Monday, July 31, 2017
Ranting On..."Alone Time" and "Being Alone"
This is not an article about my first real crush on a boy (though I may tackle that at some point-maybe next Pride Month), but instead on the attitude that I remember people having about his hair. Most didn't like it, and wanted him to cut it off. Curly-haired people themselves, in my experience, frequently complain about how curly their hair is, and how much work it is to keep it straight, and how much easier life would be if they had straight hair like mine. They pretend to be jealous, but here there's a case where they're just pretending to be jealous-that they don't actually want straight hair, but instead just want to complain as curly-haired people have the option of having it both ways. It's very easy for someone with naturally curly hair to make it straight-the guy I had a crush on when I was fifteen would just chop it off and "presto!" it was straight again, and women who have curly hair can easily straighten it. But, me, I will never have curly hair like they do-even if I tried, it wouldn't come across naturally like theirs does. They get to have their cake and eat it too, and they still complain about it.
I find that this happens more and more in my life when it comes to a subject less trivial than curly hair or not, and that's the subject of being alone. Frequently I find that people who are in relationships or have families are saying that they wish they could have a life more similar to mine, where they might get a night away from the rigors of their relatives and perhaps just veg out or eating a box of Milano Cookies or order Indian food without any regrets or controversy. I get this (truly, I do-I don't want this article to be confused with me disparaging people needing time for themselves, as I'm a big fan), and know that these complaints from people who don't live alone are meant to be affirming of me as a single person and don't remotely come from a place of malice or being unkind, but I will state that they break my heart, both because I desperately want a life more similar to theirs, where alone time might be hard but not impossible, as opposed to mine, and because the glamorization of my "independent" life makes it seem like me being unhappy in it is selfish and unreasonable.
The reality of my independence is far from sexy, I can assure you. I spend an inordinately large amount of my life by myself. An admittedly unhealthy amount of time by myself. In an average week, outside of work, I spend time with one person who knows my name (meaning someone that isn't a ticket taker or a cashier at the supermarket), and that's my trainer, someone I have to pay to spend time with me. My closest friends I hang out with 3-4 times a year at best, and I see my relatives a bit more but not by much. I have no consistent group of friends, no persons whom I might count on to invite me out for a birthday party or a random Saturday night activity or a monthly book club. With the exception of my trainer, and technically Easter/Christmas, there is no consistent human interaction I have with another person outside of my job. And with advents like Fandango and self-checkout lines becoming increasingly necessary, I have less and less interaction with even strangers. It is a regular weekend that I will have said, in-person, less than twenty words to another person, my only communication being texting people I barely see or tweeting people I don't even know.
I am a deeply introverted person, perhaps by necessity, but I cannot pretend this lack of social time doesn't affect me and my sense of self-worth, particularly since this isn't how my life has always been. I had few friends growing up, but grew up in a very loving family; I was never one of those gay kids who rebelled against his parents or had an impoverished relationship with them while hiding a secret. In college, I had loads of friends, enough so that that translated into my post-collegiate career. In my twenties, some friends started to dissipate but I had work friends who could be part of my life, and whom I met with outside of my work for cooking nights or happy hours. And I had dates (lots of them), which filled up a great deal of my time even though they weren't always successful.
But about a year ago, all of this stopped. I went from having three recurring dinners down to zero, and only have a once-every-three months happy hour with two friends that I can count on for consistent social interaction. More-and-more at work I have been distanced from my longtime friends through increased busyness and them moving further away from me in their careers, so I don't have the consistent enjoyment of seeing people who know me as a person and not just as an email address. I barely go on dates anymore, particularly after an event about six months ago that shook my self-esteem to the point where I just don't want to go on dates anymore. So as a result, what was once a fulfilling (meager for some, but not for me) social life has turned into a near constant barrage of nothingness-television and cleaning and paying of bills, but nothing that sets me apart.
Because when you have no one to impress, even the most ambitious of souls will begin to deteriorate in terms of wanting to better themselves. I used to force myself to be better in my hobbies, in my life, pushing myself to compete with my friend's life updates, wanting to better myself similarly to them. Without anyone to impress, it's hard to do things just for yourself; if you want proof, think of how many people have hobbies literally no one else is aware of-we all want someone to see our quilt or our novel or our garden. Without other people to root you on, you start to just go home and watch TV and eat and go to bed and go to work and go home and watch TV and eat and life is only interrupted by the rare jolt of a social invitation or a holiday that will make you feel valued. Being alone is not confused for loneliness by people who have a regular family life or people whom they spend regular time with because they don't see the world that way, in the same way that curly-haired people know that the "straight hair" is only temporary. But the reality is that what you're jealous of is something you don't want forever-you want it for an instance. So please don't say you're jealous of me-wish that you had some time to yourself, but don't pretend that my alone time is the same as yours. By doing so it invalidates the biggest difference between us-that you get to choose when the alone time ends, and for me it just continues.