In Party for One, Mashable explores single life in 2020, from Carly Rae Jepsen’s iconic single anthems, to the beauty of alone time, and the fascinating history behind the single positivity movement.
The train pulled into the station in north eastern France and I hauled my rucksack and suitcase out of the carriage and into the night air. I was alone for the first time in a very long time and I couldn’t wait for someone to put an end to my discomfort.
I was 21 years old. For my first two decades on earth, I’d been almost constantly surrounded by people. I’d grown up in a close-knit family and we relished each other’s company. At university, I’d lived in a hectic halls followed by a big house with loads of friends. The summer before I left, I’d spent nearly every day with my boyfriend. Alone time was a foreign language I didn’t speak.
Not long after my arrival at the station, I stood in the accommodation that I was going to be living in while I taught English at a French high school for my study abroad year of university. I won’t lie — it was not a space that screamed Lovely Place To Be Alone. Inside a faded salmon pink building on the grounds of the suburban school was my new flat. Empty of any furniture except for one lone hospital bed that had been wheeled in from the nurse’s office, the mood inside the flat can only really be described as nervously awaiting my demise in the horror movie that was now my life.
For my first few weeks, my nights were spent alone in my most-likely-haunted flat watching badly dubbed Friends episodes on French TV (in the absence of any IRL friends at that point). The entire time, I was constantly fighting off an intense malaise that wouldn’t shift. I couldn’t hack this whole being alone business so I became hellbent on spending as much time away from my Hill House-esque home as humanly possible. Mercifully, I made new friends and crashed on their sofas and floors after staying up late smoking and drinking cheap red wine. Deep down, though, I felt constantly overstimulated and running on empty, and it never occurred to me that my depleted energy levels had anything to do with the dearth of alone time in my schedule.
The life I’d left behind had been difficult for the past year. I’d had a few big friendship breakups and I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that my shitty behaviour had been the common element in each fallout. I was on a hamster wheel of denial, running away from uncomfortable truths and self-awareness. It caught up with me in the end, though.
I felt better rested, less anxious, and more like the Rachel I used to know.
One day, I showed up at my friends’ apartment after work. As we sat around the table chatting, one friend bobbed her head around the door and said “I just wanted to say hi to you before I head to my room because I need some alone time.” Hearing a statement like that today wouldn’t make me bat a single eyelid. But back then, hearing my older and very mature friend say this and sound so self-assured tugged a thread within me. Should I actually try this newfangled concept they call solitude, I thought to myself? All I can say now is: Bless my poor, inexperienced heart.
A few days later, I took a notebook to the café in the centre of town and ordered myself a coffee. I was trying on this whole aloneness thing like a new outfit. Pen in hand, I returned to this spot day in, day out and met with the thoughts I’d been running from for months on end. Writing it all down gave me an occupation that made me feel less awkward about sitting alone in a public place and a prop to avoid conversations with strangers. Of course, I did get the odd “are you writing me a love letter” comment from strange men. But I just kept going because I knew I was cleaning out the cobwebs from my mind. What I realised was this: I had behaved really badly over the past year and I wanted to be a better version of myself. New thoughts started to occur to me about my own self-worth. Like, I urgently needed to break up with my boyfriend who wasn’t treating me nicely and, let’s face it, hadn’t done from day dot. One rather crucial realisation, too, was the fact that all this alone time was starting to make me feel better in many ways. I felt better rested, less anxious, and more like the Rachel I used to know.
Around about the same time, one of my friends told me our socialising was getting a bit much for her schedule. It stung, but I also knew how often we’d been hanging out — it was a lot. Now that I was a certified member of the Time Alone Club, I told myself I’d have a week of staying in. I sent my estranged boyfriend a message asking him if I could speak to him. He responded wanting to know the “overall theme of the conversation,” which…lol. “I think you know,” I replied.
I was finding my way back to my old self, my real self.
“Can we make this quick, my battery is about to die and I’m on my way to the pub,” he said briskly upon answering the phone. “Right ok,” I said back, somewhat thrown at the request for haste. “This is hard but I think we need to break up. You haven’t been very nice to me. In fact you’ve barely spoken to me since I got here.” I kept talking for some time, breaking down as I uttered the words, but eventually the silence at the other end of the line told me the phone call had ended. His battery had died. He never called me back.
Once the deed was done, a sense of calm and stillness returned to me. Days and days went by and the solitude stopped feeling oppressive, and became a balm. I was finding my way back to my old self, my real self. While my apartment was still spooky as hell, I’d long feared the thoughts in my head more than anything in this mortal world. But I was no longer hiding under the covers of other people’s company — I’d finally got out of bed and gone searching for the source of that bump in the night.
I grew more self-reliant that year and didn’t just learn to tolerate alone time, but love it. It took me many more years to come to the realisation that I’m actually an introvert and that downtime is something I need in order to function as a human. But we live and learn! 11 years after that dramatic year, I live alone and love every blissful minute of it.
My year in France was the weirdest, most eventful, most beautiful year of my life. There were all night parties, kisses in the backseats of cars, short-lived trysts, trips to Paris, broken hearts, tears and tantrums, alone time in abundance, and quality time with people who became my best friends.
I sometimes look back on the pages of those notebooks that helped me figure out my shit that year. It’s like flipping through the working out in a school kid’s exercise book. That alone time helped me get to where I am now. I don’t know what I’d have done without it.