I’ve spent five years of my 20’s living alone. Me. An extrovert. A tumbling, over-communicative, hungry mess who yearns almost constantly for connection, who compulsively reaches out to people, who wants to draw everyone closer all the time. I’ve spent half of the most formative decade of my life alone.
It’s something that’s still hard for me to believe, because there have been so many moments when I’ve hated it. Nights I was so lonely that I just sat in the middle my floor and stared at my phone, not even knowing who to call or what I would say to them. (“Will you call me back? I’m desperate for your humanity.”) Days when I wanted more than anything to have someone to watch TV with. Or someone to avoid in the kitchen.
But for all five years, something has kept me from calling it quits. Because there is something fierce and alive about being alone, isn’t there? There is something sort of… sexy.
I felt it this January when I was traveling with my sister and her girlfriend in Thailand. Though I feel it often in my 20s, I felt it more accutely than usual that night, because they were together, and I was on my own… and I was angry about that. As we are. I was sitting there on the beach, struggling with feeling invisible and un-needed, and then there was this incredible gust of hot wind, that shook the trees around, and stirred some wind chimes and lanterns that hung from the palms in our resort, and it blew through me in this quiet, spectacular way, and the stars looked so stupidly close it was almost annoying, and suddenly, I felt unwatched and alive, in that way that we only feel in those moments when we’re really alone.
It’s that moment when we board an airplane by ourselves. Or stay up late when our roommates are out of town. It’s sexy. It’s ours.
I remember seeking it out as a child, on twisty mountain roads in the back of my Dad’s Suburban while we listened to Annie Lennox and I painted condensation pictures on the windows. Evergreens whooshed by us and silence filled the car and I imagined my grown-up self and got really excited about it. I’m here, on my own, turning into this special person, that I’ll someday release upon the world! How exciting and perfect! Get ready! Here it comes!!
I think I still imagine my grown-up self when I’m alone. And it’s still yummy and private. And I do feel like it’s accruing into some kind of understanding of myself, I mean, isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? We learn how to ”love ourselves so that we can love someone else” or something?
So from the second I could afford it, I’ve been on my own, even though being alone is not what I want, ultimately. In fact, I think it’s seldom ever what I want even for a couple hours, though I do it, obsessively. How weird. It’s a journey that I feel a bit obligated to to be honest, and a bit resentful of. And it’s beautiful, but also sort of self-obsessed, and definitely not desirable as a final destination, which may explain this constant wrestle. I love living alone, but it also makes me miserable. Which may be why both my little apartments have felt so transient. Precious and secret and important, but also not quite right. They long for company. They want to be filled.
A year ago my boyfriend, the boyfriend, broke up with me, and I had to make peace with the independent, quiet fierceness being the norm again. And I was so… so angry about that. For the first time in my life, I didn’t want it back. The wondering, quiet independent thing. I had wanted to be done. I wanted to have my company in the mornings, and at night. I thought I’d earned it, like the important person said I would. Since then I’ve been quieter, and more thoughtful. More serious, I worry. I feel weathered. I wonder obsessively if I should just get a fucking roommate and get over myself, because I’m tired of my own head.
But I still haven’t. I’m still here, in this little life-raft of a one-bedroom, trying not to complain to my friends too much, buying really cute stuff at Cost Plus World Market, and loving and hating my solitude here.
Sometimes I want to shake myself. Give your 30 days and move in with someone, Sascha!! Give yourself that gift and shut the hell up about your yearning! Be happy! Be young! Have company!
But I think I can’t. There’s just something fundamental about being on our own that I can’t let go of, even though I can’t always explain that. There is a flex of our muscles. A confrontation. Miles and miles of free time that we have to fill with only ourselves so we have no choice but to examine the outcome. And maybe I’m addicted to that. To that forced introspection, and the quiet, and the wondering. Maybe I’m just incredibly stubborn, or love having all the closet space, or love an excuse to be self-absorbed. Maybe it’s just part of my DNA now, and there’s no going back.
But I also think there’s something more universal here. Because that night on the beach, when I was so very angry to be alone, I wrote something that in retrospect, was actually pretty amazing. I wrote about how that moment on the beach reminded me of another windy moment alone, the week that my ex and I met.
Three days after our first date, I was on a hike alone. I crested a hill at the top of Runyon, and suddenly, the wind started blowing. Like, blowing. And I found myself there at the top on my own, running between two rows of scratchy, ugly, Hollywood shrubs, struggling to stay upright and it was so unexpected and thrilling and powerful that I started laughing out loud about my feet on the ground, and the wind in my face, and about what I was about to embark upon with this man I barely knew. And I thought about all the years behind me, and the ones ahead of me with the same wonder and excitement that I knew on the beach - the absolute knowledge that no one would ever know me quite the way that I know myself. And in this one moment everything here was only mine, alone, and it was perfect.
Alone is uplifting and fire-y and thrilling. And small and scary and sad. It has been that way forever. I think it’s part of the deal. And I’m not willing to give up the uplifting and fire-y and thrilling. So here I am. Taking the medicine because I subconsciously believe it’s worth it.
And maybe I take too much responsibility for my loneliness. Maybe my choice to live alone is not masochistic, or self-involved, maybe it’s just a surrendering into something that is true for all of us, that no one will ever quite care about us the way we can care about ourselves, and that that is a truth that is both wonderful, and difficult.
I think I’m just ready to stop believing that maybe I did it all wrong. Or that I am so very responsible for my own happiness. So I’m choosing alone. Again. Still.
I think there’s a reason New Year’s Eve always rocks me. It’s a night when an entire strip of the world celebrates being alive at the exact same moment. Millions of separate lives, running in this perfect parallel for one second.
This year, Rachel and Jess and I ran it. We ran through the streets in those last fifteen minutes, trying to meet our friends on the hotel rooftop in Bangkok. There wasn’t enough time. We knew we’d never make it, but we ran anyway because we wanted to try.
We passed lots of people on the way. Lines of people. Crowds of people. People praying and burning flowers, families lighting lanterns, or dancing, children buying coconut cakes, tourists, and street vendors, and couples, and babies. We ran past monasteries where monks were chanting, and into hushed backstreets. And there in this city halfway around the world from my home, I felt it again. The years of life behind me and the years of life in front of me. And the muscles in my legs and the air in my lungs.
With two minutes to go I realized we might actually make it. I pulled ahead of my friends and started running alone. The glass door of the hotel gleamed ahead of me and I thought about my year, a year in which I felt so lonely, and so sad, and how it didn’t kill me, actually, and about how there were still things that I loved about my independence, even when I’m was in so much pain. Thirty seconds, and I’m thinking about how quiet my little home is, and about my cat that’s waiting for me back there in LA, and my clothes, and my bedspread, all my special private stuff. And I’m thinking about the people that we ran past, all of them celebrating, and praying and hoping for their future.
I ran up the spiral staircase and heard people start to count. 10-9-8, Rachel’s footsteps somewhere behind me, 7-6-5, one more flight and am I in a fucking movie right now?, 4-3-2, my foot hits the top stair. 1. You’re kidding. You’ve got to be fucking kidding.
Every New Years, I get that exciting, thrilling twist in my stomach like I’m standing on a precipice, stealing time for one more day and one more year, and so is everyone else.
Someone whose face I never saw handed me a glass of champagne, and I started laughing into the warm breeze.
I made it.
I made it.
I’m here for the celebration.
I’m here with everyone else.