At a young age, I was taught to handle my emotions by not handling them at all.
When my mother passed away, I coped by surrounding myself with people instead of feelings. Company went from being a security blanket to becoming a necessity. I became so good at relating to others that naturally every person was my BFF. Taylor Swift would only dream of knowing how I got a girl squad bigger and quicker than hers.
But she wouldn’t know it was because having a ton of friends was my way of creating an armor of steel. The way I saw it, if I kept surrounding myself with others, no one would ever see me in a weak state. As long as I wasn’t alone, I would never have to be reminded of who I’ve lost, and no one would have to feel bad or pity me for it.
So, I have a fear of being alone because I have a fear of the stigma that’s attached to it. That is… until I moved to New York City all by myself.
Let me tell you, NYC is the world’s biggest paradox. You would think that between those shoulder-to-shoulder train rides and those mile-long lines at Trader Joe’s, feeling alone would never find the light of day. But it turns out, if anything, living in this saturated and overpopulated city only emphasized those long afternoons spent eating lunch by yourself.
Because with people everywhere you turned, God forbid someone sees you eating that guac on toast by yourself. Not so Instagram-worthy anymore, is it?
When you live in a city where people-watching is practically an Olympic sport, it was hard not to assume that everyone had to have someone. And if you were spotted alone? There must be something seriously wrong with you.
But what’s seriously wrong was ever thinking that the answer to my problems would be found through someone else. The problem wasn’t a matter of finding someone in the city who would grab a drink with me and be in my next set of photos for the weekend. It was about worrying what perception I would be giving off and how pathetic I’d look if I didn’t have that, if I didn’t have someone to be with me.
Because for the longest time, I was convinced that that was what stability was—finding it through other people instead of claiming it within myself. Whether I wanted to or not, moving forced me to finally look myself in the eyes and see myself for who I truly am instead of using people to run away from what has always been right in front of me.
By facing that, I came to the realization that being alone and loneliness never had to be the same thing. And that I needed to stop being so hard on myself and embarrassed over all the times I found myself being a party of one.
Moving on my own meant that I was suddenly forced to hang out with myself, whether I wanted to or not. And trust me, a year ago, that’s the last place you would have found me. A place that involved spending time with myself and no one else. But when it became my only option, it evolved into so much more than being something I was forced to come to terms with.
I started to love every single second of it.
I was getting lost down cobblestone streets in SoHo and art exhibits downtown. Making a wrong turn went from anxiety-triggering to exhilarating as I came across things I had never seen before. I was slowly conquering the city and my loneliness all by myself, one cafe at a time.
I was finally doing things for myself.
And it was in those moments when I finally got over a fear of what other people would think when they saw me sight-seeing, eating, and venturing the city by myself. I no longer made it my day job to post that perfectly filtered shot starring me and a posse at the end of every weekend.
Once I threw myself in a position where I had no other option but to be by myself, I truly realized why being alone never had to leave me feeling lonely or as a person worth pitying. Though I can’t sit here and pretend that I that don’t feel lonely from time to time, I can say this much:
When we do find ourselves on our own and maybe even feeling lonely, I promise the only thing worth feeling embarrassed over is thinking that being alone was ever something to pity at all.
In fact, maybe you’ll even find that your best memories will be spent by yourself. So far, they’ve been mine. And you can bet I have those perfectly-filtered Instagram photos from every weekend to prove it.