summertime and solitude

A mantra that I’ve seen frequently throughout social media is “Be someone your younger self would look up to” or “Be who you needed when you were younger.”

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Cut to last night at around midnight when I paused my watching of Jen Kirkman’s “Just Keep Livin?” Netflix special and stumbled to my kitchen. Hunched over my produce drawer like a goddamn raccoon, shoving grapes into my mouth with my face illuminated by nothing but the glow of my refrigerator light, I thought to myself, Ah yes, if only my 14-year-old-self could see me right now. How proud she would be. Not that I had the option of having the grapes fed to me like Aphrodite, but still.

On Twitter a couple of days ago, the writer Rachel Syme posted a thread of Tweets about loneliess, or more specifically, women’s loneliness. She made quite a few excellent points, like how compared to men, “Solitude is so much different as a lived experience for us.” In another Tweet, Syme said that she has designed her life around purposeful loneliness — “I take long Sunday walks through the city with no one to talk to or no where to go.”

Prior to Syme’s Tweets I’d never heard of the term “purposeful loneliness” before or thought about spending time alone in that way. It made me re-evaluate the activities I do on a daily basis. In the past I’ve written about doing things alone with a somewhat empowered, self-righteous tone. There are definitely pros to being lonely, as Arbela said to me earlier before I started drafting this post “Loneliness can be a superpower for sure.” And she’s right—there’s the autonomy of our own schedules and the destinations we choose in our free time. I like waking up in the morning and dawdling around my apartment before I decide which pocket of Cleveland I’m going to visit before work or what errands I’m going to run. I suppose that most of the time I spend by myself is on purpose, but during the summer it’s also more situational because I’m not in school. Last summer I would get so anxious when I was downtown and didn’t have my journal on me during a break between shifts because I like keeping my mind occupied when I’m alone. Now I carry it with me everywhere. I tell myself that I’m going to want to remember all of this, even the random weekday afternoons of walking down Euclid Avenue after my shifts at day job or the stillness of my apartment in the evenings. While I have separate anxieties, one in particular that I’m working on is the nagging feeling that I’m not enjoying things enough, or that I better enjoy this time that I’m in now before it’s over—this is a rather difficult thought process to get out of.

But there are downsides to loneliness. My roommate has been pet-sitting/house-sitting for a couple of weeks so the apartment has been more quiet than usual. Last week I wasn’t scheduled to work at night three days in a row, and wasn’t really in the mood to spend money on going out or make plans, so I found myself on my couch or on my bed with a fan blowing on me, catching up on “Big Little Lies” and “Jane the Virgin” or watching a random Netflix rom com (I did enjoy “Sleeping With Other People,” though—Jason Sudekis is a babe in his own way). One night there was a gorgeous sunset that resulted in my bedroom being cast in an orange glow, the kind of lighting that Sundance Film Festival goes crazy for. I guess a side effect of being a writer (or an extremely sentimental person, but these things could very well be mutually exclusive) is that I’m moved by everything.

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By night three I was starting to go a little stir-crazy, not only from the heat but from not being around people. Needless to say I showed up to work half an hour early last Thursday just so I could socialize with my coworkers. I missed them. My job requires me to be outgoing and personable, so I see all of that off time as a blessing now, since I got to “recharge my batteries.” I’ve also been manifesting the resulting solitude of my roommate’s absence into decorating the living room (with her permission, of course) — in the few months I’ve lived there the walls have been bare. But now that the space has more personality and color, I find that leaving the house is more of a challenge.

Going back to what Rachel Syme talked about, I do agree with her about loneliness being different among genders. For women, solitude is more vulnerable, and when a woman does something by herself, in public, more attention is paid to it, and it’s even stigmatized depending on the activity. Women’s solitude is treated more like a condition than a part of life. When a man does something by himself, it’s not even regarded. But I feel like society’s fixation on a woman’s solitude more so revolves around her relationship status—why doesn’t she have someone doing that (getting lunch, going to the store, going to the movies or a museum) with her? A woman doing things on her own shouldn’t and doesn’t mean that something is missing from her life. We can still have meaningful, healthy relationships outside of the one we have with ourselves. Of course, social media doesn’t help this—the stimulation from seeing others’ posts, being made to think that we should be out doing something with friends for the sake of it being a weekend or because it’s not “cool” to stay in if you have the freedom to make the choice of going out. We’re also conditioned to feel lonely based on the number of/lack of notifications on our phones, but this in itself is artificial loneliness. I do admit that sometimes it bums me out when I don’t have any messages on my phone, or that no one is wondering what I’m up to, but at the same time I like the idea of being a mystery in an age where everything is documented. And when I’m in my apartment I think about everything I’ve done to get myself there.

Writing itself also requires so much solitude—this path I chose for myself, requires a lot of independent thought, and a lot of independent work. Not to say that I regret my choice, because I don’t—but like I said before, Rachel Syme’s observation made me realize that I have more than one kind of loneliness/solitude in my life—and “purposeful” is a less harmful way to think about the time I spend by myself. Most if not all of my blog posts and ideas behind them came from loneliness—whether it be at my desk at home or sitting in one of my many beloved Cleveland coffee shops. But I see it as something that I get to do for myself—creating in a place that I feel comfortable in.

It does take a lot to be able to do things alone, because you have to shake off what other people are going to think, and again, I feel like the social anxiety surrounding this is more imposed on women. Women doing things alone isn’t about being single or not, or defying social norms of any kind—it’s about getting to experience a different part of ourselves with more intuitiveness and confidence.