Being Alone Doesn’t Have to Mean Being Lonely

I think this is the toughest part about the end of a relationship. Regardless of how many friends you have, or how close you are with your family or if you live in a big, vibrant city full of potential acquaintances, mentors, loves, colleagues, enemies and best friends, you are so used to leaning on just one special person and sharing everything with him. All of your plans used to include him, even if it was just stopping over at his place after your other plans. Whether it’s because you’ve had a bad day or a great day or you’re bored or you see a funny looking dog that you want to snap a photo of, he (or she) is the one person that you want to share it with. But that person no longer wants to talk to you. Instead of passing a cool new bakery in your neighborhood and thinking “we should come here sometime,” it is now “I wonder if I could get one of my friends to commit to coming over to my neighborhood one day so I can try this place” or maybe you have even stopped in alone and decided the line is too long and there are too many children running around to feel comfortable standing there alone (guilty).

Until today, I have literally been nonstop busy since the breakup. I have barely spent any time alone at all. I’m lucky enough to have enough friends and social occasions to partake in that the hardest parts of my day are when I’m alone on the metro or walking home from work because those are the times I’m truly alone in my head, and usually if I’m metroing I’m too annoyed about how slow it’s going or that the people on board are taking up two seats with their tiny bags to think much about my aloneness.

Today, that changed. After spending many days and nights working late, attending happy hours, going on trips, going on hikes and generally making a point to try new things and stay (extremely) busy, I finally found myself alone with no plans and no friends to hang out with. This was deliberate, yet began to feel like a mistake. People would not describe me as a shy person per se, as I tend to be very social and outgoing. But that is when I feel comfortable, and I am not necessarily comfortable when I’m by myself. So finding myself very alone today, I decided to head to the ever-beautiful Eastern Market, which is a(n overpriced) farmer’s market in my neighborhood, on the hunt for some butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and concord grapes. I had no luck, so wandered over to Barracks Row, a strip of mostly bars and restaurants nearby that also houses the marine barracks (hence the name) to the organic grocery story, where I had mixed luck and decided to check out the newest Bayou Bakery on the way home (where I bought nothing because the line was too long and I seemed to be in everyone’s way and felt very self-conscious). I found myself feeling very much alone as my neighborhood tends to become quite busy on weekends, which couples and families shopping at the market and groups of friends taking advantage of bottomless mimosas and brunch on Barracks Row. I was in the thick of it, yet had no real mission or reason to be there and no one to talk to.

Eastern Market
Eastern Market

This is going to be the big hurdle for me during this time of being newly single. Realizing that I can spend an afternoon on a Sunday by myself, and don’t have to feel self-conscious and weird about it. It’s normal to spend time alone. Even when I was in a relationship, of course I spent time alone. Alone time is healthy, and very much needed to rest and recharge. But I feel like being in a relationship somehow allows you to put on a security blanket and carry it around with you throughout your days. It feels like you can go anywhere and talk to anyone and do anything at all that you want, because you have another half out there. Someone who loves you and chose you. Or at least likes you a whole lot. Suddenly, that security blanket is taken away and you have to relearn to be your own security blanket and to love and trust yourself.

Lucy takes Linus' blanket in a Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schultz
Lucy takes Linus’ blanket in a Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schultz

I have spent my life this far doing what I can to be a strong woman. I have educated myself, stayed physically fit, made an effort to form relationships and friendships with people and went to endless parties and dates and on trips where I literally shook with nervousness ahead of time but knew I had to go anyway because I didn’t want to be a person who missed out on things because I wasn’t strong enough or secure enough with myself to do the things I wanted. I remember being in college, on the eve of studying abroad to the Bahamas for the second time, with my favorite professor who I knew well and had done the program with before. My nerves tried to get the best of me. I kept asking myself, why did I sign up for this?! I’m scared, I’m nervous, I don’t know anybody (was not even true), why do I have to go?! I could just stay with my family and be comfortable instead! The answer of course, was that I had to go because I wanted to go and it was good for me. I wanted to spend two weeks of my winter break (in Upstate New York where it is freezing cold in January and snows way too much) studying marine biology in the Bahamas, sunbathing and snorkeling by day, drinking rum and building beach bonfires by night. I went, but I really had to keep myself from running off that plane. I know that sounds ludicrous, but it was hard for me at first. And you know what? I had an amazing time, learned so much and built friendships that I am willing to bet will last a lifetime. I could have missed out on that, but I chose not to. So here I am again, alone with my nerves. They’re trying to make me believe I’m not good enough, and it will be safer to stay where it is comfortable.

Snorkeling in the Florida Keys with a friend who I met studying abroad in the Bahamas.
Snorkeling in the Florida Keys with a friend who I met studying abroad in the Bahamas.

But I am good enough. And you can’t grow if you only do what is comfortable. I may have been unexpectedly thrown into singleness once again, but I will make the best of it and I will grow from it. And I will go to Bayou Bakery again, and order something next time. Though I may be afraid and uncertain, I am also excited to see where this journey takes me. I have always felt that the fall is a wonderful time for new beginnings.

My college roommate, Emily, had a painting that she painted on our dorm room wall for years with this quote on it. I always loved it.
My college roommate, Emily, had a painting that she painted on our dorm room wall for years with this quote on it. I always loved it.

Published by Audrey

Hi! My name is Audrey, otherwise known as Glowstick on trail. I've always been into hiking, adventuring, and the outdoors, but these things took a backseat as I worked on my career in public relations for several years in Washington, D.C. In 2018, I decided that I was discontent with city life. Instead of working on my career, I needed to work on my happiness. So, I reprioritized. I quit my (amazing) job at World Wildlife Fund, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and relocated to beautiful Boulder, Colorado, where I work in climate communications and climb mountains every chance that I get.

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