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I learnt how to spend time alone, and ended up learning about myself

ILLUSTRATION BY TWYLAMAE
WORDS BY RACHAEL AKHIDENOR

Me, myself and I.

It was Valentine’s Day this year when I realised just how much I had changed. I had just received a photo message from one of my best friends. It was an image of a glass of wine, accompanied by an array of delectable foods. “Happy Valentine’s Day to me,” she wrote.

I was stunned. Not only was I surprised that my friend was dining out alone on Valentine’s Day, but I was also exasperated at how incredible I thought that to be. 

It was not long ago when I would have shuddered at the thought of eating along. A few years ago, I would have seen my friend’s act as sad and tragic. Would others seated near me think I had no friends? That I was a social pariah?

It’s interesting how quickly things change. What I once believed to be so profoundly terrifying, I now perceive as liberating. In my mind, this is the ultimate act of self-love; the definitive display of confidence.

At least part of the reason for my preconceptions can be attributed to social conditioning. I grew up in a time where fairytales portrayed romantic relationships as the be-all and end-all of life fulfillment; the ultimate aspiration. Evil characters either died or were cast out, exiled to the fringes of society, miserable and alone. 

I didn’t realise I had internalised this messaging that equated being alone with loneliness. I perceived spending time solo as something people were forced to do, not something they chose to do. As a result, I had bound myself to a thought pattern that dictated people who spend time alone are sad, miserable and friendless. It was a state of being to be avoided at all costs. 

Such a belief system caused me much unnecessary pain. Being constantly surrounded by friends, family or lovers, I had reduced myself to a person who only knew themselves in reference to another. I could no longer discern where the people around me ended and where I began. 

Did I like listening to that music or do I listen to it because my friends do? Would I go to that event on my own or was I only going because my partner was?

This confusion created overwhelming internal turmoil. I was a stranger to myself and it was eating me up inside.

But one of the quickest ways to better know oneself is to spend time alone. And as my unsettled feelings grew stronger, I begrudgingly began to realise that I would have to address my irrational fear if I was ever going to find inner contentment.

It was a slow start. I began with 10 minutes of meditation and it snowballed from there. Walks around the park – sans phone and friends – ensued. A coffee at my local cafe with just a book to keep me company. This time alone allowed me to question my fears. 

Why did I perceive being alone as such a tragedy? Did it stem just from fears of being perceived as friendless, or somewhere deeper than that? Did I refrain from spending time alone because I was afraid of what I might find?

I never arrived at the answers to those questions. But the more I incorporated solo activities into my schedule, the more comfortable I became. I began to realise that spending time alone is an art form. It’s a skill just like any other. 

It has to be practised and refined. 

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