On Being Alone

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 cried.

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.

“Yes. Alone.”

And the meal was delicious.

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21 comments on “On Being Alone

  1. It’s not surprising that those of us who write often seem, accidentally, to find ourselves “alone.” I like your comment in an earlier post: “…remind me that I’m not alone as I sit half-crazed and hunched over the keys, clacking out another part of my soul onto the blank page.” Any wonder Hemmingway was an alcoholic? But, I can’t think of any better way to have the freedom to fully express life — in all its aspects. Thanks for expressing so beautifully!

    • Solitude certainly has its plus sides! I’m steering clear of alcoholism but no guarantees I won’t end up at Chocoholics Anonymous in the near future … and I’m not going to promise I don’t talk to myself, either. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

      • Is there such a thing as too many Ferrero Rochers? I just polished off half a box for breakfast, so I’m guessing “no”.

        There’s nothing wrong with talking to yourself. It helps get thoughts out of your head and, sometimes, even offers new perspectives.

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  6. A beautiful post! And though it may not be the most relevant of comments, I have always wanted to write a short story entitled “Table for One.” This might just kick me into gear to do so! Thanks! 🙂

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  8. Really great stuff here!! I learned to relish being alone after I also learned that none of my friends were willing to come traveling with me…so I went on my own and it was so exhilarating! My husband has been talking a lot about starting his own business which would require him to quit his day job and, at least initially spend more time at home. I always say hello no way, we’d need a bigger house, because I like being alone!!

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  10. Beautiful post, Stef. I’m glad you gave yourself that pep talk — you can’t be sad in Ireland! That sounds cRaZy!

    And remember, you’re not really alone. Hop on the computer and you have all your followers… And MEEEEEEE!!

    … Stef? Why are you running? o_O

  11. Having never really been “on my own” I can still in a sense relate to this post a lot because I fear being alone in that same manner. Something which I had to deal with this week, being a tourist in Copenhagen “on my own” while my husband is taking seminar classes 9-4. Sure, I’m not alone, but during the day I go see the sights, eat food, take photos, wander around, and learn about the city alone. It scared me at first but I have grown to enjoy it so far, although I don’t think I would be strong enough for it to last longer than this week. And that’s what it is, strength and courage – great post, inspiring and reflective. I love the talks you give to yourself, I need to start doing that,

  12. I feel the exact same way sometimes! When I first moved to France I knew no one and wondered what would happened if I died in my room from food poisoning. I mean, how long would it take for someone to realize I was dead? Being alone is fantastic most of the time though but yes I agree, sometimes it GETS to you! Eating out alone is one of my greatest fears and I still haven’t gotten over it even though I travel alone often. Actually a month ago I couldn’t get a seat at a restaurant because I was alone and they didn’t have a table for one – how funny was that!

    • Oh no, I haven’t even thought of the “finding my body” scenario … I guess I have flatmates who will notice the smell?

      Being confident in being alone can be very empowering, I think – how do you find France now?

      • It did take a few weeks to settle down in France at the beginning but now it’s all good 😉 I still enjoy solo travelling very much though, solitude is really a blessing sometimes 😀

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