The first thing everyone told me when I broke up with my ex was “he’s a dick”. The second thing was “you need to learn to be alone”. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of this was that now I don’t sleep in the same bed as someone else, I had to learn to spend more time by myself and be happy in my own company. Fair enough. I had been in long term relationships so long that everyone saw this as a learning curve that I had to take in my newly found singledom. The problem was, no one explained how I was supposed to do that.
I did a bit of googling and figured that maybe they meant I should make more time for self-care. So, I scrolled through the suggestions, blog posts and features on how to take some more “me time”. Nearly every recommendation was either 1. Take a bath. 2.Put a facemask on. 3.Read a book or watch a movie. Or 4.A combination of the above. Strange. People are telling me that I need a new way of living my life and the only way of doing that is to take a bath? I tried it. I put on a face-mask and grabbed a book and had a lovely bath. I even got the candles out. Which took me to 9pm, but I didn’t know what to do next.
I changed tact. Maybe people meant I should be doing all the things that I did with my partner, but by myself. I cooked long recipes I have never tried, went for random drives, went to the cinema alone, even walks in the woods, but I still didn’t really understand what the appeal of not being around people was. I could do all that with a friend or family and surely, that would be better?
Eventually, I spoke to my therapist about it.
“People keep telling me I should learn to be alone, but I just always crave social interaction. How can I learn to be happy when I’m by myself?”
“Think about it like this,” he suggested, “after a really stressful, physically and mentally exhausting shift, what do you want to do?”
I thought about it for a whole 0.32 of a second and responded “Either go to the pub, even if I’m not drinking, or head round to a friend’s house for a bit. Something like that anyway.”
“To me that sounds like you get your energy from being around people, which would mean that being alone drains you. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t happy alone, that just means you’re a true extrovert, which is quite rare.”
That session gave me a whole new outlook on things. I excused myself for feeling restless when I was sat at home alone and gave myself permission to do something about it. I started internet dating, to meet new people. I had some interesting experiences with that and ended up with some good friends that I’m still in contact with. When I had to get some uni work done, I took myself to a coffee shop or a bar to be around the buzz, rather than expecting myself to focus when I was holed up in my room. I replaced my solo walks in the country with going for a wander near the waterside in town and I found my relationships changing as I started spending time with people who I never used to see enough of, just because they fancied hanging out when I was free.
Another lesson in listening to yourself. Even people with the best intentions don’t live inside your body and mind so as much as they try to sympathise, they can’t always know what’s best for you. I know that when something traumatic or tragic has happened, it’s difficult to know what’s best for yourself. I struggle to distinguish between my gut feeling, which is trying to let me know what I need, and that self-destructive voice which is leading me down the wrong path. That’s exactly why practice is important. If you listen to yourself when you’re not in a stressful moment, it becomes easier and easier to listen to that angel on your shoulder when you are in a tricky spot. The hard part is when it’s not what everyone else thinks you should be doing. So, my advice, if anyone disagrees with how you’re coping with a stressful time (even though you are sure that you are doing the right thing), is to tell them to take a bath. Apparently, that fixes loads of problems.