The Art of Being Alone

In our modern, ever-connected world, cases of FOMO have been springing up more than ever.  FOMO, aka “Fear Of Missing Out,” is a condition that has plagued me since the beginning of my social life in elementary school.  In college, FOMO has truly reared its ugly head for me. If I’m home for the weekend, that means everyone will be partying together and sharing it on Snapchat for me to watch while I sit alone with my cat eating cookies on my couch.  On the contrary, the weekends I decide to spend on campus are surely the weekends where everyone is busy or has decided to go home and have an awesome time in their hometowns without me.  It’s a never-ending battle for those of us with anxiety, and having live updates about everyone’s perfect lives via Snapchat, Instagram stories and Facebook Live (if anyone actually uses Facebook Live) only exacerbates the issue.

In short, I felt like my friendships were going to suffer at the expense of me not being present.  If my friends all were hanging out, I felt deep sorrow: i.e. FOMO.

Flash forward to last semester, when I was studying abroad in France. While my friends wanted to go to London for February break, I had made plans to visit a family friend in Finland.  Begrudgingly, I kissed England and hanging out with my posse goodbye and found myself alone, sleeping on the floor of Charles-de-Gaulle wondering what kind of mess I had gotten myself into. When the three of us reunited in Berlin a few days later, I felt mild resentment, considering they now had these wonderful collective memories of staying in a hostel together and visiting Buckingham Palace and making friends in their tour groups.  Meanwhile, all I had to account for my experience in Kokkola and Helsinki was a bruise on my butt from slipping on the ice and some free bread I had gotten in the train station on my way back to the airport.  It had been fun seeing my family friend after so many years, but I couldn’t help but quantify the experiences and see theirs as more meaningful.

Another time skip, up to Spring Break.  Yes, another break (the French really like vacation). My friends and I split up again, and found ourselves doing more independent things.  Suddenly, being alone didn’t feel so pathetic, since it was something we had all decided to do for our travels.  I booked my flights to Dublin, Amsterdam, and Paris, and prayed to whatever deity would listen that I wouldn’t be miserable.

Once in Dublin, I woke up early in my hostel, ate some toast and headed out feeling fresh and ready to see some sights.  And funnily enough, I didn’t feel the fear of missing out.  I stayed silent the entire day, not having anyone to talk to, and found myself feeling stronger for it at the end of the evening.  When I came upon something like Trinity College or The Whiskey Museum, there was no need for deliberation or bickering over whether we wanted to visit or not.  I could just go.

Near the end of my exploration that day, I was resting my feet sitting on a bench in St. Patrick’s Green, watching families and couples stroll together, and I still felt no twang of resentment.  This had been a “Maddy day”--almost like a spa day, but better.  I was able to be introspective and learn to be by myself while enjoying the sights, sounds, and tastes of Dublin without worrying about navigating strange social situations.  I was simply able to wander.

Now, this isn’t meant to be preachy and say “if you go to Europe you’ll be such a better person!!!” Cuz, newsflash, that is so not the case.  For example, just a few days after my Dublin experience, I almost got abducted (but that’s a story for another day.) And of course I’m still learning to not be self-conscious about being alone, because it really is an art that needs to be learned.  But once you realize you are the best company you could ever ask for, being by yourself isn’t so daunting.