intention of an extended date with myself. I started with a long city walk accompanied by some of my favorite “sunny day” music, then a lunch at the bar of one of my favorite restaurants with a book and a single class of wine (which the bartender gifted me, one of the most pleasant surprises you can have on a solo day!), followed by another long walk to see a weepy movie by myself with popcorn and a big, icy Diet Coke, and ending with another long walk to grab some heavily-discounted shorts and a bouquet of flowers for the week. It was a day that felt, in many ways, restorative — it had been a few weeks of heavy ups and downs at work (which ended very much on an up!), and there was something incredibly nice about spending that time with myself at that moment, when I needed more than anything to savor the joy in a passive way, to be happy without having to explicitly think about what I was happy about. Sometimes, it’s just nice to bathe in the feeling of not being actively worried about something, and there is no one better to do that with than yourself.

2. The thing I noticed most on my big day alone was how much more acutely I felt everything. As someone who is generally extroverted, and loves the company of others, it’s easy for me to so enjoy the intense pleasures of a dinner party or a long conversation that I forget just how fulfilling a sensory experience a day alone can be. Reading my book at lunch, I noticed (and underlined) passages I enjoyed more, I tasted my food more acutely, and I had a great little conversation with the bartender. The movie felt more intense, and the experience of crying alone in a darkened theater was frankly romantic.

The shopping alone, the luxurious feeling of being able to try on as many things as you want and truly decide what you like without the unspoken pressure of a shopping partner — it all felt novel. And while, yes, I do things alone frequently, almost never do I string them together and condense them into a truly solo day, in which I’m treating myself with the care and attention I’d treat someone I’m newly dating. And even just the experience of walking for long, uninterrupted hours, knowing that I had nowhere to rush off to if I didn’t want to, changed the experience of walking itself. I felt more energetic than I had in months.

3. I would be lying if I said that my day alone was a heavily-budgeted one — I ended up spending around $70, including the shorts and bouquet. But I also was surprised to discover how much more enjoyment I got out of every dollar I spent. In no way do I regret any moment of that day, and more than that, the joy of those activities made me realize how much of the spending remorse I do have comes from the mild fugue state induced by company. When we’re out with others, we spend more than we otherwise would simply out of an unspoken, even un-thought sense of keeping up. We order more food than we eat, we get more drinks than we need, we buy items when someone else wants to run into a store, we dull our senses from the heightened excitement of other people and therefore need more to feel less. And while I will never not love company, never not love the sound of clinking glasses and sated laughter, I must also learn to be wary of how much it will suck you in, how much more of everything it will convince you that you need.

4. It’s something I’ve always known, but I’m shocked at how much my day alone reminded me of the fact that how we feel about ourselves is deeply tied to how much time we spend with ourselves. It’s easy to feel like we are not enough when we are constantly distracted by something, supplemented by someone. I admit that my love of being around other people can often leave me with a subtle feeling that I am not enough by myself, and even make me a bit afraid of my own company for events and activities. I used to love solo travel, used to keep journals for my own pleasure and detail the little things I did — turning days into little stories, heightened and intensified by my aloneness. I used to love being my own narrator, my own documentarian.

After I spent that day alone, I went back and read my old entries from when I first moved to France, and out of necessity spent many day trips around the country entirely by myself. The degree to which I detailed every day, the degree to which I noticed little things and thought enough of them to write them down, makes me a little sad about myself today. I know that the solution is more time alone, more intentional days like that, perhaps even more travel alone if I can afford it. I need to get back to being my own best friend.

5. Maybe the most restorative thing about my day, if I’m being honest, was going an entire day (almost) without speaking. There is something about listening to everything around you, something about being an observer of life, that makes you feel weirdly even more a participant in it. It’s incredibly easy not to notice the vast majority of what is happening around you, or outside of your immediate circle. There are parts of your own commute, your own neighborhood, your own favorite activities, that you will simply block out because you’re too busy inside your own head. And I feel guilty acknowledging it, but when you are someone with a partner and a close circle of friends, you can inadvertently begin to feel like the people you love are the only ones really worth listening to. You can start to unthinkingly tune out everything else, drawing yourself further into your social security blankets, talking over the sound of everything else.

But on Saturday, I listened to everything around me, listened to the people passing, and felt closer to my city than I have since I moved here. I felt alive, and so lucky to be a witness to all this wonderful little stuff.

And I cannot wait to do it again.

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