A few weeks ago, Facebook told me that one of my top 5 favorite bands of all time was coming to a nearby venue on November 8. I tried not to get bummed out. Even if the show didn’t sell out before I forked over the cash for a ticket, I wouldn’t have anyone to go with.
The Monday before, I had serious blues after a weekend celebrating my best friend’s wedding. Facebook knocked again, shouting there were two days left to decide: was I going to this show or not? The tickets were reasonably priced, the venue was close to home, and I knew I’d remember this night forever. I bought one ticket without further hesitation.
The night of, I was getting ready to head out when I spoke to my brother. He asked what I was up to, and I told him, “I’m going to a show tonight.”
Then it came. “Ohhh noooo, Keelan. No you’re not. Why? Don’t do that.”
The pity. I sort of get it. When we see people eating dinner alone in restaurants, sitting in a theater all-by-their-lonesome, or attending a show alone, the conscience screams, “Oooo feel sorry for them.” And most of us do.
But according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, 85% of adults think it’s important to have time completely alone, away from anybody else. Mainstream media and beyond offer no shortage of pieces decrying the “stigma of doing things alone.” From ramen to vegetarian, restaurateurs are welcoming those flying solo with open arms, so why can’t we?
I used to think exactly like you – You who are afraid of doing things alone, who feel sorry for us daywalkers, unafraid of a pair of eyes witnessing our singularity. I even remember the first time I was forced to confront my fear. I don’t know what I wanted to do, but I know I was a freshman in college, and I was begging my best friend to do something with me – again. Thankfully, she’s honest in that blunt, open way that cuts through the awkward layers of miscommunication and avoidance. Vividly, I recall her bursting with: “Why can’t you ever do anything alone?!”
She was right. After that, I started going to the gym alone, and didn’t fear going around campus by myself or grabbing a bite and eating at home alone. But that was the extent of my growth, really. By my senior year, I’d figured out that the friends you made freshman year might not stay your friends through senior year, and I was terrified. The fear of being alone with myself, a person I thought so-very-little of at the time, consumed me. Strangely, my fear of subjecting the friends I wanted to keep to this person I despised encouraged me to stay alone more often.
During that time, my best friend, the one who initially encouraged me to acquire more independence, kept me from complete isolation. As did our larger, amazing group of friends. And The Mountain Goats. When I wasn’t with my roommates and our friends, I was listening to a few bands on repeat. I’d spend hours on my bed, listening to “Until I Feel Whole,” by The Mountain Goats, relating to their extensive catalogue.
I graduated that year, and I promised myself that for the remaining years of my twenties, I wouldn’t do anything that didn’t scare me.
When I got into graduate school about 8 months later, I was moving to Boston and had a decision to make about my living situation: could I find someone to live with? Or, would I have to live alone? I wanted to live with someone. But, I knew it was scarier to live all alone. I told people it was because I wanted to focus on my work, and didn’t want to worry about roommate chemistry. The truth was, I knew living alone would force me to grow. I knew I’d have no choice but to get comfortable being all alone with myself. It was the best decision I ever made.
Within a few months of moving in with myself, an opportunity to study abroad in London presented itself. I’d spend all of summer 2017 in London, finishing my master’s. Living alone meant I hadn’t met as many people as quickly as I would have if I had a roommate, so I knew I wouldn’t know many people on the trip. I was right. And it still stole the slot for “best decision I ever made.”
Because my trip to London was what I made it, I couldn’t let fear of doing things alone define it for me. If I found something I really wanted to do that nobody else was interested in, I did it. I started getting up early to run in Battersea Park and joined a local gym. I took one morning before class to see the Design Museum, and kept quiet outings to myself for photography. I shopped in Box Park, wrote blog posts in cafe’s, and practiced my route to work.
Remembering these moments with myself makes me sentimental. Not because they were lonely, but because they were full. I enjoyed these moments just as much as the moments I shared with the gorgeous gals on that trip. But, those memories are strikingly different from the moments with myself during my senior year of college. I realized the difference immediately. I like myself now.
When I began my undergraduate degree, I was searching for validation from social acceptance. And it took over four years for me to implicitly understand that. If not for the risk of looking weird or lonely or confronting the fear of alienation, I wouldn’t know that I am capable of being kind to myself or authoring my own life experiences. Without learning how to be alone with myself, I might still be listening to “Until I Feel Whole,” instead of actually knowing what “whole” feels like.
Last week, I went to The Mountain Goats alone, and stood in the second row. They played “Until I Feel Whole,” and my heart was overflowing. I loved hearing it, but I don’t need that song anymore. I feel whole, and I know finding that feeling can’t come from anyone else. It can only come from me.