Alone. Being alone. Feeling alone. Sleeping alone. Dying alone. How are these words making you feel? Perhaps ignoring the wailing of Celine Dion and that Bridget Jones scene – how do you honestly feel about being all by yourself?
Think about how you spend your free time – how often do you sit alone in silence? On the rare occasion you have free time, all to yourself, do you always have the TV on in the background, or are you on Facebook seeing what others are doing that you’re not? Do you keep yourself busy doing endless jobs rather than stopping, resting, just being still, just being alone? Now maybe ask yourself why.
I was chatting to a student after class the other week and my travels came up and she asked me who I’d gone with. I replied, “I went alone.”, and I could see that this unsettled her slightly. I explained that in the 6 months I travelled around India and SE Asia I was only actually a billy-no-mates for about two days and one evening. Such is the nature of backpacking. Yes, I had to make more effort as a solo traveller, but I met so many wonderful people in each and every place which was a huge part of restoring my confidence in the good of people and in the world.
Before I went backpacking, I had done some travelling alone (Sydney, Australia for 3 days). I had also been on work trips in the UK living in a hotel in Powys, North Wales for 2 weeks (the Law is JUST like TV. Honest). I think in London it was more normal to go for lunch out, even dinner, alone, and no one would notice. A lot of my friends had been travelling alone and so when it came to my time to go solo I didn’t question it. I know my parents would prefer it if I didn’t go to weird far flung places particularly alone but they support me and my choices and I think they actually got a bit bored of it all once I’d been away for so long…
So, I do have a little secret to divulge. I have been dating. A man. Not Buster (the dog). Now before anyone gets too excited (Mum) we are just friends, with benefits. Minds out of the gutter people – not those benefits (although we did meet on Tinder). He is a wonderful bloke who is trying to reduce his stress and anxiety by exploring meditation and lo and behold, we both swiped right. As one male mate told me – “it’ll be rare to find a Northern bloke who is interested in that stuff love”. So I snuck out of the house for a couple of dates and on our third we committed to a whole day together at a Buddhist meditation retreat in the Lakes. For real – this is not code people. He is a fun guy, tells terrible jokes but has a heart of gold. And because of that, and because of my more open approach, we have shared a lot about ourselves and our respective struggles, fears and hopes for the future.
Over a lime and soda one night, I told him about my travels and how I saw shooting stars, beautiful sunsets, sparkling plankton in the sea at night. And he said he’d love all that but that it wouldn’t be the same without sharing it with someone special. I used to feel like that too. During my travels, I spent a couple of weeks with a friend and her backpacking boyfriend. They had an amazing love affair over 6 months after meeting on a train to Delhi in India. She is Mexican, he is German but they both gave into the opportunity and travelled together for 3 months (with me as their sidekick/third wheel for 2 weeks). I adore and miss them both and for the most part travelling with a couple was fun. However, there was the odd time where I would go to bed alone after dinner and hear them giggling and chatting together in the next room (ear plugs always went in pretty swiftly) and I would feel more lonely than usual, that I’d think ‘what’s wrong with me’, ‘why haven’t I met anyone?’ But it became clear to me that I needed to sit with that feeling, that their experiences were not my journey and as I’ve said in a previous post this trip was an opportunity to learn to love myself, not someone else.
My solo trip was an opportunity to sit before a beautiful sunset, and feel the beauty of it for myself. To learn just to sit with myself. To realise that being alone isn’t scary, it doesn’t mean you’re not loved, or loveable. It is uncomfortable to begin with, I’ll admit, but now I crave silence. I enjoy my own company. My own space. Just for me. I believe that in order to experience beauty and freedom, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable, to be alone sometimes. I’m not suggesting taking unsafe, unnecessary risks, but just putting yourself out there a little more.
By the end of date 4, He and I could see that we want different things from dating, from a relationship at this time, and we decided to be friends. Don’t misunderstand me, I could quite easily have dated him. He’s a good egg. I could have continued to let him hold my hand, become more of a support for me, my ally, my man. It was nice to have someone to text, someone to plan to see, someone to dress up for a date with. To wonder what would happen next. I am only human. But fundamentally, I’m not afraid of being alone anymore and because of that I could see that he and I were not in the right place to be more than friends. And sometimes friendship is more. I have found someone to go and meditate with. A friend with benefits.
For Mary x