The majority of the last four years of my college experience have been spent in the throes of companionship with others. From living with six girls, to pregames, to house parties, to studying in groups in the library, to just about everything except sleeping (and that’s been done un-alone too) – I have been surrounded by people. For god’s sake, we even go to the bathroom together.
Until I decided to spend a semester in Germany. My German was mediocre at best, and I knew no one aside from an acquaintance living at the other side of the city. In college I floated freely around, finding myself occasionally alone in my single dorm room where I could knock begrudgingly on a door on my hall – and be supplied with some semblance of friends. In Germany, I was living alone with a 33-year-old, German-speaking physical education teacher who had a serious boyfriend and after our first dinner (required by the program that set us up), wanted little to nothing with me.
So I started doing things alone. It was moderate at first; I did things people frequently and casually do alone. Wandering through the streets observing the tops of buildings, popping in and out of stores, going grocery shopping, taking bike rides to areas I hadn’t been to before. I went to a museum or two, maybe. All of this – nothing more extreme than sitting alone with a coffee and a book – was really quite easy enough.
I made friends quickly enough, but they were all busy. We would do things like meet up at 10 p.m., or get brunch on the weekends. But come Tuesday at 7, or Saturday at 4, I found myself frequently flying solo.
So I started really doing things alone. I went to movies. I went to lunch. I went to dinner, in real restaurants. The guys in the local Italian restaurant smiled each time I came and silently enjoyed my individual margherita pizza, slowly and deliberately. The lady in the Korean restaurant knew which soup I liked. In my early days, I refreshed my Twitter feed on my phone, or brought along a book while I took pauses from eating, for companionship. But technology and even literature become lonely companions. So I tried new things. I ordered carafes (never a whole bottle, though I considered) of red wine and contemplated what made a Merlot different from a Pinot Noir.
Oh, isn’t it so painfully Eat, Pray, Love?
Though Julia Roberts-esque it was, at 20-years-old, it was liberating. I find it hard to believe that a 35-year-old has never spent time living life alone, though I do imagine there are a great deal of people in their college years who have never been stuck for an extended period of time living the solo life. To adults and even undoubtedly my peers, my “finding myself” by eating dinner alone might indeed smack of pretentious cliché, but in our millenial world of Facebook, Foursquare, and BBM – it’s hard to really ever feel truly solitary.
Where I used to hunt frivolously for lunch partners just to fill a 15-minute free slot, I now sometimes just head to the campus cafeteria and sit alone. Just to test yourself, stash your phone in your pocket, order something you like, and enjoy your own company.
[Photo via Thinkstock]