A couple of days ago I visited my parents. Now, I realize that I’ve written a great lot about my mother, mostly criticizing things she’s said, done, or believes and, probably still sentimental from the last visit, I need to make myself clear: I love my mother, and I do so unconditionally, the way I believe parents and children should love each other. Of course terms and conditions apply significantly often and, being a queer kid with queer friends, I’ve seen it lead to toxicity numerous times. But the thing is, I do love my mother, very much, and at the same time I recognize that she can, at times, despite being overly caring in her way, hold views that I find extremely problematic.
After that short disclaimer, I now plan to get to our issue: I told her that my best friend has visited Berlin, and she asked me whether she did on her own. After I replied positively, a prolonged silence was followed by: “is she currently in a relationship?” I replied positively again, and my mother’s disapproving response was: “I don’t understand these things. I really don’t see why anyone who is in a relationship would choose to travel all by themselves”.
Now, this is not really shocking, coming from my mother. In fact I could see many of my peers with more or less different approaches to relationships than mine phrase that concern. I’m not going to discuss relationships here, or the way my mother feels about them. What actually felt more limiting to me, than the idea that I’m supposed – according to some people – to do absolutely everything together with my significant other, was the instant impression that the habit of traveling alone can actually be perceived as wrong. “But there are few things that can be wonderful as traveling alone!” I immediately blurted out, and I deemed traveling with other people one of these few other things, but this is not the point here. “At a completely foreign city?” she asked disbelievingly, and I felt so absurd at the realization that she didn’t understand.
Some of the memories I treasure the most are those of myself discovering new places completely alone. They weren’t always 100% happy at their original moment, but they were all rich, and gave me all those cliché things that are actually great chances to get important shit discussed with yourself. I contemplated on age, generations and growing old, while celebrating my birthday alone on a bench at York, reading Romeo and Juliet, crying over an 1₤ donut, and desperately trying to catch someone from home on the phone. I learned the most about art in these moments I stole roaming around the Louvre alone, and actually appreciated the sun on my skin even while being a person from Greece, for that single time in years, that morning I spent lying on the grass of Regent’s park underneath a cherry tree. That was the part where I asked myself why I wasn’t happy, what else I might want from my life to feel completed. Scribbling pretentious poetry on the tram in Budapest before the months that followed of not having the time or the mindset to write anything, casting passers-by for my fanfiction and scrapbooking the day away.
Not all these moments were happy – in fact I was crying during most of them since crying is one of the things I’m truly good at – nor did I discover the universe’s biggest secrets while walking around famous dead people in Paris. But there is a reason I still remember them today, hoping for many other similar moments to come.
Maybe it’s just that I’m one of those people that romanticize everything, and make a big deal about dressing up like a pumpkin in October and spending that cherished day alone in a cute little coffee shop while sipping pumpkin spiced shit and generally smelling like pumpkin a lot. I’m full of clichés, and at some point I realized that maybe that’s okay. The thing is that I can get the full satisfaction out of such things if I do them fully, and if I do them my way. I want to spend as many hours in the art gallery as I want, and skip things I find little interest in, and then walk around a city searching for the Harry Potter spots or photographing ridiculous details that make me the pretentious person that I’ve accepted I am.
That’s why I remember these solitary trips – or solitary parts of trips I made with company – with such pleasure. It’s because all of my sense were more alerted than they can normally get in any other part of my life. I still remember the scents, I still remember the flowers, the piercing cold or the warmth of the sun on my face. I still remember the journey back to the hostel, as I played these games where I pretended that I was returning to my new home in this city I now lived. What’s more, as an extremely anxious person who wants to get everything done their way, I remember freaking out when I couldn’t see all the museums I wanted in one day of my trip, because I ended up spending it with someone else who had different traveling priorities.
That’s not to say that I don’t adore trips I have with my friends, the studying we do together in coffee shops, or our shared activities. In fact I tend to romanticize most of those as well.
I’m leaving on a trip this weekend with my best friends and my partner, to visit my beloved pen pal in Ireland. It is the first trip I’ll go with my partner as well, and this is getting me excited to no end. I’m not trying to compare company to being alone. But the thing is I’m trying to defend the latter, since enjoying yourself while with company is already a thing that makes sense to most people.
I’ve also started becoming convinced that, for women and fem people, it’s even less acceptable to do things alone. Most of the time I go to the beach, for drink or for a walk alone, there will be that dude – or pack of them – that offers me to join them, or offers to buy me coffee if I don’t have anything to do. Some of them can be entitled, insistant and annoying – I don’t need a knight on a white Prius to buy me coffee. But even those who are really nice don’t seem to get one thing: I’ve chosen to spend this time alone. I don’t doubt that the intentions of some of them can be truly good, but when it’s done repeatedly it really tends to ignore that I’m actually occupied at that moment: occupied spending time avec moi-même.
I also know that, for some people, being alone with themselves can induce much anxiety. Hell, 92% of the times I spend the day on my own, I get filled with bad thoughts and all my fears act up. Especially last year, when it was a hard time for me, I couldn’t possibly stay on my own for more than a couple of hours. I completely lost my mind when staying at home, getting all sorts of depressive thoughts, and felt superbly lonely when doing things outside the house without company. I spent a year seeking friends to be with me about almost everything, and most of the time I needed to sleep with someone as well in order to be able to deal both with the night and with the possibility of not being able to get out of bed the next morning. I was incredibly blessed with wonderful friends who practically saved my life. Seeking company is just as important and healthy for you, and being alone is not suitable for all periods in your life.
Different periods in life work differently. When I went away for five days in the summer, while my relationship was still fresh, and both my partner and I extremely anxious about it, it was actual hell. We spent all day on the phone, trying to deal with a flood of anxious, negative thoughts. A couple of months later he had to go away for four days, and even though I missed him terribly, we had both worked on some issues, so that these days apart gave me some profitable time for myself, and made me yearn for him even more. When the time comes for solitary time to actually work for you, you’ll know. Even if it doesn’t, it’s still important to work on dealing with these moments.
The thing is, you don’t have to do everything alone. What’s important is simply to allow yourself to have this alone thing, if you suddenly feel the need for it, whether it be traveling alone, studying alone, going to the theater without any company, taking time at home to watch movies, stare at the ceiling, binge-watch Orange is the New Black, masturbate or stress-bake, if that’s what you’ve missed doing.
Sometimes doing something aside from groceries on your own is demonized, and you may feel like people are staring at you with pity for eating out with no one but your salad and your thoughts to chit chat. But that’s okay, and you need it. Just in the same way you need to do things with other people in order to bond with them, you also need to bond with yourself. Walk around the city, go have a swim pretending you’re a freaking mermaid, take pictures, sit on a bench and write down your thoughts, take the time to fill that scrapbook. Let your creativity flow, organize thoughts and information that otherwise flood you when you socialize. Get to know your weaknesses, even. Embrace the bad thoughts that come when you’re alone, and then seek company to discuss them and feel better. But get a bit closer to yourself. Recharge.