I don't like to be alone. Back in college, I did all my work in common spaces, so that whether I was focusing on a paper or studying for an exam, I could do it around other people. I loved my dorm community, where I spent every dinner, every evening, every weekend surrounded by friends. At my parents' house, my right-hand man was my little brother, who's been one of my best friends since we were in pull-ups. For years, I was basically never alone. But then I moved.
I now live in a city in the Netherlands where my only relationships, until recently, were with my boyfriend, my extended family, and his extended family. I work from home, so a solid chunk of every day is spent in solitude. Because I wasn't used to it in the beginning, I spent quite some time wondering why I felt so sad all the time. Hadn't I looked around? My life was great! I had a beautiful apartment, a wonderful relationship, a fabulous job… What could be missing?
I confided this in Ken's mom, who moved here from Indonesia several decades ago.
“Don't worry,” she told me. “You get used to the loneliness.”
I signed up for a friendship app that night.
Thanks to that app (Bumble BFF, by the way), a website for cool meetups in my city, and my efforts to find a new way to step out of my comfort zone every week, the lonely feeling has been easing. I have some international friends now, and still Skype with my friends from home in the weekends. And I even found a new solo activity I love: working out. (Yes, really.)
Back in December, I started meeting with a personal trainer to help me learn to love exercise again (I used to love exercise, but then college happened and I learned to love sleeping, carbs, and caffeine over most other things). Once I moved to the Netherlands in January, I got a membership at the local gym, this time without the trainer. Every time I tried to get myself to go, I framed it as a “date with myself.” This is thanks to a Michelle Khare video I saw, where she said, on why she was training for a marathon:
“My whole life has always been doing things to please other people… So I'm running this race for me. I don't need to prove it to anybody else.”
“I'm working out for me,” I'd say as I stepped foot in the changing room.
“I don't need to prove myself to anyone,” I'd mutter while eyeing the big-biceped man lifting twice the weight I was.
“This is a date with myself,” I'd mumble as I huffed and puffed on the elliptical.
I know, I know. It's super dorky. And you can laugh all you want, but thanks to this mindset, I've been taking myself on a two-hour “gym date” five days a week. Combined with my friend-dates from Bumble BFF and events from Meetup, I was doing quite well for myself. Mornings were for work, afternoons were for working out and walking with friends, and evenings were for watching House of Cards with Ken.
And then Ken up and left for a four-day festival.
It's not that I wasn't invited to this festival. It's that the nature of the festival caused me to un-invite myself. It's a coding party in the north of Holland, where participants (party-goers?) program computer games tents in a field while listening to chip tune music. Code-chella, if you will.
Because it's a holiday weekend, most of my friends and family were out of town, as well. Four days with nothing but gym dates was not my idea of a vacation, so I tried to think of other “dates with myself” I could do. On Thursday night, I tried a movie night. I painted my nails and watched a film featuring J. Lo, but the nail polish got on the floor and gave me a headache, and the movie ended up being a thriller about a woman being stalked by an abusive husband. I slept with all the lights on.
On Friday, only twenty four hours into my weekend alone, I decided that I needed to see other human beings. I did some Googling and spontaneously signed up for a five-week salsa class, as one does. The class was accelerated, but no one ever accused me of being unambitious, so by 9:00 I was standing in a fully-mirrored room surrounded by married couples and hopeful singles. Two hours later, I biked home in a glow of adrenaline, only slightly dizzy from being spun 100 times to a four-count.
On Saturday night, after a day of work (I know, I have no limits), I took myself out for sushi. “Are you here all alone?” asked the waiter. “Yes,” I answered, before ordering myself an ungodly quantity of salmon rolls.
And on Sunday, just a few hours before Ken got back from his coding festival, I went to a two-hour African dance workshop. By the time I got home, I was so tired that I could barely bring myself to change out of my workout clothes. But I changed and showered and Ken and I ended up going out for dinner that night — another date, though this time not alone.
On the walk to the restaurant, I told Ken about my long weekend.
“I missed you, but it was also really great to spend some time alone in the city, and find things that I wanted to do,” I said.
“I completely agree — we spend so much time together, and as much as I enjoy it, sometimes it's nice to do things by myself,” he said.
So, now that Ken is home, I'm keeping up my cheesy solo dates. This week, if you see me at the gym, or at a salsa class, or in the movie theater by myself, please leave me be; I'm on a date with myself.