Day 3 Musings: When I first planned this trip, I didn’t necessarily expect to be taking it alone, even though I didn’t necessarily have anyone particularly in mind to take it with me. Maybe it was the beginning of my shifting mindset–for as long as I could remember, I always had a plus one of some sort to come along for an adventure, whether it be a boyfriend or a best friend. Looking back, it felt like there was never a situation where I couldn’t find someone willing to go along with whatever crazy whim I wanted to follow, but I think the truth is that if I couldn’t find someone, I often just bailed on the plan. Ironically, it took getting married to someone who wasn’t always up for the same adventures as me to realize that I had to get comfortable with doing things on my own or I had to start getting used to missing out on things I wanted to do.
I remember the first time I really ventured out on my own–It wasn’t very far, just over to Philly from our apartment in Camden–less than a 30-minute ferry ride. But that meant eating breakfast alone, walking through the city by myself, sitting in a theater watching my friend’s play with empty seats around me. I won’t lie–there were certainly some uncomfortable (and maybe a bit scary) moments about that day, but overall, it was exciting and incredibly liberating. It was my first realization that I could do things by myself–and that I rather enjoyed it. From there, the outings became bigger–day trips by myself, dinners at nice places. The movies. Concerts. In my mind, my crowning achievement was the day and a half I spent alone in Berlin when the friend who was meeting me wouldn’t be able to arrive the same day. I walked the streets feeling like some sort of conquistador–by finding my hostel on my own, visiting the museum, even going to a nightclub my myself, I deemed myself a Legit World Traveler.
Although a healthy dose of self-confidence isn’t a bad thing, in the years since then, since my divorce, since experiencing Alone because of Lack of Options vs. Personal Choice, I realize how incredibly aloof and naïve I actually was. And even since that realization. I’ve learned how much more learning I have to go in that respect. When I got separated, I began to brace for the feeling of Alone, but there’s really no sort of prep one can do for the actual experience of it. This is something I somewhat knew as it was happening, but the depths of this I’m just beginning to fully understand.
I guess the need to embrace the alone and combat the fear was part of what kept me focused on this trip for so long–this wasn’t about proving to others I could hack it, it was about proving it to myself. It was funny because shortly before my trip I was talking about the Myers-Briggs Personality Test with my family and my dad indicated he thought I would identify as an introvert (I’m actually an extro–but as an ENFP I’m the last tick before Intro categorization). I was surprised to hear this, since I figured most people considered me to be as extro as they come. But I realized that those traits usually are reserved for specific social situations or interactions and that is not a constant. It was interesting to realize that was perceived by others, especially someone so close in my circle.
So, in some ways, aloneness is not uncomfortable for me, and although I feel reinvigorated after spending time with people (especially ones that I like), I can also find the experience to be draining (especially if the energy coming at me is negative or intense). And maybe it’s just getting in touch with those natural inclinations, or maybe it’s just been adjusting to my current situation, but I rather enjoyed time by myself. I like moving without restrictions–like being able to do what I please without asking permission or needing to compromise. I can listen to the music I’d like to listen to; go the route that makes the most sense for me. I get to sit in whatever row at the theatre I like and eat whatever I want for dinner. The world is what I want it to be.
But sometimes alone is lonely in a way that’s almost suffocating, and that’s what I was feeling today. And it’s hard to feel like that when you’re in the middle of an adventure, especially when the general advice is “But you’re in the middle of this wonderful thing! You’re on this grand holiday to Iceland! You need to make the most of it!” Well and good, but sometimes the juxtaposition and reminder of that (however well-intentioned) doesn’t actually make one feel better. In fact, it makes one feel a whole lot worse.
This time around though, it wasn’t some sort of outside force that was beating me up for how I feel–it was completely internal. After spending months and months planning this trip, focusing on it, making it be The Thing I Based All Other Things On, I was mad at myself for feeling anything other than pure satisfaction and joy while in the middle of it. I was feeling impatient with myself–frustrated, and was “pep talking” myself by berating and shaming myself for feeling the way I did.
Finally, I did what any girl would do. I messaged my best friend 3 time zones away. “Need encouragement, but not the tough love kind. Please tell me it’s OK to feel down right now.”
And, fulfilling her best friend status quite brilliantly, she did just that. Her response was “You don’t need to do anything in Iceland. Don’t put pressure on yourself to enjoy or experience anything in a particular way. Just live your life.”
Just live my life. It’s funny how simple that advice is, but how poignant, and how major of a truth that hits on: Somehow, in some way, we’ve convinced ourselves that in order to live meaningfully, we must constantly be doing, achieving, proving the value of our existence. I’m in Iceland and I must seize all the opportunities that Iceland has for me in a way that is exciting and enviable in order to prove (to myself? to others?) that I’m Doing It Right, that I’m Really Accomplishing Something. It makes you stop and wonder, exactly how many times has that worked out the way you’d hope?
So, I took today slowly. I picked up one of the girls also attending the residency from the airport and enjoyed the landscape of the drive, stopping once or twice for photos before coming home. I took a nap, I showered. I took a leisurely drive around and listened to one of my favorite albums and take a few photos, and then I spent most of the night at the hostel coffee shop. And you know what? I ended up with a lovely day after all.
I’m not excited about the feelings of loneliness that are sure to come again during this venture, but I’m glad that I’m better prepared to accept them now, to embrace them and work with them vs. letting them work against me.