“What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we’re not intimately engaged with another human being? …[I]s technology helping with these things? Does it draw us closer together, or trap us behind screens?” — Olivia Laing
I’ve (finally) decided to move out and get a place of my own.
The journey to this decision has been a long time coming — one that I’ve gone back and forth on for almost two years. Why?
During these past few years, (if my writing has given any indication…) I was dealing with difficult relationships and circumstances. When the reasons to make a change are not so drastic and critical, I found myself lingering in this limbo-type space neither in complacency nor urgency.
But as I’ve landed on more steady ground this year, I finally have the capacity to create some headspace for this move.
Security vs. Uncertainty
Making important life decisions requires what is on the horizon to be “good enough” to make the leap to the other side. But is that “gap” between the old and the new big enough? Or is it too small, where stepping over makes very little difference? These considerations are important in my decision — because I am choosing to rock my own boat, when the results may be for better or for worse. I’ve stayed in relationships longer than I should have, for that exact reason: not to rock the boat.
If there is anything I’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that I should make changes before circumstances take a turn for the worse.
Sometimes it is best to try something different before I become a diminished version of myself, before I let my mental well-being slip away ever-so-slowly.
Throughout my life, I’ve always had someone by my side. That someone has shifted between my parents, sister, best friends, and boyfriends. Many people who know me tell me they admire my “independent” trait. As much as I would like to be seen as a strong, independent woman, sometimes I question that characterization.
Am I “independent” if I always keep someone there alongside me? If I’m not forced to (as I may be in work-related situations), I would rather have a “security blanket” around me than face anxiety I feel in strange situations. So I default to finding that someone or a “partner-in-crime” of sorts to be there with me. If that’s the case, what does that say about me as an “independent” person?
Always Together; Never Alone
I never knew how to describe how I felt in unfamiliar situations; all I knew was that I felt “awkward.” Some of the anxiety has subsided with age and practice.
But I still hate going to networking events by myself. I despise walking into a work-related conference, knowing no one. Who do I approach? What do I do if everyone is already talking in groups? What if I say something, and they ignore me? What if people judge me for standing alone, on my own?
Weddings where I may not know anyone besides the bride/groom? Beyond awkward. I’ve hidden in a bathroom before to pass the time between my arrival and the ceremony starting, so I didn’t have to walk around by myself — or worse, strike up conversation with strangers.
This anxiety has kept me from being truly “independent” as I want to be in my day-to-day life, including the life I led in Singapore, and the one I lead in LA.
The last time I went my own way, with no one and no friendship in tow, was when I packed up my post-high-school life and moved away for college. As scary as that was, it brought some of the best years of my life.
I guess I don’t quite count moving across the world to Singapore as “my own way”. Yes, I made the decision to take the career opportunity and move to a country I’d never been in my life and knew no one. I decided to go without the reassurance of anyone else being there with me. But after I made the decision, my then-boyfriend offered to move out there with me. A part of me agreed and welcomed the offer — because I felt comforted knowing that he’d be there too in a strange, foreign country.
And my move to LA? I knew my sister would be next to me, lock-step, as we moved to this city together.
I’ve only ever lived by myself for six to eight months of my life, tops. Like many, I haven’t had the ability to do that for an extended period of time, though I’m not sure I ever wanted to live alone back then.
After all — aren’t we all (at least a bit) scared to be lonely?
I know a part of me was, and still is.
Loneliness feels like such a shameful experience, so counter to the lives we are supposed to lead, that it becomes increasingly inadmissible, a taboo state whose confession seems destined to cause others to turn and flee.” — Olivia Laing
But at this juncture in my life, I have the option and means to have a place of my own, and I feel ready to face these impending feelings of loneliness in search of what’s next.
I want to know what it’s like to have a space that’s mine and solely mine. One where by virtue of being the only inhabitant, the boundaries of what is yours and what is mine are drawn — marked by physical distance, at the very least.
I want to force myself to learn: what is it like to be and feel okay on a regular basis with myself and only myself? How do I grapple with loneliness, when it surfaces? What are these feelings trying to tell me? How can I find balance between spending quality time with people, and developing my relationship with myself?
I’ve let fear of the unknown, anxiety, and the ease and comfort of living with my sister prevent me from making significant progress on learning how to be by myself.
Will living alone help me confront my reluctance to face new situations? Will it let me muster the courage to live a life without clutching onto people when I don’t want to do things myself?
As many sayings go — the most important relationship is one we have with ourselves. It’s the voice we hear constantly, at the end of each day, and (I suppose) the voice we hear at the end of our lives.
At some point, I hope to build a life with somebody else I can call my long-term partner. Before I do that, though, I want to be comfortable with me. Traveling solo for work the past two years helped with that. Writing has, too.
It’s easy to ignore our inner voices by keeping our lives distracted with the noise of TV shows, Internet articles, and social media.
But I want to learn to love and be at peace with myself — when the commotion of these distractions has died down.
I want to be alone — but not lonely. Alone and happy.
Who knows? Perhaps by carving out my own path, new doors will open, too.