There was a time when I hated being alone. Growing up in a small town without access to a car or public transit meant that snow days and missed buses would leave me stranded in solitude. It was me in my bedroom with only the elusive Helen for company; the benevolent ghost who was rumored to haunt our century home. I’d cope by lying in bed, pathetically scribbling Death Cab for Cutie lyrics into one of the many journals I’ve maintained over the years, yearning for my friends and freedom.
When I was 16, I didn’t get hired as a counselor at camp. Following almost a decade of blissful and formative summers of campfire smoke, lukewarm fruit punch, and friendship bracelets, this was a devastating blow to my self-confidence. My friends were my camp friends and I knew our relationships would change when they continued on without me. I felt rejected and betrayed by the same community I had come to feel at home in. So instead, I left for a six week stay in a small town in Germany to work at the hotel of my distant relatives; confident that I was going to meet a nice young man named Hans and we’d eat schnitzel in a Biergarten, me in my dirndl dress and he in his lederhosen.
But instead I wrote emails like this:
just becuase i don’t undertsnad people they assume I’m stupid. and its so degrading.. Anyways.. lest juts say I had one of the roughest weeks of my life .. tiring schedules… and the fact that other than people online, I had zero poeple to talk to. I cried everyday. Sent some of the most depressing emails. Wrote emo journal entries… got drunk and bawled in the bathroom of a pub. I seriously talked to no one.
It’s safe to say that my hatred of being alone was at its peak here. What can I say? Sixteen, naïve, and an unapologetic drama queen; I was unable to grasp the privilege and opportunity of being able to work and live abroad. But I’ve also always had a “make the best of it” kind of attitude, and it was on this trip that I decided to adapt to my solitary situation by romanticizing and reveling in it. Cue opening credits.
The funny thing about spending so much time alone is that you begin to see things in yourself and your surroundings that no one else is around to see. Maybe it’s an extrovert thing, but I’ve always been both the audience and the lead in the cinematic version of my life I create when I’m by myself, and this tendency had never been more fully embraced than when I was alone in Germany. I fabricated meaning into mundane events, such as buying Haribo gummy bears at a convenience store, by simply adding the appropriate soundtracks via what now seems like a very clunky iPod mini. I took bike rides through farmers’ fields; reciting lines in my head from contrived, rite-of-passage film trailers like, “She was searching for a new beginning…” or “… it took going away to realize what she had left behind.” I became a storyteller; reliving moments I had witnessed through my signature, drawn-out, typo-ridden emails to friends and family.
What I learned on that trip was independence. It took time, but I grew to appreciate the beauty, power and freedom in being able to do things on my own terms. Go where I want to go; eat where I want to eat. I didn’t fully grasp it then, and this definitely wouldn’t be the last time I’d be in a situation in which I would hate being alone. This was however the first time that I found that I could change my perspective on my aloneness if I really wanted to. And this would save me in years to come and become essential to my survival.
Now, almost a decade later, I crave my alone time. It’s a necessity; one I try to plant firmly in my weekly schedules through “self-care” Google Calendar alerts. Being alone is sacred time; almost spiritual. I light a candle to commence the ceremony. I let in the internal dialogue that needs space and quiet to begin. Or I wander. Sometimes I join a guided walking tour in a new neighborhood, tapping in to a tourist’s sense of wonder and curiosity. I order a Roti. A lox bagel. Hot and Sour soup. And I sit and observe.
I recognize that as I inch closer to adult territory, as I hope it eventually unfolds for me, my ability to be alone when I want to be may be compromised. But I want to hold on to this idea that being alone is not only a gift, but something I need in order to enter the world a better, clearer-headed person. I don’t want that idea to go away. I think I owe this to the world and also to myself.