Monday, February 14, 2005

The Pleasure of My Company

It’s Valentine’s Day, so it may seem a trifle inappropriate to write about how much I enjoy doing things alone. By “doing things alone,” I don’t mean sitting in the living room reading a book while B is on the computer in another part of the house nor do I mean making an emergency solo trip to Fred Meyer to replenish the cat food supply, I’m talking about activities such as going out to eat, going to a movie, going for a hike, or going on vacation.

I didn’t always feel this way. In fact, there was a time when I would have skipped a meal (perish the thought!) rather than have to eat at a restaurant by myself. I imagined that all the other diners would be stealing furtive glances at the lone (apparent) spinster and pitying me. And as for going on vacation by myself, I couldn’t even imagine it.

My attitude changed one summer day as I was standing on the el platform waiting for a train to take me to my job in downtown Chicago. It suddenly occurred to me that I should take a hiking trip to Scotland--by myself. Never mind that I’d never really hiked anywhere, let alone a foreign country, although I had been to Scotland before and had always felt a special affinity to the country and the people there. Sure I'd never traveled alone before, but I knew it was exactly what I needed do. I had just been dumped a few months earlier by the Dumb Dummkopf (my extremely toxic wolf-in-sheep’s clothing boyfriend), and it seemed like a good way to stop feeling sorry for myself. It was an epiphany moment in my life, triggered by something as seemingly insignificant as the temperature and humidity of the air. The air simply felt like Scotland. By the time I got to work, I had decided to do it.

I had a tremendous time from the moment I got on the plane. It took less than 24 hours to slay all those restricting inner demons. I did dozens of things I'd never done before--some rather ill-advised, such as eating black (blood) pudding and stepping in about a metric ton of sheep dip--but I returned all in one piece. Ever since then, I haven’t given a rat’s backside what people may think if they see me--a woman of a certain age--sitting alone in a restaurant or making the final pull to the top of Mount What-Have-You alone. I’m very grateful to whatever aspect or entity of the universe planted the Scotland idea in my head. It changed my life much for the better and gave me the courage to take other risks, like quitting my job to start my own business and uprooting myself from all my friends and family and moving from Chicago to Portland, where I am infinitely happier.

I had intended to report on the PIFF films I saw yesterday, and as a sidenote was going to mention what a fine time I had by myself before and after the first film, but the subject of enjoying one's own company just sort of took over. Anyway, I did have a brilliant time before the first movie, knitting and cogitating alone at the library and then afterward perched on the upper deck of a restaurant with a lovely plate of pasta and a decent Shiraz, watching the people on the street and doing some more intermittent knitting while waiting for it to be time for the next film. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Clearly, I am so over the days of worrying about being labeled or judged if I have no qualms about hauling out my knitting when alone at a restaurant! Talk about inviting people to stereotype.

My thoughts on the film will have to wait until tomorrow, but I do have a few more comments on the topic of spending time alone. I’m aware that it is probably easier to enjoy doing things alone when it is a choice rather than a necessity, but, that said, I'm fairly confident that I will never again feel that I need to depend on other people for happiness or direction.* I feel that it's essential, too, for people in relationships to not cling to their partners like freaking barnacles! That can be deadly. I learned that the hard way, but I’m thankful I learned it young.

B and I just marked the 13th anniversary of our first date, and I think a small, but important, factor in the longevity of our relationship is that we’ve always allowed each other our own space. If B wants to go see a movie I have no interest in, he goes and vice versa. I’ve even chosen to take a couple of vacations by myself, and B has simply told me to have a good time and to call him a few times while I’m gone. I’m so glad we have that kind of relationship, even if it also means I had to drop hints the size of nuclear bombs to get some chocolate to materialize today.

* Or maybe I'm just a massive egomaniac!


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