Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Strangest Side Effect of Being Alone

I spend most of my free time alone.  In fact, I'd say about 90% of my free time is either spent entirely alone or with strangers who are only nameless faces in my life like cashiers or movie ushers.  As a result of this, I have learned a number of things about myself, my life, and have reflected enormously on this subject, of what it is to be alone-not just single, but alone.  And while I've written about it on here, one of the strangest things that I have come across is a subject I haven't really heard about on other sites: that no one really cares how you're doing.

Now, before I get raised eyebrows or rolled eyes, I want to put a caveat here that this isn't the rantings of an emo 14-year-old.  I don't mean that no one cares in the sense that they don't love you or that they don't, when asked about it, want what's best for you, but instead I mean that people don't really actively care about you, not unless you're smack dab in front of you or you have something to celebrate.  If you have a promotion, or a new car, or a trip, they will be all about it.  They will remember your birthdays or Christmas and will be there if something tragic happens to you.

No, what I'm talking about is that no one really cares what I do with my free time, or really any of my time, as long it's not an inconvenience to them.  What makes this particularly hard is that essentially you have little to no support system if you're single and alone (and not single, and, say, living with other single people or your friend group is largely single still).  Case in point-today I have the day off from work to run errands and to get a number of things done on my To Do list.  I even spent a good chunk of time with my bucket list, looking over some goals I have for myself in the coming year and seeing how I'm doing, or if there's perhaps some things I can do tonight to work on an item on my list.

But the reality is that if I had spent the entire day doing nothing but watching Murder, She Wrote episodes and eating tacos, no one remotely would have cared.  They might have asked what I'm doing, but other than listening for a cursory twenty seconds, then focusing on something we have mutually in common, I wouldn't get in trouble for it.  This wouldn't be the case if I were married-if you had promised a spouse you were using a vacation day to go to the DMV and get groceries and get the oil changed in your car but you decided to laze about, you would have gotten in trouble.  Social pressure is there to ensure that you stick to your goals.  This is true for small things, but also for larger things too.  Saving up for a house, going on a vacation, making sure that you have friends over-this is all something that social pressure helps you to do.  The reality is that without that social pressure, you have no one who holds you accountable.

I have to, essentially, find ways to compensate for this thing that most people in relationships take for granted.  I have to, say, force myself to invite people over to clean my apartment, otherwise I might go weeks without using a vacuum or sweeping my front entryway.  I will frequently make an appointment with someone to ensure that I stick to a plan, or I will (when feeling ambitious) set myself up by making lunches for the full week to keep me from eating out.  I pay a trainer an exorbitant amount of money each week in part to give me a new routine, but mostly I do it because I want someone who is invested in my well-being, who wants me to lose weight because otherwise I will rely entirely upon myself to drive me to accomplish goals.  It sounds pathetic to say I'm paying him to care about me for an hour, but, well, it's not far from the truth.

Because the reality is that it's very, very hard to keep yourself motivated knowing that everything you do doesn't really matter to anyone but yourself.  I think that people in relationships take this for granted because it's something they've never experienced-most of them went from having parents minding them to college roommates to romantic partners.  It's rare that most people experience a large gap where they are entirely responsible for themselves, where they can't rely upon another person for support and that "push" to achieve.  It's rare that you aren't financially co-dependent for another human life.  Aside from a couple of people like my boss (who cares that I finish my work), my parents (who care that I show up at Christmas), and the common community (that care that I follow the law), no one actively cares about my dreams or what I do with my time.  This isn't to say that they aren't proud, but what I am doing right now is not on their minds...perhaps more importantly, what I hope to be doing with my time is surely not on their minds.

This is a very lonely and isolating feeling, and one that I must admit I am still getting used to enduring.  I used to share openly with coworkers and friends goals that I'm working upon, but as the years have gotten past it's become harder and harder to share with them as they feel so small compared to the divergent goals of someone else.  Writing a book or losing weight is something I've wanted to do for so long, no one really believes in me anymore, particularly when compared to their own success stories of family, career, and children.  I find more and more that I keep projects that I am working on hidden from the world, whereas once I crowed about them proudly.  This, in turn, means that I have less support because people around me don't even know what I'm doing.  I convince myself that I do this because I don't want to disappoint those around me, but to be honest I sometimes wonder if it's the fact that my pronouncement will be greeted with apathy, not with disapproval or even pity, that keeps me from talking about where life is going.

There are things to envy in your single friends, and there are things I love about my independence.  But it is impossible to understate how much no one caring about your future, about your dreams and aspirations, does to your sense of determination and drive.  Even people like me, who used to find all of their identity and self-value in learning new projects and achieving, find that over time it's too tempting to just do nothing, because at worst the only person you're going to disappoint is yourself.

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