By Kate Humphrey
Many of us have this notion that doing something like going to the movies alone or eating at a restaurant by yourself automatically makes you a lonely person. We’ve created an environment where we’re constantly told that spending time with other people is how we should spend our lives, but, I fully believe that spending time by yourself helps you become a better version of yourself.
In January of 2016, I left Connecticut for Edinburgh, Scotland. I knew nobody, aside from this one other girl. I was friendly with her, but since we were not that close I knew I would have to branch out and couldn’t rely on her for a social life.
Now, I know what most of you are thinking: God, is this another American girl who studied abroad in Europe for a semester and came back home thinking she’s the most cultured person ever to walk the earth?
No. I mean, yeah, a bit. Admittedly, I did have those cliché moments of wanting to talk about the drinking culture and my travels, but that’s not what sticks out to me the most about my time in Scotland. I think most about how I learned to be comfortable in my aloneness.
At first, not having my usual network of friends was hard. During orientation, I met mostly Americans, but I knew I wanted to expand my social life beyond that comfort zone of sharing a shipping address. So, I made plans with everyone I met during classes. This was great and met a lot of fun people, but it also made me quickly realize that I didn’t need them around me to still be me and enjoy doing what I like to do.
Let’s just say that by venturing out on my own and specifically carving out ‘me time’ gave me a lot of time to think. I was able to think about what I want out of life, and people. And how I was going to become a better version of myself. I also thought a great deal about my weekend plans, and what new excursion awaited me.
First off, I learned I should never rely on someone else’s interest or schedule to make me happy or fulfill me. If I want to do something I’m the only thing holding myself back. I let myself experience the world how I want to experience it and to think about my interests; basically, what makes me existentially happy. If I can’t prioritize what makes me happy, nobody else will.
I learned to value my time on my own terms. Was sitting in a café, between classes, listening to a podcast and gorging myself on bagels really how I wanted to spend the next hour? Probably, because I knew the next day I would have lunch with friends. I figured out how to make those quiet moments mean something to me, and be comfortable being alone in public. I had to balance those peaceful, solitary moments with choatic ones.
By getting a better sense of who I am and what makes me happy has allowed me to understand what I want out of the people in my life. From romantic relationships to friends and even family, I have a more definite sense of what I need to make connections more fulfilling so that all sides of the relationship leaves everyone happy.
Now, of course, I made friends while there and have stories that will be too inappropriate to share with my children because of those friends. The adventures we had together were incredible. The men and women I met helped shape my outlook on life and even allowed me to crave those alone moments.
But why does any of this matter? A big part of why we can be so hesitant to publically display being alone is that we care what others think. Public perception plays into how we perceive ourselves when we are insecure about who we are. But, there has to come the point where you say ‘who cares’ and do what makes you happy. So, take the solo vacation. Go eat at your favorite restaurant only accompanied by a book. Because, in the end, the only one who’s really going to care if you’re by yourself is you. And if you’re happy doing it, then that’s all that matters.