Self and the City is a column intended to increase visibility and dialogue surrounding mental health, relationships, harmful stereotypes, and the necessity for self care and vulnerability. Self and the City will be headlined by Jessa Chargois on a bi-weekly basis. Submissions and guest columnists are welcomed to send work in to firstname.lastname@example.org
I believe the recipe for loneliness is a crowded bar, one too many tequila sodas, a phone with no new messages, and a human-sized ache in your heart. In the age of infinite connection, it has never felt easier to find yourself overcome with unbearable solitude in a room of many.
Too often, “lonely” and “alone” are used in mutually exclusive terms. Being lonely is a state of mind. Being alone is a state of being. Throughout the journey of living solely for me, myself, and I, I have begun to see the problematic nature of mistaking these two words as interchangeable
As I danced around my kitchen, covered in flour and homemade spaghetti sauce, I felt myself beaming, watching one of my newest friends roll out pasta dough. I had invited him over to cook pasta from scratch and have a peaceful night in to celebrate our friendship. After a few glasses of wine and plenty of homemade ravioli later, we found ourselves making our way through New York Times’ Modern Love’s The 36 Questions That Lead to Love. A set of questions that are intended to accelerate intimacy between strangers, this article has brought many of my friends and I together, sharing our deepest secrets and biggest fears. After several questions, I found myself answering honestly and openly, something I’ve been struggling to do with other friends. I spoke of the personal fear of being unwanted and the overpowering feeling that I’m too much for many people. Question 14 asks the participants to state “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?” Without hesitation, I blurted out “I’ve been afraid to be myself. I’m afraid that I don’t know how to be alone and I think I’ve dreamed of being this version of myself that I have yet to embrace.” Shocking even myself, I felt my tears rolling down my face as I silently sat with my personal breakthrough. For me, it took a few glasses of wine, some flour on my face, a trustworthy smile, and the comfort of my own home to admit that I’m terrified of the unknown; the state of being alone.
As I reflected on this sentiment over the past couple days, I’ve realized I was mistaken. Rather than a fear of being alone, I’m afraid of the loneliness that may overwhelm me when I exist as an individual. Conflating the notion that to be alone means to be lonely, I’ve recognized an inner shift that has taken place over the past months. Previously, I sought external validation from my romantic endeavors, utilizing my partners as emotional crutches, fearful of loneliness. While I attempted to run from this state of mind, ultimately, distance seeped into my relationships. I felt disconnected from my partners, with concern that they failed to understand the fundamental aspects of my personality or my drive. Is it possible that the loneliness I’ve been running from was the fear of being misunderstood? Is it possible that the loneliness stemmed from a lack of self awareness and self love that I felt towards myself?
It’s unrealistic to say that we can ever escape the grasp of our emotions. Regardless of our differences, the factors that make us all unique, our backgrounds or our futures, every one of us may feel the grasp of solitude throughout our days. While I thought this feeling would consume me once I was without a significant other to use as a crutch, being alone has brought me unbelievable clarity. With space to mature into the most unapologetic version of myself, my time has been filled with loved ones, friends, family, and new hobbies that are satisfying to me. Rather than loneliness, I am deeply fulfilled by the relationships and activities that I find myself immersed with. I am alone, and I am the truest form of myself.
While I can say this now, my transition from being in a relationship to being single was far from graceful. Rather than allowing myself to experience the feelings of grief, anger, sadness, and confusion, I attempted to mask my process with dating. Having upwards of three dates a night, my closest friends began to worry, noticing my unhealthy search for intimacy. My naive attempt for connection landed me with countless hangovers, an empty bed, an empty heart, and too many late night quesadillas. Having a slight intervention, my best friends made an incredible effort to encourage healthy decisions that were centered on my desires. I began to write more, exercise daily, and found my creative roots. I now spend my days for me. I’m extremely alone, and I am beyond happy. I’ve stopped dating all together for the time being, removing all dating apps from my technology. The time and energy I’ve previously spent on romance is now being spent with myself. Taking myself on dates, I’ve started to dress in ways that I enjoy, forgoing what I previously believed men would want me to wear. I’ve let myself run through torrential downpours singing to myself, not giving a damn how ridiculous I may look to a passersby. I’ve let myself stay up late reading trashy novels, cooking elaborate meals, or writing down my thoughts and feelings.
Progress is not linear. I’m sure I will feel lonely again. As I finish typing this article, I am making myself a tequila soda, planning on attending a crowded bar. This time, instead of waiting for a text I may not receive, I’ll go dance by myself, because at the end of the day, you will always have yourself. I may be alone, but I am far from lonely. On the contrary, I am loved.
Feature Image via Jessica Harrington