Being alone is a strange experience. I don’t mean alone in a dark forest with creepy noises, or alone on a beach at sunset with no one to disturb me, but alone as in without a companion. Just me.
I’ve had rare occasions when I’ve actually thought about my “aloneness” as being strange. Mostly, I’m accepting of the fact that it’s just … me. Being alone is a fairly straightforward state of being. In fact, I don’t think about it much at all – I’m single, my family and closest friends are in a different country, and I’m on my own. I’m making friends, sure, but I don’t want to drive them away too soon with constant demands for companionship. Yet this week I’ve had cause to reflect on my “aloneness”.
I can remember, quite clearly, one of the first times I actually realised I was alone.
Having just arrived in Ireland, I was finally getting a four day dose of Dublin – ah, living the dream! I’d just had two weeks with a tour group (never again) and despite being a “single traveller”, I was in a group of 25 so I would hardly say I was “alone”. So here I am in Dublin and I’ve just stepped out from my hotel and I’m hungry. I walk around for an hour. I pass many restaurants, even more pubs, and a couple of convenience stores. I go back to my hotel.
I’m starving. I was embarrassed by my “aloneness” and worried what others would think, so I went back to my hotel room and …
I was so terrified of being alone that I could not work up the courage to step into a restaurant and ask for a table, or go into a pub and – horror! – be met with the daunting task of trying to find a dark, inconspicuous corner in which I could get lost.
I sat on the bed and cried; I was hungry and I was alone.
Then I took a deep breath, stood in front of the mirror, and had a little chat with myself.
“Stephanie,” I said brusquely, because I’m into tough self-love. “You’re in Ireland. Ireland! And you want to have a cry because you’ve got no one to have dinner with? You’re in Ireland! And now you’re going to go out there, go into the first restaurant you see, sit down at a table, and get something to eat! You’re being ridiculous!”
So out I walked. I got to a restaurant and stood outside the door. I’ll get takeaway, I promised myself as my courage evaporated. I stepped inside.
“Table for one?” the man looked at me with a smile.
“Yes, thank you.”
So much for takeaway.
It was the best worst meal I’ve ever eaten. The chips were disgusting, the burger was … intriguing (like a cockroach is intriguing when you really think about it), but the pride I felt in myself for sitting at the table all by myself helped me ignore the burn blister forming at the roof of my mouth (a bit too eager with the chips) and I sat back and enjoyed my solitary meal. And it really was solitary – no one else was in the restaurant (it was late) and most people seemed to be ordering takeaway at the front while I sat at my red and white checked table out the back.
Now, I’ve had funny little moments like this since that delightful night in Dublin – it’s one of the perks of being single and wandering around the world. You can master the art of sitting alone at a table with a notebook so you look busy, or take a novel so you can appear absorbed while you eavesdrop on the next table’s conversation. People can be really resistant to being alone – why else do we play with our phones when we’re meeting someone who’s running late? I receive interesting reactions when I tell people I’m “on my own”. Yet when I really think about it, I’m not really – I talk regularly to my friends and family, have flatmates, have work colleagues … there are lots of people around me. I’m not “on my own”, but I’ll accept that I’m alone in that sense of the word that means I am without a companion.
Monday was a crappy day for me. There were a few reasons for this, but above all I felt alone. Not lonely, but alone. I spent my afternoon grumbling to myself about how hard it is being single, being alone, because I don’t have anyone to travel with, or anyone to take to dinner, or …
Stephanie, you’re in Singapore. Singapore!
So off I went for a walk (with some encouragement from my mother via Skype – really, the woman does deserve a medal). There’s a restaurant within my apartment building and I walked past there three times, but I didn’t want to get takeaway and go back to my apartment just yet, and I wasn’t in the mood for eating in there alone. I needed to clear my head. I walked around and eventually settled on a Thai restaurant – ah, I’ll get some takeaway Thai and when I get home I’ll retrieve a bottle of wine from my cupboard: perfection!
“Take away?” the woman met me at the door.
“No, I’ll eat in.” (Yes, I surprise even myself sometimes.)
” … Alone?” her eyes widened as she looked behind me, as though expecting someone to magically appear by my side.
And the meal was delicious.