Monday, April 5, 2010

One: It's Not the Loneliest Number

I was in Washington, DC for the cherry blossom festival this past week, and while I was indulging my senses in the gorgeous pink and white flowers, I was also fighting one hell of a crowd. I did the majority of my sight seeing alone, as the friends I was visiting were working during the day midweek.

I got a little sad when my Kansas friends couldn't see Dorothy's ruby red slippers at the Smithsonian with me and I had to ask a stranger to take my picture. I thought, Well this sucks, would be nice to have someone check out the Declaration of Independence with. But then I remembered: Wait, I didn't ask anyone to accompany me on this trip.

I took as much time as I wanted - I savored every little detail of Abraham Lincoln's fascinating life at my own pace. I didn't have to worry that, with my limited time in DC, I wouldn't be able to see what I wanted to see or accommodate someone else's schedule. I've traveled a descent amount - with family, with a significant other, with a best friend, with a large group - so traveling on my own was new, exciting, different, rewarding, and eye opening.

I felt at once liberated (as I listened to practically every family and couple bickering - I'm hot, I'm tired, I hate this place, I'm bored, I'm hungry, I need to pee, I don't want to go there) and yet wistful - wouldn't it be nice to kiss someone under the cherry blossom tree?

Regardless, being alone is important. Taking time out of the hustle and bustle of every day life, and soaking in some solitude really drives you to get comfortable in your own skin. Silence can be deafening, especially when all you have are the crazy thoughts bouncing around in your own head. But through solitude (and this is not loneliness, mind you), important character development takes place.

In April of 2008, I moved into my little Brooklyn apartment. From this point onward for the majority of the time, I've eaten most meals alone, driven in the car alone, flown alone, and slept alone. After 2 years of this default setting on my life, I find that not only am I comfortable with 'alone,' I forget about it or even crave it after awhile. At first, the tuna sandwich dinner dates with Brian Williams were sad. In college, I lived in a huge dorm at a large university, lived with 80 women in a sorority house for 2 years, and then 4 women my final year at school. I wasn't used to this 'alone' thing, especially at meal times. In dorms and sororities, there was always someone around to go to Target with, to eat with, to watch reruns of America's Next Top Model with. But post-college, you have to figure out a lot of crap on your own, alone. And that's the best way to do it.

Doing things on your own is essential in the formation of independence. This has always been a crucial element to me - and not the "I don't need you or anybody else" attitude, I mean the healthy I know I can do this by myself with my big girl panties on mindset. I've had friends afraid to fly alone, pee alone, go to a party alone, or a wedding alone, or eat at a restaurant alone, or try something new alone, or move to a new city alone. I've done all of the above, and at first it looks a little scary from the top, but once you dive in, it's rewarding as hell. Your survival insticts skyrocket - you know that no matter what, you'll be ok.

I scrape the ice off my own car, do my own home repairs, cook my own food, do my own laundry, unclog my own toilet; it was always something I knew in my heart that I wanted to do post-college. Live as self-sufficiently as possible to know that I can do it. When/if the time ever comes, my partner won't be stuck taking care of me in a helpless sense, and I'll be better equipped to take care of him.

Doing things on your own forces you to open up to new people (if you test in the 98% percentile for extravertedness like me, sometimes you just want to engage strangers in a conversation). On my train ride from DC to Baltimore, I sat next to a fascinating man who had recently immigrated from Uganda. If I had been with a companion, perhaps I wouldn't have conversed with this man (hi David!), and we wouldn't have touched each other's lives. When you're alone, branching off to speak to someone else becomes desirable, and there's nothing more fascniating in life than interacting with someone comlpetely different than you.

Being alone makes you confident. You learn weird and interesting things about yourself, you have to get comfortable with why you are alone as well - maybe it's the lifestyle you chose? Some friends you drove away? An intolerance for people? Or just a desire to live a bit selfishly, doing only what you want when you want to? Being alone helps you to really develop your own identity, because other individulas do affect our personalities and mold us. Taking time to reflect allows you to cease being simply reactive, and allows for deeper, more assertion of your beliefs and values.

In my younger years, I thought people that did things alone were sort of weird. What about the cat ladies of the world? Your crazy unmarried aunt? I now realize that - wait a minute - maybe these people chose to be alone as I choose it at times. There are plenty of wonderful men in the world, but right now I'm choosing not to link my life up with someone else in that manner. I never really knew that was a choice growing up. I guess Disney sort of brainwashed me that if I chose to be alone, something was wrong with me. While I do think life is better with friends and others to compliment you, it's been interesting for me to learn as an adult that being alone is not weird and can actually be a preference and not a punishment for sucking at life.

Of course being alone has it's downsides - there have been times I've just started eating dinner without my family when I'm at home because I'm truly not used to waiting for anyone else before I eat. If you ever do want a partner or family, recongizing that the default lifestyle of solitutde is temporary is essential. It's hard for people who have only followed their personal schedule to suddenly align to the schedule of others, but the success of any relationship or friendship is contigent on compromise and patience, skills that are not acquired through solitude.

Solitude makes you appreciate good people even more. After spending a descent amount of time alone post-college, I've come to appreciate the fact that I'd prefer to spend my time around a small group of fantastic people. Solitude has mellowed me out - I don't need to be in a raging bar to get my 'extroverted' fix. While my favorite memories involve people, and while I'd prefer to travel, eat, and watch a movie with a companion, knowing that I'm ok doing things on my own is a goal I'm proud I've accomplished. Solitude has made me grateful for the friends that enrich my life, has given me inner peace, and has helped develop my character in a way that only I can - from within.

I looked always outside of myself to see
what I could make the world give me instead
of looking within myself to see what was there.

-Belle Livingstone


  1. You appear to be wise beyond your years. Learning your own existence will only help you along the way.

  2. This spoke to me so incredibly clear. I feel the same way- I love doing things alone, Europe for two months..l.a., new york- I'm always grateful for the company, friends, fam and love that I have but there's bliss in solitude. I've been thinking I need to take a solo trip soon...