WE’VE all been the unfortunate individual of our friendship group that is early to a pre-arranged social gathering. We’ve all sat there in an alienating, empty booth at a restaurant, tapping absolute nonsense into our phone and loudly asking for FOUR menus and a LARGE jug of tap water because you swear to God you’re not pathetic and there are other people arriving soon, OKAY?!
I presume all of this to be true of everyone, but then again, perhaps you’re purposely always the late one to avoid this exact problem.
I use the word “problem” to prove a point- that there is still a massive stigma attached to being alone. In addition, just to be difficult, this isn’t going to be more-gibberish-from-Georgia* telling you how great and totally enlightening being alone is- it actually really fucking sucks sometimes, but that’s largely because we’ve been conditioned to believe that one’s misery and perceived failure-at-life correlates with the state of being alone.
Consider this. Or rather, take my word for it because I’m not in the mood for an argument right now. Entire industries have been constructed around our anxieties about being alone. Take the gym. No longer is it good enough for your wellbeing to go out for the occasional lone run, instead it makes far more sense for you to spend £30 a month pedalling furiously on a stationary bike amongst other sweaty strangers whilst an impossibly muscly blonde who you suspect is on steroids or acid, yells words of tough love (read “abuse”) from the front of the room. Suffice to say, I do not have a gym membership out of protest against such inhumanity.
Moving back home during my last year of university, where I had grown so used to just being around people, was the toughest adjustment of my life thus far (LOL, I’ll let you know how graduate life goes). No longer was I over-cooking pasta with my best friend for dinner, or ranting about my day to my housemates, drowning our sorrows in cheap wine from the corner shop. Instead, I was eating dinner alone, spending my evenings writing essays that didn’t have to be in for weeks and jumping every time my phone buzzed. To make matters worse, as of this week, it has been approximately 6 months since I have stepped foot in a nightclub that isn’t just a bar playing shit Spotify playlists. (Spare a thought for all of those club-goers missing out on my signature dance moves- tragic, I know).
I did a lot of desperate things to make the ache in my chest (caused either by years of second-hand fumes from club smoking areas or my chronic anxiety) go away. Admittedly, some of them weren’t all bad. My bond with my brother grew stronger, and I don’t know quite how I would have survived this past year without our 11pm DMCs (which is essentially just him taking pictures of himself in my room, which has the best selfie lighting, FYI.) Off the back of that, however, I tried to live my life vicariously through him and ended up concocting some dishonest relationships and a questionable reputation to boot (contrary to popular belief, eighteen-year-olds do not think 21-year-olds living at home with their parents are even the slightest bit edgy.)
Quickly getting sick of staring at the same four walls that have boxed me in since I was eight years old and realising there was no one over the age of 20 within a five-mile radius to hang out with, I decided to go rogue. Some self-righteous souls decide to travel the world or open their own businesses, but barely having enough money for a bus journey, I was forced to start small. First, it was coffee. This was more difficult than it sounds, since the staff had seen me there on multiple dates before, and were now watching me in pity as I scooped the froth from my soya latte and wiped coffee stains from whatever culturally relevant book I was reading.
Then there was extensive walking or, depending on how shit I feel about myself on any given day, running. Either is deemed acceptable because the latter makes you seem fitter than you actually are or ever will be and the former, especially if walking with a rampant look of impatience with headphones plugged in, makes it look like you have somewhere to go.
This is all rather bemusing to a lot of people I tell of my solo adventures. When I informed my friends I was going out for a walk around Amsterdam’s Red Light District (which admittedly, wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had- I got heckled twice and aggressively asked about my views on God once) they were worried about my mental state, that I had become “careless” in my general outlook on life. I’m still trying to evaluate to what extent this is a negative thing.
Even when we believe ourselves to be alone, we’re kidding ourselves (because life is full of jokes like that). Just having Tinder or stating that you’re “dating” or “hooking up” is almost a requirement of single status- you can’t just “be single” without having some kind of an excuse for acquiring such an unfortunate label.
The humble selfie, a picture which, by its very nature is meant to portray the subject in a solitary state, is viewed by hundreds on social media with the intention of the subject being liked and accepted by the society that lies beyond their front camera lens.
I think we forget that sometimes, being on your own is when you meet the best kinds of people. Starting sixth form and university with no hand to hold and no hole to crawl into, I met my best friends who I’m lucky to still be stuck with today. In adulthood, perhaps our most genuine connections are formed when we’re on our own because people see us at our barest and most honest; there are no school cliques or murky pasts which we can hide behind.
It’s impossible to tell whether this one-woman saga has a happy ending. Let’s say you “find yourself” but you leave everyone that cared about you behind in the process. Cutting yourself off from everyone around you probably won’t make you any happier, which is why I need to clarify that I wouldn’t recommend this whole “being alone” thing to anyone. It isn’t the latest trend I read about in a magazine far glossier than my life, it’s just a bridge I felt I had to cross to get to the other side, to speak in very unoriginal metaphors.
There seems to be an incessant need by the likes of “spiritual” bloggers and general bullshitters to separate “being alone” from “loneliness.” Being alone is certainly not as liberating as it sounds, at least at first, and no matter how hard you try, there’s always going to be an element of “loneliness” to the act of “being alone.”
Exhibit A: So far, I’m really crap at being alone. Truth be told, most of my time in solitude is spent messaging my best friend about being alone or tweeting something that is obviously hilarious. But my hope is that I get better with time, and I can reintegrate myself back into civil society knowing that I am comfortable with myself, even if everyone else isn’t.