Monday, April 14, 2008

Going at it alone

One of the biggest contrasts between me five years ago and me now is my comfort in doing things alone.


To clarify, I've not evolved into an introvert in that time. Many a questionnaire has categorized me into the extravert pile, and I have a good circle of friends. To me, it is more a matter of confidence.

As an adolescent, a Saturday alone was nearly as horrific as it could get, and would institute a stint of self-pity, including the requisite rambling diary entry about how horribly lonely life is. Things changed, however, when I moved to the big city in my third year of university (after doing two years at a small local college). 

You all know the story of the big fish in the small pond who suddenly finds themselves in the ocean. I was that flounder, swapped from my little tank (a graduating class of 70) to a wide ocean (a university with 30,000). Not to mention that, by virtue of entering in my 3rd year, I was attempting to intrude of well-established social circles without the advantage of dorm life. And that even 3rd year psychology classes remained enormous. And that I, for some odd reason, went to the university 1000 km away from the choice of all my friends.

At first, there was a lot of solo movie nights, as well as full forced diving into studying. And while, as time passed, friendships became to emerge, I began to see the need to take matters into my own hands, in order to prevent myself from being an utter hermit. Thus began my random exploration days, in which I would hop on a bus to an area of the city I had yet to venture to, with no plans other than a little mindless people-watching and wandering.

These few hour excursions showed me that being seen in public alone was not so humiliating experience as predicted. In the years that followed, I gradually reached out my feelers a little further-- going to movies or restaurants solo-- even when I moved again to a city where I already had an established social network. My spontaneous walks with my headphones and my camera have become a solace of sorts. Something about being with oneself when out of your typical comfort zone is really reassuring.

Two summers ago, I hopped on a plane to LA a few days prior to a conference, with a hostel booking and a few random plans. The anonymity as I roamed the streets and the knowledge that my decisions were 100% my own in the moment were amazing. And so I sat on the beach at 8am with a coffee to watch a children's surf school, and went out drinking with a bunch of Brits I'd only met moments before-- simply because I wanted to and I could.

Sure, there are disadvantages. In many cases, I would certainly rather be in the company of others-- but I've generally come to the conclusion that I'm not going to let their presence or absence restrict me from doing what I want to do. For instance, this weekend, at the last minute, the Duke's looming paper restricted him from coming to a concert with me. The time span was too short to find a friend to go with, so I sold the extra ticket, and went to see the John Butler Trio on my own. Was I cursing my decision when I had to do aimless wandering around the crowd waiting for the band to start? Maybe a little. But I just tucked myself into a crowd of people, and when the first note hit the air, I couldn't have cared less. The music hit my ears just as deliciously as it would have with a friend beside me, and I quickly melded into the crowd of people, lost in the music. 
(Though having to move from my perfect line of sight because some asshat wouldn't stop touching me wasn't appreciated-- just because I'm dancing doesn't mean it is directed at you.)

It seems to me that it is only being out of your routine that you truly learn how to trust yourself. It can be so easy to rely on others to help you adapt-- but then you really never know if it was you or not. 
One of the clearest moments I ever had was walking back to my dorms last summer through the thick Texan air after a torrential downpour had stranded me at a coffee shop for an hour. As I watched the lightening bolts shoot horizontally across the sky, it occurred to me that nothing about the current moment tied me to my everyday life-- I was thousands of miles from home and any of my usual social ties. Yet, I so strongly felt like me. As though I finally realized that my self is more consistent and real than anything you could throw at it.

31 comments:

Arielle said...

This is scarily similar to something that I went through about 5 years ago when I went to go study abroad in Australia. I learned a lot from the experience and to this day I too think my newfound independence is one of the biggest differences between the way I was and the way I am now.

Katelin said...

I definitely went through times like this too. I was always afraid of doing stuff on my own until I realized it's not all that bad.

Surfergrrl said...

I love your fierce independence!! (even though you weren't totally alone in LA!) :) I think it's a good frame of mind to be in regardless of being in a relationship or not. Being grounded to who you are.

rs27 said...

I love independence. Hence the reason I love 4th of July and Kelly Clarkson.

distractedspunk said...

I think...this may be one of the reasons we understand each other so well.

Also, beautifully written.

Hope said...

I have found that I need that time alone, especially when I feel out of touch with myself. A walk or a movie alone restores me.

Miriam D said...

Great post! I can relate because now that I'm not working full time, I find I have a lot of time to myself to do the things that I want.

I kind of love it. It's nice not to be tied down to anyone but yourself.

Ant said...

I used to pine for someone to share in the beautiful moments of life with me.

