On Being Alone
This past summer I was in a fairy tale. I was in Istanbul, a city I’d only dreamed of visiting, soaking up the summer sun and eating literally all of the seafood at a quaint restaurant down one of the many winding streets of the Sultanahment area. (And numerous other seafood restaurants in not-so-quaint areas).
I was in heaven. I was dancing on air.
In the midst of my oceanic indulgences and bubbly-induced euphoria, my server checked in on me: “Are you here with your husband?”
It was at this moment that I’m sure I looked insane. I laughed, rolled my eyes and scoffed in disbelief at the same time, managing to, I’m sure, emit an animalistic snort that was neither understandable nor gave credit to my answer of “no.” The guy looked at me and then asked if I was with family? No. Friends? No. Anyone?
Now, before I get a lecture from my mother on how dangerous it is to tell strangers that you’re traveling alone, I’d like to say that, while I was solo, I wasn’t really truly alone. In the short time I spent in Turkey I managed to collect a myriad of friendly characters that I still talk to to this day.
When I told my waiter that I was a solo traveler, he shook his head and walked off in disbelief. This happened again in Tel Aviv. And again in Jerusalem. And Hebron. And on the plane home. Most of the men shook their heads in disbelief and told me that it was a dangerous world. The women all responded with “Wow. You’re brave.” To say that I was disheartened by these responses wouldn’t be enough. It was exasperating, exhausting and, frankly, eventually annoying (particularly those who then proceeded to lecture me on how they would never let their daughters/wives/sisters do the same. The feminist in me loved that.) The incredulous responses still continue to this day when I talk about my last summer: “weren’t you scared?” “What about all the terrorist attacks?” “You went back?!”
It’s gotten to the point where I just want to take a few minutes and talk to you all about being alone and why I think it’s the best choice anyone in their early to mid-twenties could make.
1. Even after all our social progress, society still questions an unaccompanied woman.
We’re swiftly trudging towards 2017. 2017. It’s the 21st century and an unaccompanied woman is still something to talk about, to fret over. Instead of celebrating the freedom and the bravery of solo female anythings, we are shaming them into companionship. Instead of standing in awe of the not-so-radical confidence that is required of a woman boldly walking to her own beat, we question her sanity, her safety, her abilities.
Being alone requires grit. It makes you get really comfortable with yourself, including the really cool stuff like your hopes and dreams, but also the really not cool stuff, like your demons and regrets. This type of grit doesn’t come easily, and it doesn’t come without the self-reflection that comes with stepping out as your own person. For me, this meant shedding the safety of the familiar, (partially) learning a new language and getting on that first plane ride almost eight years ago.
I’ve trekked through most of my life “alone,” but heavens above I can’t remember the last time I was actually lonely. Pursuing solo travel, solo life and solo adventure means that you have the option to choose your companions every single step of the way. This means that I get to choose what days I stay in the hostel and sleep in, and what days I get up at 5am and explore before the rest of the city is even awake. It means that I am in control of my daily schedule, whether I eat one simit or twelve, and whether or not I’d like to spend another hour gazing over the horizon. Embrace the aloneness and recognize that it gives you immense amounts of freedom.
It’s time to realize that women are capable of taking care of themselves, albeit in small-town United States or halfway across the globe. Being alone is not a radical concept. We are born alone, and now we must learn to move through life alone.
2. Yes, the world is “scary”, but so is unfulfilled potential.
The world is a big place filled with big characters, big sights, and big opportunities. If you think I’m going to let fear of the unknown ruin my chance at a kickass life, then you are out of your mind. Today’s main concern is terrorism. Which…I totally understand and I get the concern…
but, let’s just get down to the nitty gritty: the chance of dying in a terrorist attack are roughly 1 in 20 million. The chance of dying in a place crash are 1 in 11 million. This number is important for two reasons. First, for those of you who know how absolutely terrified I am of flying, this number is a big deal. This means that you’re more likely to get crushed by furniture, fall from the sky or die from falling out of bed than die in a terrorist attack.
But that’s not even my point.
My second, and main, point is that there is a whole world out there to explore, literally billions of people to meet, endless glasses of wine to drink and countless numbers of cheese to try. The world is your oyster, why wouldn’t you try to tap into every square inch of life it can offer you? Sure, you can explore the world with a bestie (which I’ve done twice — and had an absolute blast) but exploring the world on your own, whether that’s your neighborhood cafe or a city a couple thousand miles away, gives you so much more room for growth. Being alone forces you to be radically aware of your surroundings and helps cultivate a curious mind. It literally helps you become a better person.
Our society has become so dependent on being interconnected: cell phones have replaced conversations, social media has replaced real-time connections, and if we aren’t able to check in on our friends at any hour of the day, we lose our minds. I, too, have fallen into the social media and constant connection trap. It’s so easy when we are constantly surrounded by tuned-in friends and family. But what happens when you disconnect? Tons of people are scared of being alone, and hey, I get it. But being alone lets you tune into yourself, lets you find yourself and your place in this big, scary world. And eventually, it’ll let you take on that world with the gusto and power of you.
Embrace the solitude and growth that comes with solo living.
3. I don’t want to talk to you about my love life.
“Are you seeing anyone?”
Every single woman gets asked this question at family reunions, and I know that about 99.9% of us feel the same way about it. I’m here to tell you (and your family) that you are so much more than a partner, a spouse, a mother. It’s fascinating frustrating as hell that men get asked about their jobs, their dreams, their hobbies and women are asked about our progress in adopting the two roles society has set out for us: wives and mothers. Don’t get me wrong, these roles are a beautiful part of womanhood; I have friends that are both, and they are absolutely owning it and rocking out the married/momma life. But as women, we should be demanding a classification that goes beyond those two roles. I should be asked about my budding freelance career, or my kickass “real” job, or my experiences in the West Bank, or my dreams to learn how to properly cross-stich. I should be asked about so many more things that my love life.
Trust, if someone’s worth bringing to Christmas dinner, they’ll be there.
“Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.”
— Cheryl Strayed
4. Embrace your singleness — it changes the world.
Yes, my radical comrades, single women are changing! the! world!
Listen, nothing gets me more fired up and proud than a fierce woman taking on the globe with a pocket full of confidence. And that’s exactly what our generation is doing. Single women have single-handedly (see what I did there) changed the game on what it means to be successful in the 21st century. While we’re still working on blasting through glass ceilings, glass walls and misogyny, I’d say we’ve done a pretty good job on making a name for ourselves. We are disrupting the entire social structure and order in pursuit of a more equal playing field.
Single women have been the backbone of society for generations, and there’s currently nothing strong enough to stop that trend from continuing.
Simply put: this is a timeless phenomenon norm. There is nothing new about a righteous woman owning her “aloneness” and moving forward with her life to be a powerhouse for change.
Married, widowed, single or searching, I hope that this piece helped unleash your inner solo wanderer. If you’re interested in talking more to me about my solo travels, want hostel recommendations or just want to bounce ideas off of someone, comment below or hit the “Contact Me” button above! I’d love to chat!
Originally published on www.destination-detour.com