I now pine for everyone to piss off, and let me enjoy the beautiful moments of life on my own.

And so the cycle of growing-up, shedding friends and becoming sole ruler of yourself continues...

thestoryofagirl said...

I loved this so much. I usually hate going to the store without B, much less anything big without him. But I'm often forced to, if he doesn't want to go. I find myself out of my comfort zone, yet handling and dealing with things like I would. I am my own person, and it's made me realize that you can't love someone who isn't.

Michelle & the City said...

i would say i've gone thru a similar transformation, but only really in the last year or so. i find myself not absolutely HATING being on my own or living alone and that in itself is a feat.

i think you can learn so much about yourself when you spend time alone. and that is definitely a good thing :)

Beth said...

You've become comfortable with your own soul, your own company. It's a wonderful gift.

Deutlich said...

Yeah. Um. John Butler Trio?

LOVE. THEM.

I SO would've gone with you to that show.

Seriously.

Alas, i understand the circumstances and would've done the exact same thing. There's something to be noted about independence.

Truly.

WiscoBlonde said...

You sound like me! I went from HS class size 45 to University size 42,000!!! I love it!

chasinglibby said...

i so get this post because as i've said many a time...i so embrace my introvertedness. there is something so...freeing about feeling in control of what you want to do, when.

Psychgrad said...

This line really resonates with me: It seems to me that it is only being out of your routine that you truly learn how to trust yourself.

I feel like this is lacking in my life. For me, I don't think it's an issue of being alone or with someone. More of an issue of having/taking the opportunity to be out of my routine. I think it's that I worry about how stepping away from a routine will affect my productivity. But, in hindsight, perhaps not stepping away is more detrimental.

Dexter Colt said...

I, too, have experienced life in many different "bodies of water." Maybe it is the psychology background that drove me to experiment in the area of solo-activity. I soon found out that the soloist has a unique opportunity to experience life without the worry of being socially accepted. It is like you get to be neutral in a world of opposites.

And, I like the mystery it affords me.

Yoda said...

"Going at it alone"

The post title forced my mind into the gutter and it never quite make it out.

Thanks.

Valerie said...

I feel like I'm kind of regressing in this respect. I used to want people to leave me the hell alone, and now I can't spend a night alone without getting lonely.

Tin Ma'am said...

I definitely went through those moments when i first went off to college and left my home state of California for some place completely different.

captain corky said...

I enjoy being by myself, but I think I've gotten a bit to comfortable with it. What's it life... out there? ;)

EF said...

Like Dori sez (ms.fish) "just keep swimming, just keep swimming"

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

This reaffirmed the validity of some recent decisions.

Thanks!

Sheila said...

Wow, I know many a person, years older than you, that still do not like to do anything alone. Years ago, I too learned that doing things alone isn't so bad, in fact it can be quite pleasant!

brookem said...

hello my dear. i relate so much to this post. i too, fully enjoy and take solace in some good, well spent, alone time. i think it's so important to spend time with just ourselves. for me, it helps to keep me grounded, helps to keep the "authentic" me in check.

Abbey said...

I think it comes with age. Course, I guess confidence isn't assured with age...so maybe it is both. I know that the year I moved to THe Place Where Turning Signals Are A Sign Of Weakness, I was all alone, hated the city, and had to find a way to survive. I did it, and I've grown a since of confidence and independence never before seen in me.

Kiera said...

I remember the first time I went to the movies by myself. It really wasn't the devastating experience I thought it would be. I felt the same about eating myself at a restaurant until I had to do it for the first time during a lunch break from work. Again, it wasn't a bad experience. Now I find solace in me time. If no one wants to be a particular movie with me, I'll go at it alone, and it's still pleasant.

Jocelyn said...

It seems like the hardest alone thing to conquer, at least for me, is entering an unknown restaurant and eating alone.

Mama Zen said...

Amazing post! I love the conclusion!

sequined said...

I've gotten to really like doing my own thing. Living alone in Germany, I can get a coffee when I want, traipse around town when I want, read a book when I want, etc. When I have visitors or travel plans with people it's fun and thrilling, but it kind of cramps my style! I'll be glad to get back to a balance when I move back to the States eventually.

Therapeutic Ramblings said...

One thing I've learned to love is spending time by myself. I've gone early to conferences, taken gambling trips solo, etc. I always meet people on my travelers, which often wouldn't happen if I brought along someone. There is something to be said to not have that 'buffer' there, often used as a distraction. Doing things alone lets me really stay connected.

Mimi aka pz5wjj said...

It is hard making the leap to go solo on occasion.

Now, I love my "me" time!